Legend of the Five Rings (popularly known as L5R) was a setting first published in 1995 by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). It was a roleplaying game, collectable card game and has also had board-games, a miniatures game, a Live-Action roleplaying game and a series of tie-in fiction novels produced over its life span with AEG. In September 2015 Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) announced they had purchase the rights from AEG and would be looking to initially produce a card game under their Living Card Game (LCG) umbrella.
Living card games are different from collectable card games in that the packs are set, and not random. This way every player has access to the same selection of cards after purchasing the core set and any additional releases, and the games are won on deck construction and game skill, and not on the number of cards you have been able to purchase.
The L5R setting is based on oriental mythology, legends and fairy tales, with samurai from a variety of clans fighting for dominance through military and political might in the setting world of Rokugan. The core set release focus’ on the seven major clans of the Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion and Unicorn. Each clan has its own role in the universe and as a result, its own characteristics and play style, such as the mighty Lion clan, masters of tactical warfare, or the stoic Crab clan, who defend the Empire from Oni (demons) and other evil beings from their defensive wall.
The Legend of the Five Rings LCG currently has the core set that released on 09 November 17, while the first cycle of expansion packs started releasing weekly (currently the first three are available and will be reviewed at a later date). Each cycle will have six expansion packs and each expansion pack with have three copies of twenty new cards (sixty in total). This means that the available card pool will increase dramatically through the release cycle, and then settle until the next cycle.
In the L5R LCG, players take turns expending resources and taking actions to achieve one of the three victory conditions, military victory through breaking opponent’s provinces, reaching 25 honor, or by reducing your opponent to 0 honor.
Players play using two different decks each, the dynasty deck that contains characters and holdings that are used to attack and defend and the conflict deck that contains tactics, maneuvers and tricks that can be used in and out of battles.
A game of the L5R LCG plays across several rounds of five phases until one of the three victory conditions are met. The round phases are:
- Dynasty – Marshalling forces phase from dynasty deck
- Draw – Conflict deck draw phase
- Conflict – The battle phase of military and political conflicts
- Fate – Character removal phase
- Regroup – Clean up phase at the end of the round
A few interesting points to note about the L5R LCG are:
- When you summon characters, they only stay on the board for one turn, unless you invest further resources on them, which makes them targets for your opponent’s actions.
- To draw cards, you, and your opponent secretly bid honor, which means that drawing a large number of cards could be at the cost of your honor pool.
- The dynasty deck cards that aren’t purchased, and brought onto the board each turn, remain face up on a province and are discarded if that province is broken, which makes powerful cards a target for your opponent to deny you that card later.
The L5R LCG is complex, the basic rules will take you at least two games to fully understand, and four games to be comfortable with and many games beyond that, with each clan to really get in to. It’s not that the rules are hard to understand, far from it, the rulebook is set out very well and the game flows very nicely, the complexity and also its beauty are from the different card interactions, and back and forth actions that set up and counter-act your plans.
What this means is that those looking for a quick and easy game, probably won’t find what they want with L5R. A game of L5R can range from 45 to 90 mins in length and will constantly challenge and surprise you. It is very much a game that rewards investment and thought, and neither of those can be rushed.
The core starter set contains everything you need for two players to be introduced to the L5R LCG, but if you wish to progress further past the introduction, each player should have their own set of the L5R LCG Core set, which at the RRP of £29.99, is a very decent buy-in for a card game. If you wish to play competitively, you will need to purchase two or three core sets to give you access to three of each card (which will mean throwing away a lot of duplicate cards and counters), but that’s only if you’re looking to play on the tournament scene. After the core set, the expansion packs will contain three copies of each card, so the core set should be the only pack you need to purchase multiple copies of.
The product itself is of Fantasy Flight Games’ usual high quality, and the artwork is incredible as you can see from the images in this article.
For the time that AEG ran the L5R franchise, the setting had an ongoing story progression and each updated core release of the card game and the roleplaying game saw the story progress. Clans and heroes fell out of favour, battles were won and lost, along with some great warriors and the Empire also saw a struggle for the Emperor’s throne. At AEG run tournaments, the winners of the tournaments were allowed to make decisions based on the ever growing story of L5R.
