Defend the Honour of your Clan, prove your loyalty to the Emperor, and defeat your enemies in Legend of the Five Rings.
Legend of the Five Rings, (or L5R) is a re-boot of a long-running CCG which was recently acquired by Fantasy Flight. If you’re not familiar with the LCG model, check out our introduction, otherwise dive in for all the details on Legend of the Five Rings the Card Game.
Legend of the Five Rings: What’s in the box?
As is standard for a Living Card Game, Legend of the Five Rings starts with a Core Box. This gives you all the dials and tokens you’ll need to play the game, and enough cards to make slimmed-down decks for any of the seven Clans. The cards are good, as are the tokens, and Fantasy Flight always do a good job of dials.
For me, one of the stand-out features, and a large part of why I was so excited for this game is the stunning quality of the art. A lot of it is re-used art from the CCG, but there’s also a fair amount of new stuff, including the must-have for any self-respecting Fantasy Flight Game, a stunning Magali Villeneuve piece.
Looks Great, but how does it play?
Legend of the Five Rings is a 2-player, head-to-head game, where you are looking to defeat your opponent before they can defeat you. You can do this in a number of ways: by Breaking a series of provinces which represent their home, by advancing the Honour of your Clan, or by destroying your opponent’s Honour.
The first thing to set up when getting ready for a game of Legend of the Five Rings, are your provinces – these are the locations where action takes place. One goes under your Stronghold, the unique home of your clan, whilst the other 4 are placed in a line across your play area, as places from which you will deploy characters, and which your opponents will attack and attempt to destroy.
Legend of the Five Rings is unusual in having you prepare not one, (as with most LCGs) but two decks. The first deck, your dynasty deck, is primarily composed of characters and you put cards from this deck onto each of your 4 provinces. At the start of each turn, you turn all cards in provinces face-up, and can then pay to play them, so that they can participate in conflicts and trigger abilities.
Your second deck is the Conflict deck –the home of Shenanigans. It contains some more characters, who will be able to jump into play in the middle of conflicts, along with events and attachments which can modify the game-state and give characters a big boost or a punishing drawback.
Accept your fate: all men must die!
Game of Thrones, Fantasy Flight’s previous competitive LCG, has an unhelpful tendency towards gridlock: bigger and bigger armies facing each other, until nothing can happen unless someone drops a massive reset effect – All Men Must Die.
Yokuni’s hoping to stay around for a few turns, but the swordsmith is disappearing this round
Legend of the Five Rings cuts the Gordian knot of character build-up with fate. When you play a character, you pay their cost using “Fate” (the basic currency of the game), but you can also choose to put extra Fate on a character. At the end of each round, characters with no Fate are discarded, and all remaining characters discard one fate. I really like the way that the Fate mechanic keeps the game in a state of flux, and forces tough choices on players – Spend fate on 3 characters for a single turn? Or 1 or 2 that will stick around?
Honour is a central concept in the society of Rokugan, the fictional setting for Legend of the Five Rings takes place (think Feudal Japan with a sprinkling of magic and monsters), and it plays an important role in the card game. You start with around 10 Honour (it varies by Clan), and reaching Zero Honour means instant defeat, whilst 25 means instant victory. Most games won’t actually end in (Dis)Honour victories, but awareness that you or your opponent are nearing one extreme or the other will certainly impact how you play.
The player on the right will get 5 cards – but have to pay the player on the left 4 Honour for them
Each round, after you play characters from provinces, but before beginning conflicts, players bid on honour dials – choosing a number between 1 and 5 which represents how much honour they are prepared to sacrifice, in order to fill their hand with options. Both players reveal their bids simultaneously, and draw the number of cards shown on their dial. Then, the player with the higher bid must give honour equal to the difference in numbers to their opponent: bid too low too often, and you’ll have no tricks to win conflicts. Bid too high, and you’ll be dishonoured.
There are other ways to gain and lose honour. Many card effects will allow you to pay honour to trigger, or increase the power of certain cards. Characters can also become Honoured or Dishonoured at various points in the game – aside from altering how powerful they are in conflicts, this has longer-term implications, as you lose an honour when a Dishonoured character you control leaves play, and gain an Honour when an Honoured character goes.
Honour is another aspect of Legend of the Five Rings that captures the flavour of the game really well, and it translates elegantly into a gameplay mechanic. One day I may even succeed in dishonouring an opponent fully.
