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 43: To Minnesota and Back Again
And what an experience it was, dear reader! Thank you for your patience in this month’s article, as always. November was quite the packed month for Legend of the Five Rings, as well as quite the busy month for myself. Hence the length of my last missive. December has proven a little less eventful so far, but we shall see what the final weeks bring.
Per my previous article, I had the good fortune of attending the 2019 Winter Court World Championship in Roseville, Minnesota, which ran from November 6th-10th. Five days of gaming is something I have done before, but never quite this focused around a singular game. While I didn’t quite leave Roseville needing to take a break from Legend of the Five Rings, I will say that I was well satisfied with my time playing there.
The subject of the 2019 Winter Court World Championship and how it changed the game forever is, simply, such a large topic that it would take its own full article for me to give you in sufficient detail. And that is exactly what I intend to do – if all goes well before the end of December. In it I will elaborate on my experience there and will speak at length about just how the new Elemental Role situation will impact the 2019 / 2020 Kotei season.
Suffice it to say, the Roles have been freed, and the metagame is a wild, wild place right now. In the spirit of the old Chinese proverb, it seems we have the fortune to live in interesting times. But we’ll get to that later.
In the meantime, let’s talk about November.
Lifting the Clan War Veil
From Fantasy Flight Games November finally provided more information about the upcoming deluxe expansion set, Clan War, as well as the next Dynasty Cycle, now officially called the Dominion Cycle. Several cards from Clan War were previewed through a livestream in early December, showing off several new Provinces which favor the Enlightenment multiplayer, as well as several cards which play fast and loose with the rules of control.
While it is not yet apparent if giving an opponent control of a Character can be used to force negative effects upon them, it will be interesting to see if such a deck can emerge from the ever-increasingly complex ocean of the LCG metagame.
Out of the cards previewed from Clan War, the Lion Clan currently hold the winning spot with both Battle Aspirant, a Character which can harpoon an opponent’s Character into a defending position, and Called to War, an Event which can place a Fate on a Bushi you control. All in all, the cards previewed so far show Clan War to be an interesting addition to the game, building out the capacity of the LCG to support two forms of multiplayer while adding a few tools for the main one-on-one version of the game.
Dominion Carves Out New Territory
The Dominion Dynasty Cycle will be adding much more interesting elements to the LCG, featured in its first preview. This Cycle introduces two new keywords to the game, as well as explores new design space in curious ways.
The first new keyword is Eminent, a Province-only keyword which causes the Province to start the game face up – identical to how the Toshi Ranbo Province worked. Each of these Eminent Provinces also feature two Elements and can count for either for purposes of deck construction. Tactically, a face up Province is a major vulnerability for most decks, as it is a wealth of relevant information for your opponent. However, with the dual Elemental alignment and the right text, this tradeoff could potentially be worth it.
The second new keyword is Rally, a Dynasty side keyword which places the top card of the Dynasty deck into the same Province as the card with the keyword after it’s revealed. Rally dovetails nicely with Dominion adding Dynasty deck Event cards, which previously were only Conflict deck cards. Rally expands on the design space opened up in the Crab Clan Pack, allowing multiple cards to be placed into a single Province – something not expressly forbidden in the rules but not able to happen without specific effects which trigger it. Importantly though, since Rally places the next card face up but triggers on the reveal, it does not chain with itself and thus creates a limit to its effectiveness.
Between effects like Rally and the new Events, the L5R LCG is beginning to explore using its Provinces as a secondary hand, one which can only be used during the Dynasty phase at the start of a round. Previously, taking Actions in this phase were treated on a strict “as needed” basis, due to a rule giving the first player to pass in the Dynasty phase 1 extra Fate.
Once a player passes in the Dynasty phase, however, they could no longer take Actions during it. This quickly developed a distinct economic advantage which favored decks which did not need to take Actions during the Dynasty phase, something certain playstyles and Clans were able to use more effectively than others.
Having only four cards in your Provinces, and those cards being limited to Characters (who you have to bring into play) or Holdings (which were in play after being revealed), there hasn’t been much of a reason to play in the Dynasty phase if you could avoid it. While A Season of War, our first Dynasty deck Event, is not perhaps the most powerful Event in the game, it will absolutely have a powerful impact on any deck looking to create a wide board. I am looking forward to these new mechanics, and hope they change how the game is played.
In other L5R news, the final pack of the Inheritance Dynasty Cycle has been released, along with both the Crab Clan Pack and the Dragon Clan Pack. Shoju’s Duty ends the Inheritance cycle with a selection of new, intriguing cards, especially the new Bayushi Shoju and Kakita’s Final Stance. Expect to see both shake up the meta in the coming months.
Additionally, the Crab Clan Pack, Defenders of the Wall, introduces an entirely new deck archetype for the Crab Clan, allowing for a Holding heavy build without sacrificing Dynasty speed. Defenders of the Wall also provides a great deal of support for the Crab Clan’s existing mechanics, with several strong cards for each of its strategies, like Hida O-Ushi and the Strength of the Mountain.
