Originating as a series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after a several year absence, Dave of the Five Rings continues on as he examines the current and future of the iconic world of Rokugan upon the game’s sale to FFG in 2015.
Chapter 25: The New Empire Grows
By now, the new Legend of the Five Rings LCG has hit the shelves around the world, and the response has been simply amazing. Gen Con saw the single largest tournament run by Fantasy Flight Games to date as part of its debut, and it’s wonderful watching the momentum generated there being carried forward into the full release of the game.
While initial sales numbers will not be revealed until after the quarter is over, its impact at many local gaming stores already are already being felt. Many stores sold out of their initial stock, and many are selling out of their restock. FFG has stated that the L5R launch is the single largest production run they have done for an LCG to date. The Fantasy Flight Store went from “Coming Soon” to “Sold Out” of their Core Sets almost immediately. Even most of their collectible playmats featuring the Clan mon and the Clan Champions of each Great Clan have sold out.
Despite this, I have yet to hear a great deal of distribution problems at the Friendly Local Gaming Store level, which is a welcome change from the days under AEG’s stewardship. Stock may be selling out quickly, but all indications are that restocks and reorders seem to be going smoothly.
Putting these facts together, L5R seems to be well on its way to reclaiming its place as one of the largest and most marketable brands in gaming, alongside other juggernauts like D&D, Magic, and Pathfinder.
Six Months In Six Weeks
Not content to simply rest on their laurels at their success with the Core Set, however, FFG has announced an accelerated release of their first cycle of expansions (Dynasty Packs). Unlike a collectible card game such as Magic: the Gathering, Living Card Games release smaller packs more regularly without rarity in the traditional sense. Each Dynasty Pack contains three copies each of 20 new cards, which amounts to a complete playset of each card.
Typically, Dynasty Packs will be released at a rate of 1 per month and will be grouped into a narrative and thematic cycle of six packs. Fantasy Flight, however, has chosen to break with its usual release pattern for the first cycle, named the Imperial Cycle. As opposed to being released over the normal span of six months, the six Imperial Cycle Dynasty Packs will be released over six weeks, starting in November with Tears of Amaterasu. The accelerated release of cards will infuse 120 new cards into the environment by the end of the year, expanding the available card base for deck construction to half again its current size.
While Fantasy Flight Games has not stated the exact reasons for the accelerated release, there are some references in their announcement article to growing the themes present in the Core Set for each of the Great Clans. This would stand to reason, as the current environment features three core thematic elements for each Great Clan, and decks are often constructed by choosing which of these three themes you want less cards related to (with “less” being the key word as the card pool is simply not broad enough to eliminate any one of these three themes entirely). They speak about a rapidly evolving environment for their Organized Play, and also plan to expand along an Imperial keyword theme in both neutral and in-clan cards.
Furthermore, FFG has previewed both a Seeker role only card and a Keeper role only card for each Great Clan, heightening the stakes for their upcoming Winter Court World Championship during the first week of November. Similar to the Top of Clans at Gen Con, the Top of Clans at the Winter Court will be determining their Great Clan’s Role for the next year of Organized Play, shaping both what cards are legal for their faction in game and the direction of their storyline.
Reception to this news has been mixed; not all Legend of the Five Rings players are pleased with this timetable development. One of the main selling points for a Living Card Game over a collectible card game is the sustainability of its play. For the gamer on a budget, there is no competition between the LCG and CCG format, as LCGs guarantee a more diverse, more aware card pool with a lower financial investment than the blind buy, power rare environment of randomized booster packs. LCG players often have the opportunity to see the cards from each set in play before they make the decision to purchase, letting you research whether the cards in that pack are what you want.
Additionally, the steady release of only a small amount of cards each month creates an organized play environment which is dynamic but not quite chaotic. As themes develop, the popularity of certain decks rise and fall with an effective meta. The addition of only a few applicable cards every month spells fewer drastic surprises than the feast or famine model of adding 150+ new cards of varying rarity every three months.
As such, initial feedback from the community for news of this accelerated release has been grumpily lukewarm to resignedly optimistic. While some players genuinely hate the idea and feel that it is a bit of a bait and switch on the part of Fantasy Flight Games, most accept that it’s a necessary step to stave off distribution issues with the Core Set and to expand the card pool sufficiently to allow for a variety of decks to be played leading into its inaugural tournament season.
Aiding that is the fact that the L5R Organized Play environment is developing speedily, with many stores featuring regular play groups. I have begun one such group at a local gaming store, and we’ve already generated a good-sized turnout every Thursday evening (to a point where I have begun to hear stories about a second group meeting on Tuesdays, which is giving me a distinctly Fight Club inspired curiousness).
The first season of Organized Play is meant to last from the official release of the LCG in October and go through the end of the year. The L5R Launch Party was a strictly casual, open play event with single Core Set decks. Ours saw a turnout of 30 players, consisting of both veteran L5R players returning and people entirely new to the fandom. Every Great Clan was well represented, and many players have returned for subsequent regular play evenings. To wit: we already have our Imperial Summons on the calendar for the first brush with the new Clan Roles selected at the World Championship, and the Way of the Rings planned for our first formal tournament.
Inside The Moving Pieces Of Organized Play
Fantasy Flight is also maintaining much of the player-involved card development depending on the outcome of the tournament scene, though while the hosting Clan for the first Winter Court was determined to be Dragon Clan at Gen Con, the storyline prize to be determined there has yet to be announced. The decisions made there, however, will shape the next year of Organized Play, as each Great Clan will be selecting a new Keeper or Seeker Role for the following year.
