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 40: Gen Con 2019, Or, A Mixed Two Years
With Indianapolis and Gen Con 2019 firmly in our rearview mirror, dear reader, let us spend a moment to relax and reflect on the last two years of this game. Sometimes it is hard to think that it has only been two years since the triumphant return of Legend of the Five Rings during the Kiku Matsuri, an event which has yet to be rivaled in sheer size and pomp. Standing under the banner of Hall E in the Indiana Convention Center, I found myself thinking back to the game released in 2017 and all the trials and tribulations we have endured since then. With two years behind us, it is a good moment to think about the overall health of the game, and just where it might be going from here.
The July News Trickle
Before we get to that subject, however, we have July’s news and events to discuss, as well as my own time at Gen Con to talk about.
July has been an exceptionally light month in official news from Fantasy Flight Games regarding Legend of the Five Rings, seeing only the release of a single Dynasty Pack, a single piece of fiction, and a single preview article for the upcoming Crab Clan pack. There have been no Organized Play announcements, though a Canadian Grand Championship has been added quietly to the calendar for later this month.
With respect to the L5R LCG, the second Dynasty pack in the Inheritance cycle has been released. Bonds of Blood hit shelves early enough in July to be legal (barely) for Gen Con and featured in it all the Elemental Role locked cards for the cycle. Anticipated as the single most impactful pack of the Inheritance cycle, it quickly lived up to that charge: it was all of a day before the release shifted the competitive play meta dramatically.
While Akodo Kaede gave a useful tool for Lion Clan players and Duel to the Death added some teeth to the Crane Clan, it was the Phoenix Clan which went overnight to dominating the metagame. Although the new Isawa Tadaka and Earth Becomes Sky both are seen as powerful cards, it was the Lion Spell Event, Forbearer’s Echoes, which created an entirely new deck type. I’ll go into this more when I discuss the health of the game and brand overall, but suffice it to say that the Kyuden Isawa deck running Forbearer’s Echoes, Charge, and Fusicho (commonly called Dredge Bird) is right now the deck to beat…and may be for quite some time.
Further previews arrived just before Gen Con began when FFG released an article for the upcoming Crab Clan Pack, Defenders of Rokugan. Expanding the clan’s theme, Defenders of Rokugan will provide the game with 32 new cards focused around Holdings, defending conflicts, and sacrifice. Kyuden Hida will allow Crab Clan players to fill their Provinces with Holdings without sacrificing the ability to bring out Characters, though I suspect it will be used more to simply accelerate the Crab Clan’s ability to play specific Characters.
A recent podcast recently broke down the math, and calculated out that this Stronghold sets the odds of seeing a single Character (at 3x per deck) on the first round to two out of three games. Should the Crab Clan adopt a wide-board strategy, Kyuden Hida gives them effectively a fifth Province to buy Characters from. Give them an Air Role, and they too will likely be on Forbearer’s Echoes. And while the buzz around Kaiu Shihobu has been high, her ability to accelerate the Dynasty deck might be too slow to make much of a difference in the current game.
Also, as a personal aside, I am happy to see Hida O-Ushi finally see print, and she does not disappoint. Her synergy with her brother, Hida Yakamo, will be devastating to see in action.
The Story Continues
“Falling Stars” by Mari Murdock was the lone new L5R fiction bestowed to us (the first since April), which released on July 24th. Picking up the story from “The Last Stone Played”, “Falling Stars” surrounds the events of Bayushi Aramoro’s orders and Akodo Kaede’s fateful choice.
Mari Murdock continues to excel in her depiction of Aramoro, giving us insight into a character it would be easy to hate but contains a full depth that belies a simple villain. The action sequences are excellent, and the balance between Kaede’s narrative and Aramoro’s narrative carries the suspense of the events. The shift to Seppun Ishikawa’s perspective at the end to set up the next piece of development is the most enticing of all, dulled only by the continued wait for the next fiction. As “Falling Stars” coincided with the release of Bonds of Blood, it is presumable that we will see only a single fiction each month until November. But at this rate, we’ll take it.
And that is, quite literally, all the news over the last month from Fantasy Flight Games regarding Legend of the Five Rings.
Organized Play (And A Recipe For Confusion)
For Organized Play, we saw the last of the remaining Elemental Championships play out along with a Kotei in Nürnberg, Germany. Congratulations to Nicholas Simonpietri for winning that Kotei for the Crane Clan. August will be one of the busiest months to date for L5R Organized Play, however, with two Grand Kotei (Gen Con and the FFG European Championship), the Australian Kotei, and both the United States and Canadian Grand Championships. With the state of the current meta game, I am anticipating August to be the month of Phoenix domination, with their Dredge Bird deck easily taking home both the Most Played and Highest Win Rates in the current environment. If FFG is going to act to protect their Organized Play, it will have to be quick.
