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Our Hands-On Impressions of Legend of the Five Rings From Gen Con

Our Hands-On Impressions of Legend of the Five Rings From Gen Con

For me, the Fantasy Flight Games booth is the beating heart of Gen Con. The 50th anniversary edition that just wrapped up was no different. The line to get into the booth was massive with hours-long waits, constantly full demo tables, and by the end of the convention, the list of sold out product was impressive. One of the items that rushed out the door before the end of the weekend was the first game featuring Legend of the Five Rings under the stewardship of Fantasy Flight Games.

We’ve covered the return of Rokugan before, but as a short reminder, it’s a fantasy world influenced by Asian elements in the same way A Game of Thrones was influenced by the War of the Roses. The Emerald Empire has its fair share of deadly intrigue, brutal violence, and even monsters kept out by a large wall (though the game predates Thrones by a year). The Living Card Game looks to revitalize the setting and tell some more great stories. Even with 700 participants and tight inventory controls at the booth, the game was sold out by the end of Friday and won’t hit the general market until the beginning of October. Thanks to this old Scorpion samurai’s connections, I was able to acquire a copy and play a few rounds during the convention.

For anyone who hasn’t been following the news, let’s get this out of the way; this is not a reboot of the card game like FFG’s Netrunner. This is an all-new game and the sooner old players can get those rules out of their heads, the sooner they can start to grasp the strategy of this one. Each play chooses a clan and build a deck separated into two types of cards. Dynasty cards represent the clan’s samurai and holdings, while the conflict deck represents the plots, schemes and hidden resources the clan can use to advance their agenda. Players play through five phases, alternating actions between bringing people into play by spending Fate points, attacking each other through military and political means and clearing the board as fate runs out on characters and they disappear into the discard pile. The game ends when one player takes the stronghold province of their opponent, gains 25 honor and wins or is brought down to zero honor and loses.l5c01_cardfan_p11

The structure of the game pushes players toward conflict quickly. This is not a game where each side builds up to an epic battle at the end. Breaking provinces through conflicts is a path to victory, but even winning smaller battles provides bonuses thanks to the elemental rings in play. The only way to get the ring bonuses is to win conflicts and the game encourages diverse strategy by enticing unused rings with a pile of free fate for whoever contests a ring that has not been used for a while. While the Fire ring was an obvious choice for my Scorpion due to its ability to honor and dishonor cards, I found myself choosing other rings not because of their power, but because that sweet, sweet Fate would be too tempting to help bring out a card next turn.

That Fate is another source of the tense decisions in the game. Players choosing to bring in a personality card can choose to pay additional fate to keep the card around longer. If a card has no Fate on it, it goes away at the end of the turn. Players have to carefully weigh the advantage of more powerful cards lasting a single turn versus lesser cards that can stick around for a few rounds.  I tend to always put an extra Fate on my personalities to help them stick around, which makes for an interesting element of variable cost assets in the game.

The most challenging part of the game is its current scarcity. Playing two players out of one starter box creates bare minimum decks. The unofficial 3-core strategy of FFG goes official with this game, with two boxes probably needed to build one full-strength deck and three needed to really open up strategies for pushing what each clan does well. Fans who want multiple decks for different factions will definitely need more cores, though as expansion packs come out this will be less of a necessity. Thanks to my participation in the Kiku Matsuri, I had several copies of Way of the Scorpion to use in my deck, which put me at an advantage against my friends who only had one or two copies of their clan philosophy cards. Once Organized Play, general release and the expansion packs start kicking in, I feel like the game will truly start to blossom.

Legend of the Five Rings is one of the richest settings with one of the most loyal followings in tabletop. It was great to hear Gen Con once again echoing with the cries of loyal samurai during the tournament. I look forward to see where FFG takes Rokugan.

Even if I have yet to actually win a game.

What is your favorite clan? Let us know in the comments.

Feature Image Credits: Fantasy Flight Games

Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.


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