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 27: Imperial Implications
Let me start by offering you an apology, dear reader. It has been a while since I last put forth words on the state of Legend of the Five Rings. Barring a lengthy explanation and discussion, I will say simply that it has been a difficult winter, but there is hope for a brighter spring. And as winter moves into spring, we have a vast amount of news to catch up on.
First and foremost, the Imperial Cycle has come and gone thanks to the accelerated release in November and December, and the environment has reasonably stabilized since. The expanded card pool has seen some Great Clans rise while others struggle to maintain their place at the top. The game has matured significantly in the short time following its release, and I’ve had the opportunity to play more games than I can remember.
It feels good to have a regular L5R play group again, and one with a diversity of Clans and levels of competitive play. I’ve taken this opportunity to tour the Great Clans, seeing how it is to play with (and against) each of them, and I have finally settled on my primary faction for the foreseeable future. The time, it would appear, has come for me to shed my colors of Spider loyalty and stand for the time among the Dragon Clan.
Worry not though, fellow villains. This is likely only temporary until either the Spider Clan comes back or FFG surprises us all by incorporating the Naga faction.
For now, the play style of the Dragon Clan provides enough variety to firmly engage me and keep me invested in making new and interesting decks. They’re not the most competitive Clan at present, due to poor matchups against the Scorpion and Crab Clans, but they provide a consistent challenge that leaves me walking away from the table a little wiser. With its current play surrounding the use of Attachments and strong Actions inside Conflicts, I’m seldom in a position where I am without something to do.
I’ve experimented with the Monk Hijinks deck a bit – enough to see what it is lacking (one more Mantra, and a solidly good Monk at 3 Fate) – as well with the Anti-Fate mechanics the Dragon Clan provides. Neither is quite there in the competitive scene, but the Dragon with a Crab splash regularly performs well in most tournaments. While I dislike it for its reliance on a single powerful Character (Niten Master), I am bringing a variant on it to my local Battle for the Stronghold league. Rest assured, more details will follow in the coming months. Wish me luck.
The Long Arm of The Emerald Empire
In the months following the initial Imperial Cycle, FFG has eased up on additional releases, leaving us with a fairly static environment. Without a new release every month, gameplay hasn’t varied greatly, and while this is helpful in allowing the dust to settle, it seems that the hype wave the LCG has been riding since Gen Con has begun to even out. The Disciples of the Void Phoenix Clan Pack will likely bring some players back, but only time will tell how the regular release schedule will reinvigorate a tiring player base.
Still, we have the Imperial Cycle, and how the game has changed. While every Great Clan got some new toys in the Imperial Cycle, some Clans got what they badly needed while others were left behind.
For some of the Great Clans, the inclusion of a large, 5 Fate cost unique Character served as their big game changer:
- The Lion Clan gained Ikoma Ujiaki, with an ability that can turn an entire Conflict and, with the right cards, dominate an entire game.
- The Dragon Clan’s Agasha Sumiko provides a strong, balanced Character with a potent trait – provided you can hold onto the Imperial Favor long enough to make her useful.
- Yasuki Taka has accelerated the Crab Clan’s economy into an unstoppable force, synergizing with its already impressive ability to benefit from their losses to maintain tempo.
- The Unicorn Clan’s Moto Juro has nearly replaced their Champion as their strongest Character, but it’s sadly too little to move them from their place at the bottom of competitive play.
- Bayushi Kachiko and Isawa Kaede both round out their Great Clan’s options for powerful characters, but neither truly stand out as much as the others.
- Regrettably, of all the Clans, the Crane Clan’s Kakita Yoshi fails to mirror the power of his rival, Ujiaki, though it is possible that the cards necessary to see him shine are still on the way.
Also included in the Imperial Cycle was a collection of new Provinces. A new Elemental Role-specific Province was released for each Ring, as well as new Keepers and Seeker-specific Provinces. In addition, each Ring saw a new Neutral Province without Role restrictions, allowing everyone to play them.
Of these twelve Provinces, three have truly stood out as shaping the way the game plays. Before the Throne stands alongside the Art of War and Art of Peace as Provinces you do not want to break. Taking two Honor from your opponent may not seem like much, but it’s usually enough to swing tempo early on – sometimes enough to win a game. Public Forum can also throw a serious wrench in the tempo of the game, turning an easy break into no forward momentum. While neither of these can be placed under the Stronghold, it’s only Public Forum where this matters.
Both, however, pale in comparison to the impact felt by Feast or Famine. It is possible that it will have no effect on the game, but it alone has been credited in some circles as one of the few cards keeping the Dragon Clan competitive and keeping the Lion Clan dominant. Players have learned to invest heavily on key Characters, such as Lion Pride’s Brawler and Crisis Breaker. Players may have many options to remove Fate, but placing that Fate on your own Characters can change the momentum of entire games, especially early on.