One thing FFG has done to that effect was to issue new Floor Rules which applies to all of their Organized Play efforts. While this does little to directly impact the Legend of the Five Rings LCG, it has finally instituted a strong policy of timeliness in play, as being 5 minutes late to a match will result in an automatic loss. I witnessed more than one of those at Gen Con, the first event to use them.
It does create a particularly difficult situation in L5R’s Going to Time rules, however. In the L5R Tournament rules, if time in a round has been announced, each player has an opportunity to concede. The Floor Rules, however, make it explicit that asking for an opponent to concede for any reason counts as Collusion, which should result in immediate disqualification. I didn’t witness this happening at Gen Con, but knowing the culture of this game, it’s only a matter of time before a situation develops at a major event unless FFG takes action to clarify their language.
Gen Con Dishonor
With that, let us talk of Gen Con, dear reader.
I got to meet several of you there, and absolutely enjoyed my time in Indianapolis. As has been Cardboard Republic tradition, we hopped on the road on Tuesday night, arriving Wednesday afternoon. A quick shower and meal later, and I was in place to livetweet the annual Fantasy Flight Games InFlight Report. Last year saw the announcement of the innovative new game KeyForge, and there was a great deal of anticipation for this year’s surprises. For many, there was speculation about a new game in the Android setting, and others hoped desperately to see an announcement about an L5R Miniatures games. Those who followed my Twitter coverage or watched the Twitch stream from FFG know that the news was indeed massive but not exactly heartening.
The biggest announcements by far were the launch of new licensed product, a Marvel Comics cooperative LCG, as well as a partnership with Atomic Mass Games to release a Marvel Comics skirmish miniatures games. Neither L5R (nor Game of Thrones) was not mentioned at all during this event. During the Q&A which followed, the president of FFG did respond to a question about L5R, stating that releases were planned through the end of 2020, but that was the only L5R tidbit of note.
This proved the first of many disappointments for L5R fans at Gen Con 2019.
Just before the event, FFG had announced that they would have the Lion Clan Pack, The Emperor’s Legion, on sale in their booth. Yet it was quickly learned early Thursday morning that this was not true. Changing from their usual walk-in display setup, FFG switched to an “Order and Take Out” queue set up for their presence in the Expo Hall, where people could queue with a catalog, request what they wanted to buy at the counter, and then pick up their purchase as it is fulfilled at a separate counter. This catalog likely did have the Lion Clan Pack in it, judging by the large blacked out area on the L5R page. Instead, they were selling the third and fourth Dynasty packs from the Inheritance cycle, Justice for Satsume and Children of Heaven. These L5R LCG products were on a single shelf of the display case, placed at the very bottom, leading many to miss them being there at all.
And then there was the Grand Kotei. Despite hosting nearly 200 players, the Legend of the Five Rings Grand Kotei at Gen Con 2019 was abysmally supported by Fantasy Flight Games. With all due respect to the people who worked hard at Cascade Games running this event, as well as the side events, the level of support from FFG was greatly disheartening to the Legend of the Five Rings community. The hotly desired, Gen Con exclusive promos were produced in very limited amounts, with only 50 per card available for purchase per day, using the Koku earned by playing in ticketed events. While additional supplies showed up by Saturday, the most desirable promos were easily sold out on both Thursday and Friday – before the main events even started. There was no streaming set up for L5R either, despite both KeyForge and the Star Wars games having such. According to some sources, this was not through a lack of player desire, but a request from FFG Organized Play to limit the number of streamers for their major events.
I will be going into my own experience at the Gen Con Grand Kotei in my next month’s article, but for let me again express my gratitude to the people at Cascade Games for the work they put into this event and my sympathy in dealing with the lack of supply from FFG in terms of support.
The combination of these three letdowns from Fantasy Flight Games has left the general L5R community in a state of general (and audible) discontent. The lack of nearly any significant news in July was excused as expecting something big during the InFlight Report. When that failed to manifest, the anticipation quickly turned to bitterness. This was not helped by the appearance of a dominatingly powerful new deck in the meta, as many casual players whose first experience in L5R might have been a Skirmish pod or the Grand Kotei itself came face to face with a deck which crushes its opponent quickly through unstoppable effects. It’s a hard enough sell to entice new players to a game with a $200+ buy-in and a massive skill window when there exists a deck that fills a full quarter of the field at a major tournament despite heavy elements of Clan loyalty.
The Hope For An L5R Genesys
On the tabletop side of FFG, things things are a little brighter, which is a coincidental reversal from this time last year. Despite a lack of any product announcement for L5R RPG in particular, FFG did break ground with its new Genesys Foundry platform. In partnership with DriveThruRPG, they have created a creator-friendly platform for distribution of content for Genesys.
While it is limited at present to the Terrinoth (RuneWars) and Android IPs, or generic fantasy or scifi, the Genesys Foundry provides creators with all they need to publish adventures, supplements, and settings for Genesys. Best of all, creators retain partial ownership of anything they publish through this platform and receive royalties from sales. This is a major win for both FFG and people looking to break into freelance RPG writing, and something I for one would love to see open up to the L5R RPG. The success of the City of Remembrance fanzine proves that there are many creators eager to work with the L5R RPG, and there is an audience who will pay for it.
