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 36: Expectations of the Children
And sometimes, dear reader, one can simply get sick for three weeks. Let it be noted that I do not recommend it. Still, despite the lateness of last month’s post and February being short, it was quite the eventful month for Legend of the Five Rings and we have a great deal to talk about.
The Children Have Arrived
Having arrived in stores on February 14, 2019, Children of the Empire has thoroughly shaken up the meta game of the Legend of the Five Rings LCG. As the single largest release of cards outside of the original Core Set, Children of the Empire has catapulted dueling into the spotlight of the game, finally fleshing it out from an occasional aspect to something that nearly every deck has access to.
While it was extensively previewed in the weeks leading up to its release, several of its more impactful cards slipped past unannounced until it was in the hands of less than patient distributors who were more than happy to post the remaining spoilers online. The Elemental Championship in Saugus, MA had the honor of being the first event with Children of the Empire being legal, having received special permission from FFG Organized Play to waive the 11 day waiting period for legality, and it drew enough players to make it the largest Elemental Championship in the United States so far this year.
Every Great Clan received cards in the Children of the Empire, with some being considered distinct winners already. The Unicorn Clan picked up the powerful Dynasty character Utaku Kamoko, bringing an increase in their aggressive play while insulating herself from the dominance of Dishonor effects in the environment. Honest Challenger and Challenge on the Fields have become auto-includes in any Unicorn Clan deck as well for their powerful ability to deny key resources during a Conflict for opponents.
Finally, Shinjo Ambusher has given the Unicorn Clan the final piece to their puzzle, providing them a solid answer to Provinces which can cripple their early aggression, like Upholding Authority. Both the Dragon and Crane Clans picked up heavy support for their dueling themes as well, with the Dragon Clan gaining Mirumoto Hitomi, the Mirumoto Dojo, and the Mirumoto Daisho, while the Crane Clan gained Kakita Toshimoko, Kakita Dojo, and Iaijutsu Master. The Crane Clan also gained an edge in the form of Paragon of Grace, a card capable of creating sustained card advantage every turn. Similarly, the Lion Clan gained a solid 4 Fate body in the form of Matsu Tsuko, and two workhorse Conflict cards, Hand to Hand and True Strike Kenjutsu.
Not every Great Clan benefited directly from the bevy of new cards, however. Despite gaining a useful Dynasty character in Hida Yakamo, the Crab Clan picked up no new tricks in the expansion and seem to be struggling to maintain a competitive presence. The recent removal of Against the Waves did more for the Phoenix Clan than Children of the Empire, though Isawa Ujina has opened a new angle of denial in directly removing Characters from the game.
Meanwhile, the strongest card for the Scorpion Clan was without a doubt Kirei-ko, especially with the new ruling placing it as effectively stopping the many triggered abilities which can Ready key Characters between Conflicts, though a good argument can be made for the Emperor himself, Hantei XXXVIII, being best tool box for the heavy, end-game control playstyle they are currently favoring.
When speaking about the goals of Children of the Empire, Tyler Parrott, the lead designer on the product and the current head of design for the LCG, spoke of increasing the presence and awareness of dueling in Legend of the Five Rings, as well as creating a stable of powerful, signature unique characters to stand as iconic figures for people to build decks around.
In the first, CotE has been almost too successful. The added emphasis of dueling in the game has already begun to create an environment not unlike the one seen just before the introduction of the first Restricted List, due to the power of Policy Debate. Defend Your Honor has proven to be a powerful denial tool inside a Conflict, often allowing an opponent to create a punishing board state that denies interactivity through bully dueling (throwing a duel which by the mechanics of the game, cannot be lost). Characters with dash Military skills, who thus cannot be dueled using Military, have become as valuable as characters with dash Political skills were in protecting your hand from Policy Debate. Policy Debate itself has seen a resurgence of being the Restricted Card of choice as well, forcing opponents into a frequent state of having no option BUT to be bully dueled into a losing state.
Regarding Tyler’s second goal, of creating a new stable of powerful, signature characters at 4 Fate through the expansion, should be considered a much healthier success.
While Shosuro Hametsu and Hida Yakamo are not exactly tools which the current environment favors, both provide powerful tools to their Great Clans which cannot be ignored. Matsu Tsuko may not be the powerhouse needed to turn the fate of the Lion Clan around, but she favors the strengths of the Great Clan while expanding their options. Both Kakita Toshimoko and Isawa Ujina have become staples of their Great Clan, but I would put them third and fourth in power due to the sheer acceleration provided by Utaku Kamoko or the dominating control of Mirumoto Hitomi. The 4 Fate slot in most Dynasty decks is one which has seen a good deal of competition already in the game, but the power of the CotE 4 Fate Unique Characters will be probably one of the most impactful design goals of 2019.
The competitive play meta will barely have enough time to settle after the changes caused by Children of the Empire before the Unicorn Clan Pack, Warriors of the Wind, thunders onto the scene later this month. Among these new cards is the mysterious Moto featured on the cover of the product, with most speculation pointing this towards Moto Chagatai. Fingers remain crossed that he will be a powerful game closer – something that the Unicorn Clan still need.
Masters of the Court, the Crane Clan Pack coming in April, has already had its powerhouse character spoiled in the form of Daidoji Uji, whose text allows him to act like a more efficient Hidden Moon Dojo. The amount that Uji warps the game rivals even the powerhouse of Isawa Tadaka, a card that even many top tier Phoenix players have lately been calling to see banned.
