Game Review: Legend of the Five Rings

This will be slightly brief review because I will be providing more specific content elsewhere… more on that below!


Legend of the Five Rings by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
Official game website
As I stated in a previous post, I’ve recently begun playing a collectible card game (CCG) called Legend of the Five Rings (L5R). Three weeks ago I was wrangled into a demo game, picked up a couple of starter decks, and now I’m hooked. That’s not surprising I suppose, considering that’s what they’re designed to do. The game itself is very technical and complex, which sort of goes against the path I’ve been treading in regards to simplistic rules but there are some things that compel me to continue regardless.

There are a couple of reasons that come to mind immediately. The community of players in my city is small but strong and very dedicated. It consists mainly of more mature players than other CCGs, which was a huge reason for my taking the bait. Everyone I’ve met so far is very kind, helpful and welcoming. As CCGs go, it’s a relatively low cost game to play and there is a real sense that the company actually gives a damn about their players. The most expensive tournament legal cards run about 20 bucks and there are only a hand full that come close to that point. In fact, the company is taking steps with the next expansion to reduce the rarity of cards because they feel that it is inhibiting to their player base! Take a game like Magic: The Gathering though and your looking at cards that go well above the 100 dollar mark. This leads into the next point, that the tournament scene is immense, and actually influences the future of the product. Given that the cost to play a competitive deck is relatively low, this means that I can compete and have a chance of placing without giving up all of my other hobbies. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do but never played a card game with enough community support or affordability to do it.

The game itself pits two players against each other in a battle between warring factions of an Asian inspired empire called Rokugan. Basically, the players take the role of leaders of a family that is affiliated with a clan of warriors. Each player uses two decks of cards. The Dynasty deck contains cards that represent your holdings and persons in your army. The Fate deck contains strategy cards, equipment and spells that are used to sway the outcome of battle and other phases of the game. The players each have four provinces that can be attacked by the opponent. Destroying all of your opponents provinces wins you the game. There are other win conditions as well. Given the Asian inspiration of the game (samurais, ninja, etc) personal and family honor is a central mechanic. Increasing your own honor high enough or decreasing your opponent’s honor low enough will also win you the game. The final win condition is getting all of Ring cards into play (although you’re not required to take them in a deck). The rings, for which the game is named, represent fire, earth, wind, water, and void. There are numerous deck archetypes depending on what clan the player represents and these loosely of various offensive or defensive military themes and honor or dishonor themes as well as hybrids of both.

Unfortunately, the amount of information to digest when getting into a game this complex and established is immense. Additionally, many of the sources of information are poorly organized or take for granted many concepts that are completely nonsensical to the outside world. I’ve spent the last three weeks cramming myself full of as much info as possible and I think I’ve finally got a handle on most of it. I’ve also been learning the rules, which are very technical and daunting at first. As a result of all this I’ve decided to create a tutorial that introduces new people to the game and familiarizes them with game play in a way that the rule book doesn’t achieve. The tutorial will be released as a number of articles over time. As of now the menu page for the tutorial, as well as the first article, are available here and can also be located in the new Resources section of this site.

L5R has been around for over 15 years now and has evolved significantly in that time. Disorganized information aside, the design team is very dedicated to increasing the quality of the game and they value the players very much. The customer service from their online store is excellent. An item I purchased was missing from my first order, and I received an apologetic and courteous response to my inquiry within 24 hours, with assurance that the problem would be corrected immediately. I generally take the time to thank customer service people who are helpful and act promptly but I never expect to get a response to that because I know they’re probably busy. It happens from time to time however, and this was the case with AEG. My thanks was followed up with a pleasant reply and reinforced my feeling that they actually care. Effective service, fair pricing, and a genuine consideration for the customers pocket book. This is how businesses keep their customers happy and attract new ones. Take note Games Workshop. Take note!

Well that’s it for the basic review of L5R and AEG as well as it turned out. I hope it provides enough information for you to decide if you want to delve deeper or move on to the next one.

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2 Responses to Game Review: Legend of the Five Rings

  1. HappyDD says:

    I was just thinking about your other post on simple rules being awesome, then I saw this one about a complex rules system luring you in. While there are many games that are “Easy to learn, difficult to master” (Diplomacy springs to mind) I would say that those games are the exception to the rule. So I think I get intrigued by games like 40K because the rules ARE so complex. The fact that the skill of the guy shooting, the gun he’s shooting, the armour the target is wearing, how tough the target is, whether the target is behind cover, and how far away the target is all matter in 40K make it seem more “real” than, say, Hero Quest. While Hero Quest may be fun to pick up and play, after a few times it gets dull.

    Maybe as your hobbies grow more divergent and numerous you start to appreciate lower barriers to entry? I totally appreciate fun simple games, but I need to big immersive ones to get my proper nerd on.

    • wwasp says:

      That’s a really good point. There is definitely a place for complexity and either type of game can be great. I think those that do it effectively deserve equal praise.

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