On Sunday, I played in the L5R RPG module “The Highwayman”, a short adventure into the Shinomen Mori in search of a lost sake shipment. It was written by Alexis Dykema and Duke Harrist. The adventure itself was enjoyable, but it was the pre-generated characters which particularly caught my interest. As with last year’s “Wedding at Kyotei Castle”, each pre-generated character came with a backstory, a character sheet, and a small folding display showing your character. The L5R RPG continues to make strides in representation, with the six characters split evenly along gender lines (2 men, 2 women, 2 non-binary / non-specified), as well as ethnic lines (1 samurai, 2 gaijin, 1 monk, 2 burakumin). The backstories did not shy away from the challenges facing those who are not in the privileged classes of Rokugan as well, with one character whose backstory mentions being nearly mutilated as a child for having artistic talents greater than his caste ever should. My table handled the scenario efficiently, and I would like to thank Matt, Cecile, Marten, Dak, Rhiannon, and our GM Chris Renshaw, for the excellent time!
(At this time I would like to thank Robert Denton III, Rhiannon McCullough, Charles Urbach, Drew Baker, Nen Chang, Amelia and Jude of the Garbage of the Five Rings podcast, Luis and Brandon from the New England L5R Podcast, Ray and Lauren of Dice or Death, Trevor Cuba and Jeanne Kalvar of Court Games, the whole Heroes of Rokugan crew, and Chris Pottorf for making my Gen Con a blast. While I may be on the fence for attending next year for unrelated reasons, it was awesome getting to spend time with you all!)
A Rocky Anniversary
And with that, we turn towards the subject I promised at the start of this article.
It has been two years since Legend of the Five Rings was released at Gen Con 2017, and a lot has happened. Two and a half Dynasty cycles have been released, two World Championships have been won, and the game has evolved significantly from what it was first imagined as. Though not nearly the runaway success that KeyForge has proved to be, L5R has proven to be a sustainable success as a game, and it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into creating a game that respected its decades of history while still finding ways of evolving to make it a better overall experience. Among the community, however, the key feature seems to be a desire for simply more communication from FFG.
To put it more bluntly: many L5R players remember the pain of watching a game they loved slip into decline near the end of its AEG tenure due to poor communication and they have little patience for a repeat under FFG.
2019 started in a good spot, with the promise of monthly releases throughout the year. And while FFG has mostly delivered on this promise, it has done so in an unpredictable manner and devoid of any major announcements. None of the L5R products currently announced have street dates. We can presume that Justice for Satsume will be released sometime in August, but beyond that we simply don’t know. If it will be released before the Emperor’s Legion is also unknown. The announcement that the World Championships will be moving to invitation only was out for several weeks before any details about the event for those who did not earn invites was known. If there are any new L5R themed board games currently in production, or any expansions planned for Battle for Rokugan, we have not heard anything.
Tyler Parrott, one of the lead designers of the game, has been more communicative with the community through unofficial channels than his predecessors were, but the lack of any
definite response from a community manager is leaving L5R fans in a serious lurch. The emergence of a degenerate, overpowered deck at Gen Con leaves a solid question of if FFG will act regarding this, and if so, when it will take effect. Even the rumored response of “Now that the Phoenix have won a major tournament, we can start playtesting fixes,” smacks of a general disregard for the game which disheartens fans. L5R might have been spoiled as the darling of AEG for so many years, but it certainly has lost any of that shine under FFG.
So where does that leave us as a community?
The good news is that we have people working on that. Several corners of the L5R community are speaking about increasing player-created content for the game, with an emphasis on FFG engaging with the community by providing a platform. Additionally, Trevor Cuba of the Court Games podcast has begun raising interest in starting an L5R specific convention, called RokuCon, run for the community, by the community, and supporting all the disparate interests.
Finally, and while this is a long shot, there is always the Winter Court Worlds Championships in November. While Gen Con has historically held a vaunted seat in the L5R community, it is looking more and more that it is becoming FFG’s show to talk about their big ticket items, like Star Wars and Marvel, licenses they have paid a great deal to use (and likely have strict press release deadlines). This leaves the Winter Court event to provide FFG the platform to make their yearly product announcements strictly focused on L5R.
It is my hope, dear reader, that we will see such engagement at Winter Court this year, but I can say with confidence that if we begin asking for it now it will not decrease those chances.
And that is all for this month. Please join us next month as we cover the latest developments of Organized Play, lay down our predictions for the end of the Kunshu Kotei season, and possibly even secure an interview regarding a certain element from Courts of Stone I know we all would like to learn more about. Until then, dear reader.
Carry the Fortunes.
David Gordon is 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 are his stories. He can be reached on Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings and Genesys Foundry images by Fantasy Flight Games.