Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Legend of the Five Rings

Some of you know this already, but there's a new Legend of the Five Rings game in town. Instead of being a collectible (or trading) card game, it's now a living card game.

What's the difference?

Barrier to entry. In theory.

Instead of random packs, when you buy a Living Card Game, you get the same cards in every pack. No more buying 600 booster packs in hope of getting that one rare card. Now you just buy the pack that has the card(s) you want.

So you buy a $40 starter to get going, and then it's $15 per month to keep up.

That's great! Right?

FFG has historically done a pretty good job with these. The Game of Thrones game was solid. Netrunner has fans, too. With good reason. They also did a Star Wars one for a while (EDIT: Star Wars: The Card Game is still a thing, apparently).

But there is a significant frustration with Legend of the Five Rings, and it has to do with the contents of the box.

L5R is set in the land of Rokugan. Rokugan is dominated by seven major clans, and the core set has cards for each of them. It's understandable - L5R fans are very vocal about dedication to their clan of choice, and leaving one (or more) of the clans out would have led to a major hue and cry.

There's already been some of this crying, as the core set doesn't allow for ronin/unaligned decks. Or monk decks. Or minor clan decks. Or Shadowlands decks. Or nezumi or naga or ...

Honestly, I don't have an issue with most of that. I expect we'll see all of these decks in expansions later. Storyline wonks will probably remember that the first edition of the card game didn't include Scorpions - they were added later, as they revealed themselves in the storyline.

Oh - right.  FFG has rebooted the storyline, too. I'm not sure where we are compared to the original timeline, though, because the presence of Scorpions has thrown me off. There are people who have issues with that, too, of course.

None of these decisions are necessarily bad. Including all seven Clans gives new players the chance to see what they like. That's good. It means the game is more approachable for new players.

The cards, by the way, look great. The included rules are (mostly) clear (more on this in a few). And it has two small training decks pre-designed. You can easily modify these training decks by swapping out all of the Lion for Dragon or the Crane for Unicorn or ... whatever. They're not great decks, but they'll get you through a training game or two so you can figure out where you want to focus your energies.

Here's the big problem, though:

The game includes deck construction rules. You need a minimum of 40 cards in each of two different decks. You are allowed to use any cards from your clan and any neutral cards in your deck at no cost.  You can add a second clan's cards to one of your decks, but there are limits on how many of them you can use.

There aren't enough cards in the box to create a tournament-legal deck. Even if you use all of the neutral cards in there, you can't build even one complete playable tournament-legal deck. You need to buy a second core set - which includes sets of cards that you probably aren't going to want to use. It's close, too. It's about ten cards shy. I think I'd be less irked if it were further off and this were billed as a "learn to play" set.

That's not just irritating. That's not even a minor thing. That's a huge issue. Suddenly this $40 buy-in has become an $80 buy-in. And that's just to hit the minimum level for tournament play. Serious players will need three starters for $120.

Once the first expansion drops the first week of November, you will probably still need a second core set. The first wave of expansions (they're releasing six expansions in six weeks - that is, "Instead of $15 per month, it'll be $90 in two months to keep up) also introduce the Imperial faction. So there will be cards in every pack that are Imperial. So assume they're introducing  cards evenly for each Clan.  Each pack has three each of 20 unique cards.  So I'm guessing that'd be ... two for each Clan, and three for the Imperials. That's already seventeen out of twenty slots. Leaving three neutral cards. But there are fourteen cards that they've already "spoiled." Two from each Clan. And half of those are going to be banned cards in organized play before they are even released.

Realistically, I think that they should have pushed the price point by $5 to be able to include enough cards that buyers would have a playable tournament-legal deck. And a full rulebook (more on this in a moment). This would not necessarily be a good deck or a competitive deck, mind you. But still a playable tournament-legal deck.  The other option would be different packaging - a base set that is 100% neutral, sold alongside clan-specific boosters. Or two-clan starters that - again - are playable right out of the box. Or do what FRPG and AEG did with the collectible game and release clan-specific starters that are playable as soon as you open them.

Why does "tournament-legal" matter?  Because even casual players tend to build to tournament-legal standards. When I still played Magic: the Gathering, we built tournament-legal decks for casual play. In fact, I've never played a deck for any game that wasn't tournament-legal, unless it was solely for teaching the game. Because almost every casual player wants to be a tournament player, even if they never sign up for a single event.

Remember when I said I'd get back to the rules?  There's a notable issue with the rulebook: It's not in the box. There is a "learn to play" booklet, which will get you up and running, but for complex timing issues (and tournament play), you need to go to their website and download the 30-page rules "reference" that they created and chose not to include in the core box. And that rules reference? It's not printer-friendly and there is no printer-friendly version available.

I know that any rulebook for a card game is going to be art-heavy - and I'm okay with that. But a version without the background would be very welcome, because ink and toner are not cheap.  Not even close.

I have one core set right now. I need to play the demo decks a bit before I make up my mind whether or not it's worth spending a significant amount of money before I can actually play the game with my friends.


  1. Derek T6:36 AM

    I would like to preface this with I am not an old school L5R player myself, but I have played a number of FFG LCGs and I am attempting to get into the L5R LCG.

    I agree that FFG screwed up by not allowing enough cards to build a legal deck in a single core. Had they cut the number of clans down to five for the core and then added more clans with deluxe expansions they could have solved this issue. Clan starters would not be a good idea because of players like myself that are not starting with any clan loyalty.

    In addition, the FFG LCG business model has always been built around the "need" to buy three core sets in order to have a "full playset." This time rather than have a core set that contains nearly complete play-sets of faction specific cards they only include "1-ofs." This way if you do buy three core sets you do not end up with piles of useless cards and enough neutral cards you could build two legal decks of different factions.

    The six-in-six-weeks for new packs is also a big pile of mixed feelings. It really puts those who promoted the game on the “LCG Model” of core + a pack per month in a sour situation. Players do not have to buy the packs all at once and can still buy them one month at a time but competitive players are going to want them as quickly as possible.

    However, the card pool in the core sets, even with 3 boxes, is really shallow so the impetus to get more cards into the game quickly is high. In addition, the "Worlds" tournament in November will allow players to make decisions that will impacted legal deck construction rules. Not having access to the first wave could cause poor decisions that will impacted players for the next year. That might be solvable by giving previews to only those winners to make that decision, or possibly just make the spoilers available. So there are good and bad with this decision, however It again could have been solved by limited the clans at the start and increasing the total number of cards in the core.

    As for the contents of the packs, I do not know if there is an “Imperial faction” but there are “Imperial” key words that are in the game and appear to be on a good number of the cards. In regard to the “banned” cards, of the 14 spoiled cards, 12 of them have influence costs. The rules are unclear to me at this point, but a “Seeker only” card with an influence cost should allow any “Seeker” to use the card… even if the clan it belongs to is a “Keeper” and cannot use the card themselves.

    The Rules Reference being a pdf allows for editing as new rules are added or errata created. I agree that the lack of a hard copy in the core made learning the game harder, and the ink intensive PDF is an awful Idea. I hope they change that formatting in the future, or offer a second PDF.

  2. I am mixed on my feelings about some of these changes too. I am able to find the money for the 6 expansions in such rapid succession, but 3 cores are a bit tougher. I am trading with friends for clan specific packs to go for my specific clan. Yeah it isn't a "full" playset, but I can at least get a fairly decent deck hopefully.

    If they end up doing another cycle like this, I may have to look at dropping.

    1. You only need two sets for tournament-legal. And swapping Clan for Clan like you and Stultz did gives you more than the eight cards you need to make up for the shortcomings of the core set.