FFG has also expanded their Organized Play information for L5R LCG in 2018, providing us insight into the Toshi Ranbo Season, which will run from November 2017 to August 2018. Players earn the Hatamoto title by participating (and winning enough) at a Kotei or Grand Kotei event, which is tied to the Great Clan they played. So long as they continue to play that Great Clan, they’ll maintain their title and can influence the development of the storyline. Hatamoto players can earn Favor at Kotei and Grand Kotei events, with the Great Clan earning the most Favor at the end of the season being selected as the “host” of the following Winter Court World Championship in November.
Those who simply attend a major tournament may also cast a vote to gain access to an additional Keeper or Seeker Role for their Great Clan, which will be made available after the last of the Kotei events of the season (specifically the World Championship, but possibly longer). Finally, placing in the Top 16 or better at a Kotei or Grand Kotei also earns a Great Clan points of Glory. At the end of the Toshi Ranbo Season, the Great Clan with the most Glory will receive a unique card available to them in-Clan, based around the season. In this case, it will be the city of Toshi Ranbo itself, one of the most storied and hotly contested cities in Rokugan.
Still with me?
On paper, this seems like a lot of moving parts for Fantasy Flight to keep track of. Hopefully, their Organized Play is up to the task of coordinating scoring for such events across the entire world, as three Grand Kotei and two Kotei events have already been announced in four countries. It is one of the most ambitious organized play models I have seen to date, barring the sheer money involved with the Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix.
They haven’t yet released details regarding how players can get involved at a local level, but they do state that such is to be expected and there will be more Kotei and Grand Kotei events announced soon. If this works, it should prove to be an interesting time to be an L5R player, although this restructuring indicates the end of the era of Regional tournaments and their small storyline prizes in favor of larger events.
Either way, for good or ill this new model of interaction between the storyline and tournament play is shaping up to be far more transparent and predictable, if shielded behind a barrier of high skill in the form of the Hatamoto title. It will be fun to watch this develop in the months ahead.
L5R: The Board Game
In other news, two other games have been announced for Legend of the Five Rings aside from the LCG, living up to the words of Steve Horvath at Gen Con 2016 that Fantasy Flight Games did not buy L5R solely to release a card game.
The first of these is the tactical board game Battle for Rokugan, wherein two to five players assume the roles of Great Clan daimyo using strength, cunning, and strategy to gain control of the region and bring honor to their Clan. While not many details of game play has been released, early preview images show a game with some hidden information, a beautifully designed map of Rokugan, and many bespoke elements tied into the theme of the game.
At a recent FFG event, game designer Molly Glover spoke of falling in love with the deep lore of Rokugan and working hard to incorporate it into the very feel of the game itself. Details other than its gorgeous artwork and its focus on warfare and honor are only speculation at this point as details are sparse, but it appears to continue a trend of evocative graphic design which is rapidly becoming signature to FFG’s L5R tenure.
The Return Of The RPG
Secondly, Fantasy Flight Games has also (unsurprisingly) announced the development on a new version of the fan (and personal) favorite roleplaying game for Legend of the Five Rings. What was unexpected was that they have released an open beta version of the rulebook, available for download on their website.
Katrina Ostrander, head of storyline for L5R, appears to be steering the ship on this one and has already demonstrated an open exchange with those participating in the beta. A survey went out in week 3 of the open beta soliciting specific feedback regarding certain elements of the system and responding directly to several pieces of criticism.
While no update on when a final version will be released, there are strong indications that the designers are paying mindful attention to the various areas of feedback and are trying to figure out how to implement needed changes.
As for own take on the RPG, that will have to wait for another article as to address it fully. In short, I like many of the changes, but there is still much to do before it’s truly playable. Including the player base in the beta process, however, is a right step – so long as it is handled well.
Outside The Echo Chamber
Finally, I would like to address the feedback from my previous article. While having opinions on the internet is usually a less than stellar thing to attempt, I have been impressed with the general response from the community. While many did not agree fully with certain opinions I expressed, the tone of the majority of the discussion has been civil, if not entirely considerate.
Furthermore, there have been many from outside the L5R community who have reached out in response, and I would like to thank them. As with any large fandom, the echo chamber can at times get deafening, and many of us have no idea how we look to the outside observer. Outside voices should be listened to, and they can help us become better as a community.
On the subject of cultural appropriation, ethnic representation, and the romanticization of Orientalism which is coded deep into Legend of the Five Rings, we must be willing to listen to criticism. Both discrimination and representation are very powerful, deeply significant forces to people, and if we are to do better as a community, we need to be mindful and respectful. L5R at its best is a game about community, beyond everything else. Let us make it a good one.
Bye Bye Banzai
With that being the case, it bears mention that FFG has announced that they will no longer be performing the Utz, Banzai chant at major tournaments. Instead, they’ve changed the chant to:
For Honor! (HONOR!)
For Glory! (GLORY!)
And for Rokugan! (ROKUGAN!)
This is not a change that I necessarily agree with, mostly because the chant they have gone with is not great. Part of the power of the Utz, Banzai was its simplicity. As any cheerleader can tell you, the best cheers at the easiest. It would be much more elegant if the cheer removed the first two responses and simply went for an assembled call out for the finish (i.e. “For Honor! For Glory! For ROKUGAN!” with everyone calling out ‘Rokugan’). Still, if the removal of the Utz, Banzai brings even a single person into the hobby, then it will have been worth it.
Thank you again for returning to the Emerald Empire with me, dear reader, and until next time, carry the Fortunes.
David Gordon was a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he also has a long and complicated past with L5R. These were his stories. He can be reached on Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.