The same, however, cannot be said for the Dragon Clan Pack, Seekers of Wisdom. Despite adding a new Stronghold, a new Province, and several new Dynasty and Conflict cards for the Dragon Clan, the best three cards in the pack are Unaligned. Ichiro is the strongest Character, Elegant Tessen is the strongest Conflict card, and Support of the Dragon takes in the third spot because it allows other Clans to dip deeper into the higher than normal Influence cost Dragon Clan Conflict cards. The Dragon Clan’s two presently competitive themes, Attachment heavy towers and dueling dishonor / kill, received no effective support.
Seekers of Wisdom did finally give the Dragon Clan enough Characters with the Monk trait to remove their dependence on the Seal of the Dragon, but outside Togashi Gaijutsu, none of them are worth playing. Togashi Hoshi is a 6 Fate body with the same Skills as the 5 Fate Togashi Yokuni from the Core Set and an Action which is best used as an Attachment removal – something the Dragon Clan already do efficiently.
The worst part of the Seekers of Wisdom is how it focuses on the mechanic of “after you have played X cards in a Conflict” as a play restriction on several of its Actions, exemplified by the new Stronghold, High House of Light. L5R LCG is a game won, more often than not, by choosing to conserve resources until it is necessary to expend them. Rarely does winning any one single Conflict decide the course of a game, unless something has gone very wrong or you are delivering the final act of the game.
As such, resources spent to win a Conflict, especially cards in hand, must be done only when absolutely necessary. If a card requires other cards to have been played prior to be effective, it needs to be a powerful payoff. Void Fist falls into this category but remains the only effect currently worth its cost of two spent cards. Anything which requires more cards to have been invested needs to be exponentially more powerful than a Military Skill gated bow and send home.
Case in point: High House of Light’s secondary effect requires five cards and is substantially weaker than Void Fist. It can only target Monks, its primary effect only stops Event abilities which target, and then only as an Action, making it far too slow on the attack. Lastly, it has a 7 Influence, a “balance point” which has been discussed in the past as a sign of how strong the designers believe a Stronghold to be. High House of Light is a perfect example of everything wrong with the Seekers of Wisdom. It is slow, weak, ineffective, and boring.
Compared to Mountain’s Anvil Castle, it is worse in every measurable way, and compared to Shiro Kitsuki, does not even has value as a platform for fun and silly decks. The only good thing I can say about the High House of Light is that the artwork is pretty, a sentiment which can be applied to the rest of the Seekers of Wisdom Dragon Clan Pack. At least the artwork is pretty.
The Promise of Promising War
On the most positive side of things, the 2019 / 2020 Kotei season has been announced, and the hard work of the L5R part of the FFG Organized Play team is beginning to show. The Season of War promises to be the most exciting yet, with many of the Great Clans gearing up for conflict the likes of which Rokugan has rarely seen. The Season of War will feature the Tides of War, a mega-game which reminds me of the L5R Kotei seasons of old.
Three major prizes are on the line for this season, compared to the single prize of the last two years, along with a robust selection of event prizes. As explained in their announcement, the victories of each Great Clan in the Top 16 and above will contribute points towards earning one of three unique cards to be printed in a future expansion. The L5R Organized Play chose to continue the tradition of allowing Clan Challengers in Day 2 as well. As such this next season is promising to be a very dynamic time for many reasons. I will speak more of this in January, dear reader, but to put it simply, this is movement in the right direction from FFG Organized Play.
Winter Tales Before Winter Court
For fiction, we have received three new fictions from the month of November, and early December. The announcement for the Season of War came with a new fiction from Josiah ‘Duke’ Harrist. “A Bloody Harvest” follows the actions of Utaku Kamoko in the field of combat against the Lion Clan, examining her own history with war and honor. “Pine and Cherry Blossom” by Marie Brennan picks up where her novella, The Eternal Knot, left off and tells the story of Togashi Mitsu’s journeys across the Empire in pursuit of his mysterious task granted by his champion. Finally, Robert ‘Spooky’ Denton finished his fiction of “The Cornered Lion”, reflecting the story choices made at the 2019 Winter Court World Championship.
In other L5R fiction news, several sharp-eyed readers clued me in on news coming from Asmodee’s latest division, Aconyte. Founded back in May 2019, Aconyte is Asmodee Entertainment’s imprint for tie-in novels of their various game lines.
Unsurprisingly, Legend of the Five Rings features prominently in the plans for 2020, with two full novels announced for the coming year. May 2020 will see the release of Curse of Honor from David Annandale, and Poison River by Josh Reynolds is on the docket for an August 2020 release. Alongside the ebook and paperback release of these novels, Aconyte will be releasing these novels as audiobooks, which is a huge victory for accessibility. Give Aconyte a look for yourself. I cannot wait to see more from this new project.
And that is it for this article, dear reader. Keep an eye here at The Cardboard Republic for my next article, and may the holiday seasons find you with joy to spare.
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 images by Fantasy Flight Games.