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Legend of the Five Rings: Emperor Edition-Gempukku Starter Deck Reviews

Legend of the Five Rings- Emperor Edition

Card gamers who enjoy sophisticated and lengthy gaming sessions will find much to admire about “Legend of the Five Rings.”

When it comes to Collectible Card Games (AKA CCG), the ever popular “Magic The Gathering” tends to be the first game to come to mind mainly because it has been around the longest (20 years to be exact). While other CCG games in the 90’s and early 00’s such as “Star Wars CCG” and “Star Trek CCG” had loyal fans, the CCG genre has sadly faded in popularity aside from a few longlasting titles such as the aforementioned MTG and “Pokemon” (which is technically a TCG). One such title that has stood the test of time, however, is the cult favorite “Legend of the Five Rings” which is currently celebrating its 18th anniversary. “Legend of the Five Rings” (or L5R as it sometimes known as) may not have the marketing push or public awareness that other major game franchises do, but this game has unquestionably developed a rabid and passionate fanbase (and tournament scene) over the years. For those that are unaware, L5R is an Asian-fantasy infused CCG set in which 9 clans (Spider, Lion, Mantis, Crane, Crab, Dragon, Phoenix, Scorpion, and Unicorn) engage in power struggles in the fictional land of Rokugan. The award-winning game has had countless expansions over the course of the past 18 years, but the latest expansion (that I am reviewing here) is titled “Emperor Edition- Gempukku.”

So, what exactly makes L5R stand out from other CCG competitors? Read on to find out.

The Game:

While I can’t speak for other gamers, I can assume that one of the key reasons for L5R’s appeal is that the game differentiates itself from other CCG games. It’s easy for a company to develop an imitation of an immensely popular game, but it’s truly a challenge to create a unique genre game. Yes, L5R does have similar mechanics to other CCG titles, but the game doesn’t feel like any CCG that I have personally played. The first thing that really stuck out to me is that players each use 2 decks- a 40 card black Dynasty deck and a 40 card green Fate deck. While players can customize their own decks, I opted to use the suggested deck listing that comes with the starter decks for the first couple of games. The idea behind this 2 deck situation is that the Dynasty deck is used for locations, events, celestials, and characters (AKA personalities) while the Fate Deck is more focused on items, rings (for earth, air, fire, water, and void), spells, attachments, and strategy/action cards. In between these two decks, players must leave room for 4 cards that are drawn, placed face down, and later revealed from the Dynasty deck. These 4 card spots are known as the provinces and are essential to battles with your opponent. As for the Fate deck, these cards will go straight to your hand. You start with 6 cards at the beginning of the game and draw 1 card at the end of each turn.

Getting into the gameplay more, each player starts with 1 stronghold and 1 Border Keep in play. If you happen to go second, you get to have the Bamboo Harvesters card in play as well (the player going first cannot have this card in play). Each turn is comprised of six phases. The first phase is the straightening phase in which you unbow any of your bowed cards (the L5R equivalent of tapped and untapped cards). Phase number 2 is the events phase which allows the player to reveal the 4 province cards face up, resolve any events on the cards, and attach any regions to a province (only 1 region per province is allowed). The third phase (the action phase) actually allows both players to play as the players can play any limited or open actions mentioned on a card. These are, of course, done in turns. The fourth phase (the attack phase) is where the bulk of the action takes place (which is ironic since it’s actually not the action phase). The attack phase is rather complex and is made up of several parts that involve moving fighters (and opponent’s defenders), fighting (in turns), and adding up the force totals to see who comes out victorious (and gains honor) and who loses personalities and or a province. After that players can purchase personalities and or locations/holdings with gold (you pay by bowing cards that can use gold) in the fifth phase known as the dynasty phase. Last, but not least is the end phase (the sixth phase) where you simply draw a card. Remember, a player can only have an 8 card hand limit.

It should be noted that this is a very symbol and term heavy game. While I won’t go into great detail about everything, I will say that personal honor, dishonor, gold production, clan symbols, Chi, force, limited, open, province strength, and focus values are integral to the overall game. Obviously, there are a lot more rules and regulations to the game, but you’re going to need to consult the mini 132 page rulebook to get a grasp of everything.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, how does one win this game? Unlike many games that only have one way to win, L5R offers up a total of 4 ways to win a single game which include: 1. Destroying your opponent’s 4 provinces. 2. Gaining 40 family honor. 3. Controlling 5 rings or 4. Causing your opponent to have -20 family honor.