FFG are going to continue this tradition, and the winner of the first L5R World Championship at the start of November, chose the path of Justice for the Lion Clan. The results of that decision, and the short story associated with it can be view on the FFG page. On top of the story decisions, the highest ranked winner of each clan in the World Championships also choses a role for their clan, this only has an affect on deck construction for official tournaments, but players may wish to use those rules when they play with their friends as well. More details can be found on the Official Clan Roles page.
FFG have affectively restarted the L5R story with their release of the core set, and have released a lot of their own tie in fiction, which can be downloaded and read for free from their site. So there’s no need to worry about reading up on the 20-year history that AEG put together.
The biggest difference with the L5R Living Card Came and popular Collectible Card Games like Magic the Gathering (MtG) as mentioned before, is the availability of cards. With an LCG, all players have access to all cards, with a CCG, players only have access to the cards they are lucky enough to get in random packs, or purchase as singles. Players of CCGs know how quickly great single cards can increase in price, meaning that staying competitive can be a costly affair.
In terms of gameplay, L5R and MtG are only similar in terms of the fact they are both card games. MtG has a single deck, where your resources are also contained within the deck and you complete your full range of actions in your turn, occasionally interrupting your opponents turn to cast specific spells or use abilities. L5R has the two different decks, which operate differently and much more back and forth between players during each phase. There are several resources to keep track of and the three different victory conditions to monitor. While MtG does have the remaining cards in the deck and life to consider, the complexity of MtG comes from the variety of options in the card pool and randomness of the player’s hand, where as the back and forth playstyle of L5R, limited attacks per turn and the varying nature of number of cards in your hand against your honour total make them very different games.
The appeal of living card games, even to veteran CCG players is the financial aspect. Buying three copies of the core set and one copy of each of the expansions from the first cycle (6 in total) will set you back roughly £162 ($210) and until the next cycle is released, that will give you access to the entire current card pool. In comparison, with 63 rares in the recent MtG Ixalan release, if you’re able to pick up a booster box of 36 boosters for $90, you will come away with 36 random rare cards, meaning a purchase of at least 2 booster boxes to give you a chance of 1 of each rare, and that won’t even be close to competitive. But that’s what the difference between living and collectible comes down to. Both games can be enjoyed casually for a reasonable amount, and MtG do offer pre-made starter decks as well as get you started packs, it’s at the competitive levels that CCG’s can become extremely costly.
The Bottom Line:
The L5R LCG core set is well worth a look to see if you want to invest further and will provide you a lot of play time for the price.
For those who are looking for a quick and easy card game, this probably isn’t for you unless you’re a huge fan of samurai/Japanese/fantasy themes, but just be aware of the time it will take you and your opponents to learn. If you’ve been playing the L5R LCG and you want to introduce a new player, it will take them several games before they will offer you a challenge, knowledge of the game and cards is key.
My only criticism of the core set is the forced purchase of three sets to be competitive. As an introductory boxed set, it’s a great product, but I wish FFG offered either a top-up set, or a competitive player’s core set, simply to save on the waste. I have no problem with the costs, £90 for a full competitive set of any card game is a solid purchase, and other card games require a much larger investment for the same return offered here, but it would be nice for the competitive players to have the option of a collector’s edition style product (like those offered in the video game market) which gave them a full set of cards and maybe some other collector’s items for those wanting to invest a little extra.
If you’re willing to put the time in to the L5R LCG, you will find a rewarding, challenging and beautiful game, as slow and refined as a tea ceremony, but as sharp as a katana.
Get this game if:
You’re a previous fan of AEG’s Legend of the Five Rings.
You’re looking for your challenging card game, or a contender for the next competitive card game.
Avoid this game if:
You’re looking for a quick and easy card game to play.
You’re not looking to invest a lot of time in.
This copy of the Legend of the Five Rings LCG Core Set was provided by Esdevium Games.
Let us know if you’re interested in the L5R LCG, or if you’re a player of a previous edition in the comments below, or on our social media channels. What do you think about this edition? Which clan is your favorite?
The L5R LCG is a great start to what could be a huge competitive card game, the score is based on buying three copies of the core set for a competitive or casual player looking to invest in L5R as their card game or if purchased as a taster to see if you want to invest more. If you are looking at this as a two player stand-alone product, it drops to 6/10, but that's not what this was designed as. The L5R LCG is an ascetically pleasing and challenging card game, and once learned, gives a great taste of what is to come.