The Imperial Cycle for the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) Living Card Game (LCG) consisted of six packs of pre-determined cards that were released weekly from the start of November 2017. Fantasy Flight Games decided to release them weekly, so that players had access to all the cards from the cycle in a short space of time. This release schedule would change the competitive meta over the release period, but then allow it to settle for a time until the next release.
To use the cards from the Dynasty Packs, a copy (or three) of the L5R LCG core set is required. You can check out our review of the core set here if you're unfamiliar with L5R, or the LCG system.
Reviewing the Dynasty packs is complicated. Each pack contains three copies of twenty pre-determined cards, so you know exactly what you're getting and your purchase will depend on what type of LCG player you are. If you're a competitive L5R LCG player, then you probably already own all the packs, you've figured the meta out and you have several well constructed decks. For the competitive player, all the Dynasty packs are essential and because of the LCG system, a great price to have access to the entire set. Unlike the Core Set, multiple purchases aren't required as each pack contains all the cards you need, which when compared to the buy-in for any other CCG, makes it extremely reasonable.
If you're a hobby player who is just trying out the game, looking to expand slightly out of the Core Set, or only interested in playing one or two clans then you're able to view what cards are contained in each pack and decide if you need/want any of those before purchase. This allows you to build your collection exactly how you want it. Obviously buying a full pack just for one card won't be very cost effective, but the cost for a whole set is still extremely reasonable and expands your collection substantially.
So this review will look at each Dynasty pack from the cycle individually, looking at some interesting cards and naming my top three cards from that pack and an overall mark out of ten. Then the final score will be for the Imperial Cycle as a whole.
Tears of Amaterasu
The first dynasty pack in the Imperial cycle brings some interesting cards. Isawa Kaede is a powerful character for the Phoenix, and Smoke and Mirrors allows an interesting mechanic for Scorpion players (or those playing Scorpion cards in their deck) in that it allows you to enter a conflict, and then return shinobi characters unbowed, leaving the defenders bowed, offering a very ninja-like mechanic that could be interesting in the future. I'm also pleased to see the Shadowlands trait on Goblin Sneak, more for what it could mean for the future, but also because it's a fundamental part of the franchise' story. Tears of Amaterasu is a solid first pack, adding some interesting cards to most clans.
Tears of Amaterasu score: 8/10
For Honor and Glory
The second dynasty pack in the Imperial cycle brings a huge card for Lion players in Ikoma Ujiaki, who if the right conditions are met, allows the player to bring in two unplayed characters to the current conflict from strongholds and a strong neutral card in Policy Debate, that with a little set up in your favour, can allow you to see your opponents hand and discard a card. There are a lot of very strong cards in this pack, which means that if you are picking and choosing which packs to purchase, and depending on your clan/playstyle, this will almost certainly be near the top of your list.
For Honor and Glory score: 8.5/10
Into the Forbidden City
The third pack in the Imperial cycle produces some further interesting cards. Feast or Famine is one of my favourite cards of the cycle, allowing you to move all fate from an enemy character to one of your characters with no fate, (fate is paid as characters are played in order to keep them in play for longer than one turn, which means if timed right, can remove a huge character from your opponent and keep one of your characters around for a few turns for free, at the cost of losing the province). Feast or Famine is currently limited, at the time of writing, to the Fire role, which means if using those rules to play (and competitively, you will be) it is restricted to Lion and Dragon decks (for more information on roles, see our core set review). Another decent card in the pack is the Hiruma Skirmisher, which gets the covert trait until the end of the turn in which it was played. Covert allows you to pick a character that cannot be declared as a defender for the conflict, meaning it can be played for some easy and surprise wins. Phoenix also get another strong card in Prodigy of the Waves, which has been put to use in some interesting combos, but on it's own, allows it to ready as an action if the water ring has been claimed, meaning it can be involved in multiple conflicts during a turn. Possibly the strongest pack of the first cycle, depending on your clan preference, but all clans get a decent card and some get key cards.
Into the Forbidden City score: 9/10
The Chrysanthemum Throne
The fourth pack opened up the Phoenix dishonour deck that I wanted for my Scorpion deck, by using some cards from this and the third pack. For those not after a dishonour deck, Curry Favour is a zero cost Crane card that allows you to unbow a character involved in the last conflict you declare, which is situational depending on if you went first or second, but gives you free options regardless. Dragon players get Agasha Sumiko, who doesn't bow if you hold the imperial favour when attacking, meaning she is free to defend, or attack twice. Some great cards again in this pack, some very specific cards, which means that some players may want to give this pack a miss, but solid overall.
The Chrysanthemum Throne score: 8/10
Fate Has No Secrets
The fifth pack in the cycle includes decent options for most clans, but the cards that stand out to me are Crisis Breaker for Crab, which allows them to bring in berserker traited cards if you are losing a military conflict, which is underused at the moment, and requires some set up with the Seal of the Crab card, but could see more use in the future and A Fate Worse than Death, as it's so typically Scorpion, it's a way to deal with high value characters and I love the thematic feel of the card for the clan. Another solid pack in the cycle, that contains some key cards.
Fate Has No Secrets score: 8.5/10
Meditations on the Ephemeral
The sixth and final pack gives Crab and Phoenix some really strong cards, but I first want to mention the interesting Shinjo Scout for the Unicorn, who is a low cost character, who gives you 1 fate (the currency used to play characters) when you pass first during playing characters in the Dynasty Phase. What this means, is that if you put some extra fate on the card, to keep it on the board for several rounds and you pass aggressively over those rounds, the card will slowly regain that invested fate for you. This obviously requires some forethought, deck design and aggressively passing, but I think it's a very interesting card. A Legion of One is also a very thematic and interesting card for the Lion Clan, allowing you to remove fate from one character involved in a military conflict to add up to +6 to their military strength, which can be used in attack or defense as a real game changer for that conflict. As mentioned before, Crab get some strong cards in this pack, and Iron Mine is one of them, effectively upping the amount of durability Crab characters have for staying on the board and again, I feel adds a very thematic element to their decks. A final strong end to the First Cycle, with some great cards.
Meditations on the Ephemeral score: 9/10
The Bottom Line:
The average overall score for the L5R LCG First Cycle is 8.5/10, but I'm going to raise that to 9/10 overall. As mentioned previously in the Core Set Review and at the start of this review, the buy in for buying the whole first cycle (on top of three core sets for competitive play) is very reasonable, and the increased options and card pool that the first cycle offers is very strong. If you're playing competitively, there are some key cards in the first cycle that you will want access to and if you're not, there are some very exciting thematic cards (theme is very important to me in a card game and I really like how FFG are developing each clan). You are able to only buy the whole pack that has the cards you want access to, but if you're enjoying the L5R LCG, you'll want to have access to all of the first cycle.
I'm really enjoying the development of the L5R LCG and I'm looking forward to how they take it from here.
Get this game if:
You want to play the L5R LCG competitively.
You want to expand the L5R LCG Core Set with some great and thematic cards.
You want more deck construction options.
Avoid this game if:
You don't want a complex card game.
You didn't enjoy the L5R LCG Core Set.
You don't own the L5R LCG Core Set yet.
You prefer the randomness and collectability of TCGs and CCGs.
The copies of the L5R LCG Imperial Cycle Dynasty Packs used for this review were provided by Asmodee UK (previously Esdevium Games).
A great set of cards, full of flavor that add some great mechanics and really play well into the thematics of the clans. Great value for a card game and a great start to FFG's L5R franchise.