While we have substantially more cards unspoiled in Masters of the Court, early tests of the previewed Stronghold has led some players to begin speculating that the Crane Clan may finally get the deck they need to simply sit back and gain honor until they win. I am not sure if I want to see a return to the days of competitive counting in L5R, as many of the old Honor-Rocket decks of the CCG were hardly interactive, but it would be interesting to see a version of a defensive Honor runner become viable in the new era.
While we’re still on the matter of card previews, the new cycle beginning in May was also announced. For The Empire will begin the new Inheritance Dynasty Cycle, followed by Bonds of Blood, tying in thematically to the 2019 Kotei season’s focus on Kunshuu, the Ancestral Sword of the Hantei. Among the goals of the Inheritance cycle is to increase the prominence of Bushi in L5R, pushing to make them on par with the highly desired Shugenja and often useful Courtiers. Two of the cards previewed so far also give additional ways of gaining the Honored status, something enhanced by the presence of the Crown Prince himself, Hantei Sotorii. Provided you can find the means to get Sotorii Honored and keep him Honored, the Crown Prince will be a formidable piece in any arsenal, easily capable of breaking nearly any Province solely by himself.
For the Empire will introduce a new mechanical keyword to the game, Disguised, allowing certain Unique Characters to take the place of non-Unique characters already in play, carrying over any Attachments, Fate, and Status tokens. The non-Unique character is placed in the Discard Pile afterwards, though it is unclear if this will count as leaving play for effects which care about such.
The Disguised character does enter play ready, however, allowing a player an additional use of the body on the field and providing a strong push of momentum for certain decks. In many ways, this feels like an effective update of the old CCG’s Experienced mechanic, though I am curious if that is something we shall see in a future expansion. All in all, it appears that Disguised will favor a more aggressive playstyle, giving it more of an edge against the more conservative, control strategies which have been the dominant style since the introduction of the first Restricted List.
Speaking of Competitive Play, while there have been no surprise additions to the Restricted List in the last few weeks, there was an update to the Rules Reference Guide. Although not extensive, the timing rules on “Triggered” Abilities was cleaned up, making Reactions to “triggering” such an Ability occur after the full text of the Ability has been resolved. Previously, anything reacting to the “triggering” of the Ability would resolve before the action itself, allowing for a card like Watch Commander to cause an Honor loss over a card played to discard it. This clarification makes the process of the game much smoother, and increases the playability of cards like Kirei-ko. Additionally, the language around “Copying” a character was clarified, as well as how duels interact with the Honor Dial and effects which prevent modifications to a Skill value.
Back to the Shadowlands, Back to the Game Store
L5R news hasn’t been limited to the LCG, either. With respect to the L5R RPG, two new products have been announced, though no timeline has been given as to their release.
Similar to how the Shadowlands book will feature information on a Minor Clan (the Falcon Clan), a Great Clan (the Crab Clan), and campaign features around the war against for forces of Fu Leng, Courts of Stone promises to provide information on the Deer Clan, the Crane Clan, and the courts of intrigue and mystery in the heart of Rokugan.
Winter’s Embrace will serve as a companion module to Courts of Stone, similar to how the Mask of the Oni is a companion of Shadowlands, allowing players to explore the concepts outlined in the sourcebook through gameplay. It is my hope that we see Fantasy Flight Games keep to this trend of products for the RPG, fleshing out the world through a particular Great Clan and the role they serve alongside a module which demonstrates how those concepts can be implemented.
However, included in both the LCG’s For the Empire, and the RPG’s Shadowlands and Courts of Stone supplements are exclusive bonus items for direct preorder through the FFG website. For the time being these are just extended and expanded pieces of artwork, but it sets a precedent in product presentation which puts a bad taste in my mouth.
While a friendly local game store can, in theory, place a direct preorder on your behalf to gain access to these items, doing so directly will go around their relationship with their distributor. Such an approach impacts their profit margin on the product they are selling you. When done in isolation, this loss of profit can be made up for in other ways, such as organized play fees or gaming space fees.
When an entire product line begins to encourage this behavior, however, this quickly leads to friendly local game stores being incentivized to not provide support for a particular game line, leading to them ordering less product of these lines in order to save costs. This in turn makes the game line harder for new players to locate and can ultimately prove to be very destructive to a community. Game stores serve as much, much more than simply a place to buy games, and being a community center and place to play games is often where the profits from sales of games gets spent.
This appears to be a continuation of a trend of FFG showing less support for local stores supporting the Legend of the Five Rings brand. With the movement of Organized Play support away from an in-store, monthly league or tournament package to a much smaller “casual play” model, players will need to seek out the larger stores simply to find a place to play. I cannot help but feel that these two developments are coming far too close together to be unrelated and may be part of FFG’s model to drive to increase profits in 2019 after the sale of Asmodee back in October.
As a longstanding member of a game that has historically relied on local stores for it to survive, I urge you, dear reader, to show your own support at your LGS with your wallet. Even if it means a delay in receiving the product and missing out on some very pretty artwork, every sale counts in small markets like this one. You can do your part supporting your local community by going through the proper channels at your gaming store. Tell FFG that this plan for direct sales is not going to work.
That all being said, with the L5R RPG recently being reported as the second best-selling RPG brand in the Fall of 2018, there is some hope that this is merely a temporary measure to test direct sales for viability, and not a permanent change to the business as usual approach here. Something to keep an eye on, at least.
And that is all for this month, dear reader. Join me next month, wherein I will speak about the Warriors of the Wind, Shadowlands, and go in-depth on the surprisingly expansive collection of podcasts and livestreams throughout the Legend of the Five Rings community. It is my goal to present as exhaustive of a list as possible, so if you think you know of a podcast I might miss, please reach out to me on Twitter at @OniNoDave. For those who I will be seeing at PAX East, I wish you luck. Until next month.
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.