Opinion:

Note: First of all, I wanted to say that I played this game with three Emperor Edition starter decks for the Mantis Clan (seafaring warriors), the Spider Clan (violent conquerors), and the Lion Clan (samurai warriors). I did not play with any of the other 6 clan decks so I can’t comment on how they contrast or compare to one another. Each starter deck comes in a beautifully illustrated cube box and contains 236 cards (232 if you exclude the 4 instruction cards). Included in this small box are two 6 card booster packs (whose card totals were added to the 236), a 132 page rule booklet (as mentioned above) and a fold out paper featuring a specific clan story and a suggested deck layout for said clan. Priced at around $25 per starter deck, this is an absolute bargain considering you get everything needed for the 2 decks with a number of other cards that can be switched in or out of the decks. Now, with all of that said, on with the opinion portion of the review!

Not knowing anyone who plays L5R, I went into this game blind. As someone who has played a fair number of CCG games in the past, I thought I would pick up on this game rather quickly, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. If you’re a gamer who cherishes deep, complex, strategic, and lengthy games, you’re going to love L5R because it’s certainly not as accessible as most CCG games out there. I’m always open to challenging games, but I found this game daunting and overwhelming at times. There is a lot to learn about this game’s battle mechanics and turn phases and it can all start to feel like homework. It can be particularly frustrating as the pacing of the game will test your patience. I’m not intolerant of long games in general, but to me, pacing is everything. Whether it’s a movie or a card game, the pacing has to work for you otherwise it can be hard to connect to that form of entertainment.  As an example, I found the pacing of each turn of L5R to be rather odd. On your individual turn, you have six phases to go through. The action phase can go back and forth from player to player as it enables them to use open and limited actions. In the attack phase, if an attack does take place, there is another back and forth element to the fighting which can bog down the game even further. Obviously, the opponent does and should have a chance to defend themselves, but the fighting system feels too by the book and lacks a real sense of excitement. It can be fun to be sure (especially if you are winning), but it’s not as fast paced as one would hope a fighting system would be. By the time your actual turn is over, at least 10 minutes could have passed (especially as the game progresses and the gaming area becomes populated by more cards).  The only real exception to this rule is the rather speedy turns at the very start of the game. Simply put, it’s all a bit overly complicated and it doesn’t need to be.

Another element that didn’t sit well with me was a lack of visual examples online. Now, this may sound like a rather specific complaint that isn’t directly related to the game itself, but I feel it is important for game companies to have introductory tutorial videos in this YouTube oriented day and age. You have to keep in mind that gaming is a very visual entertainment medium and some gamers are visual learners.Whether a game is being taught to someone in person or they are learning from instructional videos, physically learning the game will always be preferable to reading a rulebook. Take, for example, the tutorial videos that Fantasy Flight Games does for their LCG games. If a gamer ever struggled to know what to do on a turn or what not, these videos can be viewed to receive clarification on a certain point that gamers may have a question about. I truly think Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) should adopt a similar series of videos for L5R. Not only would it help gamers out by showing how the game fully works, but the company would also help market this franchise. The videos wouldn’t have to even be fancy, just something that viewers can consult. Editor’s note: After writing this review, I was informed by L5R brand manager Nicolas Bongiu that the L5R YouTube page (http://www.youtube.com/user/L5RVideos/videos) will be releasing a series of designer diary videos that will be explaining rule changes and so forth for the upcoming Ivory release in 2014. At the time of writing this, 3 episodes have already posted so feel free to check those out.

While I may sound a bit critical of L5R, I do actually admire this game quite a bit. First and foremost, I appreciate the fact that L5R isn’t like other CCG titles. There’s nothing worse than playing a game that is a thinly veiled rip-off of another title. Between the 2 deck component and the multiple ways to win, this game offers a refreshing amount of ingenuity. L5R also boasts a very strong, rich theme with an involving and engaging backstory to boot. This is further backed up by stunning card artwork from a variety of artists. I was deeply impressed by the fact that each clan has their own look, feel, strengths and weaknesses which makes for incredibly balanced gameplay.

Overall, if you embrace difficult or time consuming games, L5R will undoubtedly appeal to you. If you’re more of a casual gamer who tends to purchase or play light or fast paced games, L5R may not be in your wheelhouse.

If you find yourself digging L5R and want to further explore other clans or sets, AEG has released plenty of great products that include everything from starter decks and booster packs to booster boxes and starter boxes. An RPG version of L5R is also available. For more information, check out http://www.l5r.com/

July 18, 2013 - Posted by | Game Review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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