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 29: A Barrage of News And Scorpions
When it rains, it pours.
Welcome back to flood season. The peal of thunder in the distance that was the initial announcement of the Elemental Cycle of Dynasty Packs for the Legend of the Five Rings LCG was simply the herald of a monsoon of news pouring out of Fantasy Flight Games over the last month. It has been a struggle trying to keep up, but I have been diligent with the bucket and keeping the drains clear. For the time being, there is hope that this boat will be kept afloat for at least another month or two before a short hiatus, but I will talk about that one in a moment.
A Minor Correction
Before we get into the specifics of the many announcements over the last four weeks, I first would like to take a moment and address an issue brought up in my last article. Previously I had described the reaction to the “6 in 6” accelerated release schedule of the Elemental Cycle as to be profoundly negative and was asked several times where I drew this opinion from, as well as whether or not I had any concrete evidence to that end.
When it comes to the reporting of community option I synthesize such opinions from many places. These include online discussion hubs such as the L5R SubReddit, the L5R FFG Forum, various Discord servers dedicated to L5R, as well as in-person discussions from local gaming stores in my region. Is this a purely scientific method? No, but it is a journalistic one.
With respect to the specific criticism about the speedy release schedule, I also went one step further. This included reaching out to the awesome people over at the Wardens of the Midwest Blog who recently ran a two week survey of the online L5R community. They gave me access to the overall data, (scrubbed to remove any personal details), and it directly addressed the question of the community’s response to the repeating of the Accelerated Release plan for the Elemental Cycle.
Out of 1017 responses, 382 stated they did not like the repetition of the Accelerated Release for the Elemental Cycle, wheras 306 stated they were favorable to it. Another 251 responses were ambivalent, with the remaining participants either leaving the question unanswered or stating they did not understand the question.
With all of that information in mind, therefore, I will rescind the “profoundly” part of the negative response from the community in my description of it. Additionally, I craft this open letter to FFG with a simple request:
Dear Fantasy Flight Games. If you do read this, and you are planning on continuing the Accelerated Release schedule for all the L5R LCG Dynasty Packs, please just tell us now. As a community, I can promise you we will not get angrier than we would at anything else, but the benefits to doing so would be exceptional. If it is going to simply be the way of things, let us know so we can plan accordingly. And please, please, do not go months without anything L5R related. The community gets restless.
Now, let’s dive into the latest month of L5R craziness.
L5R Gets Restricted
First, I would like to point you towards two excellent articles that came out in the last month which should be considered Must Reads for any L5R player in an even remotely competitive play environment.
The first is by Bayushi Akai over at the Imperial Advisor regarding the Defensive Dishonor Strategy. Although it approaches it specifically from the point of view of the Scorpion Clan, the theory behind it can also apply strongly to any deck which relies on getting an Honor edge to starve its opponent of cards. Taking that to heart, I have had some success with a less Niten Master focused Dragon Clan deck, as well as having some fun in the Crane Clan with its ability to threaten the 25 Honor victory.
The other article of note is an equally excellent strategy article recently written by the Crab Clan hatamoto Joe Habes. Reflecting upon a Kotei season which has seen only two Great Clans with victories, Joe dissects the principal strengths of the Crab Clan and the Scorpion Clan in the current environment and how they have repeatedly been piloted to victory by some of the top players in the world. With the Scorpion Clan earning yet another victory at the Birmingham Kotei in the UK, the insights Joe brings to the current metagame is insightful. Unfortunately, there are no solutions in the card pool at present.
The first major news development of late is the inevitable release of a Restricted List for LCG Organized Play. Similar to the Restricted Lists of Fantasy Flight Game’s other LCGs, the Restricted List for L5R presents several cards which, while powerful on their own, have proven to have a negative impact on the game environment, especially in how they interact with other powerful cards.
As of June 2018, players in formal Organized Play events may choose a single card from the Restricted List to include in their decks. They may run a full playset of those cards (provided they are not otherwise limited for deck construction), but they may not run even a single copy of any other card on the Restricted List. The cards which made the list came as no surprise to anyone actively playing the game at the competitive level, as some of the most powerful cards in the game were found on it:
Both Charge! and Policy Debate serve as staples of the game, without a single deck in most tournaments not running three copies of each.
The Crab Clan and the Lion Clan felt a slight pinch, as both Iron Mine and For Greater Glory were included, along with the Phoenix Clan’s Against the Waves.
Finally, the Dragon Clan saw a second hit, with a specifically targeted restriction on the Crab Clan card Pathfinder’s Blade, considered a staple to the most powerful Dragon Clan strategy of gaining repeated use out of Niten Master.
Like most players in the community, I feel that the Restricted List will improve the quality of the game overall, but its newfound presence will do little to stop the continued dominance of the Scorpion and Crab Clan dominance. Decks of both Great Clans ran cards like Charge! and Policy Debate simply for the convenience that each gave. Iron Mine is simply one of the most powerful attrition cards in the game, making it the obvious choice for Crab Clan. Forged Edict provides the Scorpion Clan with unpredictable, virtually free Event cancellation, allowing them to maintain the tactical edge in most situations.