Characters with 0 strength can participate in a conflict (although they won’t do much unless you can boost them), but characters with a dash for that skill cannot even be present
The main part of a turn in Legend of the Five Rings, is the Conflict stage, where you take it in turns to attack each other’s provinces. Each player can declare 1 Political and 1 Military conflict per round, using any characters they have in play, and adding up the strength they have for that conflict type. Once players have been back and forth playing events, attachments and triggering effects, both will eventually pass, and the winner is the player with higher skill committed (attacker wins ties). If the attacker wins by enough, he “Breaks” the defender’s province, and can discard the card that was held on it. Regardless of who wins, all participants go home “bowed” (turned sideways), which means that they cannot be declared as attackers or defenders again this round. Once you have broken 3 provinces, you can attack your opponent’s stronghold, and breaking that will win you the game.
That’s a very brief summary, and there’s a lot more going on in the game, but there are just so many great things about this game that it’s impossible to spend time on them all.
If you liked it, you should have put a Ring on it
Surprisingly perhaps, for a game called Legend of the Five Rings, the old L5R CCG didn’t really do a great deal with Rings. This time Rings are right at the centre. Every time you initiate a conflict, you chose a ring associated with one of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water or Void. Whoever wins the conflict claims that ring for the round, and a victorious attacker can trigger the effect of that ring: Earth draws you cards and discards them from your opponent’s hand, whilst Air allows you to gain or steal Honour. Fire Honours or Dishonours characters, Water Bows or Readies characters, and Void removes Fate from characters in play. Aside from working out how you will do your best to win 4 conflicts per round, you also need to pay careful attention to which ring you choose, as these effects can be very powerful when triggered at the right time.
Pledge Your Allegiance
Each clan is led by a Champion – often worth building decks around
Legend of the Five Rings has a great history of Clan loyalty – players picking one Clan to play, and sticking with it.
It’s too early to say whether that will continue into the LCG era, but what is certain, is that you need to pick a Clan to build your deck for. As a very rough guide, here’s a hint of how each Clan plays:
- Crab – Defence and Cancellation. For Game of Thrones fans, these guys are basically the Night’s Watch
- Crane – Courtly Politics. Lots of focus on Honour, not big fans of Fighting.
- Dragon – All about attachments, and attachment control. They have Monks and Tattoos
- Lion – Fighting. Lots of little characters overwhelming you in a swarm
- Phoenix – Elemental Effects. Lots of Shugenja (~sorcerors), and lots of cards that care about which ring is currently being contested
- Scorpion – The True Heroes of Rokugan – they specialise in exposing the true dishonour of other clans, and are not afraid to make sacrifices for the greater good.
- Unicorn – Pinky-purple, bonus points for using My Little Pony Card-Sleeves. Military focused, they specialise in moving around.
(Some crazy people will try to tell you that Scorpion are the Villains of the story. That probably goes back to a time when they killed the Emperor, but it was for a good reason. Also the story has been reset, so that hasn’t happened this time… – if Fantasy Samurai fiction is your sort of thing, check out “The Scorpion”).
In the CCG, Legend of the Five Rings had a constantly evolving story-line, which players could influence based on tournament results, and decisions made by champions at major events. For the LCG, Fantasy Flight have reset the Lore, taking us back to the very early days, and making a few major changes. It’s unclear just how much influence players will be able to have on the story (it’s definitely “some”), but we do know that FFG are putting out lots of L5R fiction on their website, and this is clearly a game that cares about theme as much as mechanic.
Legend of the Five Rings: Final Thoughts
The detail on the art is fantastic
Based on the Core Set alone, Legend of the Five Rings is everything I’d hoped for and more: it looks beautiful and the theme is being really well-developed. The rules are approachable for a game this complex, and even with a limited card pool, there are so many interesting and difficult decisions to be made. As someone who plays a lot of light, co-op games, there’s something really refreshing about playing a game that requires such sustained concentration, and I haven’t played a card game since Thrones Second Edition that did such a good job of bringing on the brain burn.
You can play Legend of the Five Rings using only a single Core Box, but if you do, the experience will be more random (as you will only ever have 1 copy of each card in your deck at a time) than the full version, and you won’t really have any deck-building choices to make.
With a second copy of the Core Set, you can build decks that meet the “full” requirements (minimum 40 cards in each), and get greater reliability from including multiples of key cards. Fantasy Flight have announced an accelerated release schedule for the first cycle of Dynasty packs, meaning that Legend of the Five Rings will have a fair-sized card pool far quicker than previous LCGs. That’s certainly good for opening up options, but does significantly increase the cost of getting into this game if you want to play competitively.
Overall, I’d give this a 9/10 as a Core Set – a great starting point, with loads of promise for the future. As a play experience by itself, with no intent to expand, it probably drops to a 7/10. Still lots of interesting decision, but more random, and you will eventually learn all the tricks that can come out to hurt you.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.