Equally impacting the L5R environment are a handful of new cards that stand above the rest in terms of their influence on gameplay. First is Miya Satoshi, who provides a surprising toolbox to a wide variety of decks. As one of the few ways to effectively tutor for cards in your Dynasty deck, Satoshi’s ability can help guarantee the presence of several new cards in the cycle.
Moreover, Satoshi’s action can fill a Dynasty discard pile with Characters, allowing the recursion abilities of the Lion Clan’s Ikoma Eiji and Kitsu Spiritcaller, as well as the Unicorn Clan’s Cavalry Reserves or Neutral-traited Courtiers to truly shine. Miya Satoshi sees extensive play at present and will continue to be a staple of any deck wishing to make use of powerful Imperial cards in the future such as Seppun Ishikawa or the new Magistrate Characters.
Second is the Scorpion Event card A Fate Worse Than Death. It was questioned by the community when first revealed, with many players debating its use. At a whopping 4 Fate cost, it remains the third most expensive Fate card in the game, beaten only by Bayushi Kachiko and Consumed by Five Fires. Still, its pivotal impact is undeniable. In competitive play, the ability to bow, send home, dishonor, blank, and remove a Fate all in a single action is a massive tempo sweep. It is vulnerable to Event cancellation (a massive hit economically due to its cost), but its home in the Scorpion Clan means there are plenty of options to protect it.
Ironically, the community has since come around to viewing it as being undercosted for its power level, and puts into the hands of Scorpion players a truly devastating option. Luckily, its high Influence value has limited its play as a splash card, but in a deck which relies on a Conflict deck and high Fate costs, it can be just the right kind of magic bullet to break an opponent’s momentum.
The final card has become so ubiquitous that I can’t remember a game of the new L5R LCG I’ve played or watched where I haven’t seen at least two copies of it being played. The Neutral Event card Policy Debate creates a Political duel between two Characters at a Conflict. The winner of the duel looks at the loser’s hand and discards a card from it.
What this often translates into is a player with a Character of Political Skill at least 5 points higher than an opponent’s in a Conflict can remove a card from their opponent’s hand without risk or penalty. The information edge gained by looking at an opponent’s hand is significant in and of itself, but the ability to trash a card makes such information even more invaluable. The Kitsuki Investigator in the base set already did this at a cost of 1 Fate to an unclaimed Ring, but it was limited to only during Political Conflicts.
There are no such limitations on Policy Debate, nor is there a Fate cost for the Event. As a Neutral Event, it can go in any Conflict deck without worrying about Influence cost or Clan alignment. While not always the strongest card to be played at every opportunity, Policy Debate has had such a profound impact on the competitive environment that Characters with a null Political Skill have gained value since they are illegal targets for the duel.
Quarterly Contests And Contributions
It has been three full months since the Imperial Cycle has been released, and the Kotei season has been fairly active. Although there was a brief in-store program through the Imperial Cycle, FFG’s Organized Play has been mostly focusing on preparing for the “Fight for your Stronghold” league in Q2 2018.
Interestingly, the majority of the announced Kotei and Grand Kotei in the Toshi Ranbo Season will be taking place in Europe, showing a sustained interest for the LCG in that market. Out of the ten announced upcoming Kotei, five are in Europe, with only four in the United States, and one in Australia.
The early Kotei numbers this year in both the US and Europe have shown higher turnout, especially at the European Koteis, though many speculate that this is due to the ease of travel and lodging at the European locations. This has had an impact on the competitive meta as well, as some cycling of the “top decks” has occurred despite a lack of new cards in the environment – a topic I will be discussing in further detail in a future article.
For the time being, we can eagerly look ahead to the next phase of the L5R revival. Fantasy Flight Games has begun the preview cycle for the Disciples of the Void Phoenix Clan pack, and it is shaping up to have a strong impact on the game. They have also announced the upcoming release of The Swords and the Spirits by Robert Denton III, a writer some might remember as Spooky of AEG’s L5R Story Team and the staff from Winter Court IV.
I honestly cannot wait for this novella. It features Isawa Tadaka and Shiba Tsukune in starring roles, both of whom are old favorites of mine. Furthermore, Spooky’s way of writing the supernatural world of Rokugan is insightful and compelling. He captures the perfect balance of sympathetic, relatable people surrounded by magical, fantastic dangers that is a true delight to read. Rest assured, you will be hearing all about this novella once I get my hands on it.
The future of Legend of the Five Rings is burning bright. Carry the Fortunes, dear reader. Until next time.
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.