Furthermore, the Crab Clan still have the choice of Raise the Alarm, which is not as offensively powerful as Charge! or able to be used when defending one’s Stronghold, is still available and prove useful in other ways. Likewise, the Scorpion Clan still have the Conflict character of Meek Informant, who allows you to look at the opponent’s hand without the risks involved with a duel.
Ultimately, it is the Dragon Clan who took the biggest hit. While Kitsuki Investigator can give all the advantages of winning a Policy Debate, it still comes at the cost of 1 Fate, which is then paid to a Ring and could potentially wind up with the opponent. They have no in-clan option to replace Charge! and must choose between the defensive power of Mirumoto’s Fury or the offensive power of Pathfinder’s Blade. Considering the Seeker of Fire role at the World Championships last year was supposedly done entirely for access to Pathfinder’s Blade, the Dragon Clan are going to need to re-prioritize their style in time for the end of the season.
A Multi-Clan Affair
Next, on May 22nd, Fantasy Flight released a set of beta rules for their new multiplayer variant, called Enlightenment. This allows 3-5 players to play L5R against one another. L5R has a long history of multiplayer variants and originated as one of the better games of that format in its CCG days. The creation of a new multiplayer format has been a pet project of many people inside the community of L5R LCG, typically modeled on either the Game of Thrones Title / Rivalry system, wherein players choose a Title each turn which gives them an advantage but limits who they can attack, or the Predator / Prey system first seen in Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, wherein players have an enemy they can attack and an enemy attacking them, and score points based on eliminating their target.
Enlightenment, on the other hand, uses neither of these approaches. Instead, it introduces a new victory condition: Enlightenment. As opposed to the standard LCG format, each player in Enlightenment has their own set of Elemental Rings, and after an Elemental Ring is claimed during a Conflict, it is placed on one of your unbroken provinces and not returned at the end of the round. Claim all 5 Rings and you win the game.
While the intent is worthwhile, Enlightenment has some flaws. Namely, this variant of the game begins to fall apart when trying to retain Elimination / Conquest as a victory condition. The introduction of a Treaty system, wherein two players may make an agreement by investing an Honor penalty if one violates it, is interesting in that increases the rewards and dangers of interactivity between players, but Enlightenment suffers terribly from a “Pile on the Loser” system. A player may be the target of any number of Conflicts in a given round, and there is nothing to stop two or three players entering into a Treaty to only attack the odd player out until they are eliminated.
Doing so is even strategically wise, as an eliminated player cannot win the game, cannot threaten other players, and it’s far easier to win a Conflict against a player who has had to spend extensive resources defending against multiple other Conflicts in the same turn. While the core mechanics of the Enlightenment variant are solid, there needs to be hard limit on how many times a single player can be the target of a Conflict in a given Round. Otherwise, there is simply no reason not to simply kick the losing player while they’re down, creating a profoundly negative play experience.
Finally, FFG made two announcements about their upcoming releases. First, the Elemental Cycle will begin on June 28th, 2018, with the Breath of the Kami, and finish on August 2nd, 2018, the Thursday of Gen Con. This would mean that neither of the last two Dynasty Packs will be legal for the Gen Con Kotei (the last Kotei of the Toshi Ranbo Season), but it does ensure all six packs will be legal for the Winter Court Championships in November and ensuring all six will be available for purchase at Gen Con.
Interestingly, it creates a potential dynamic between both the Thursday and Friday at Gen Con, however, as the fourth Dynasty Pack will become legal that very morning. The preview releases for the Elemental Cycle have already begun, and we shall see whether or not the promise of a new Stronghold in that first pack holds out.
Fingers crossed for my fellow Unicorn players for something powerful in time for the end of the Kotei season…
Additionally, Fantasy Flight Games announced the next Clan Pack, due out in October. The Underhand of the Emperor will be providing the Scorpion Clan with a toolbox of new options, including a new Stronghold and a new Philosophy which prevents them from losing the game. Released alongside the new Clan Pack will be a Scorpion Clan Novella, written by Mari Murdock and featuring the character of Bayushi Yojiro investigating a murder in Ryoko Owari Toshi, the aptly titled City of Lies.
Predictably, the latter announcement has been more positively received than the former. With the Scorpion Clan having won the majority of the Kotei level events over the last year, much of the community does not see the Scorpion Clan as the one in need of a significant boost in options or tools and leads to a ‘rich get richer’ sentiment. Still, it is widely understood that the decision to focus on the Scorpion Clan after the Phoenix Clan was very likely made before the initial release in summer 2017, as an LCG’s production cycle would take at least that long.
Personally, I feel the inclusion of more cards into the environment, even of the dominant faction, will improve the depth of the game overall, and I am very eager to see what Mari Murdock does with my favorite character in all of L5R: Ryoko Owari Toshi.
And that is all for the moment, dear reader, save for one one final programming note: there will also be no Dave of the Five Rings in the month of August due to my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Rest assured, next month will be full of response to all of the news unveiled here today, followed in September with full coverage of my time at Gen Con. Until then, dear reader.
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.