Sunday, September 26, 2010

Legend of the Five Rings

Years ago at Pragocon I discovered a game called Legend of the Five Rings. The game had Chinese/Mongolian/Japanese flavor and the game mechanics were a mystery to me as I was watching the players play. I wanted to know how the game works and I tried hard and for several years to learn to play this game. I played L5R for a really short period. I learned the basic rules and I build a deck. All this was insufficient though for me to really get into the game. There were things that bothered me. The games took a really long time and many times there were things that should just not happen. Something was wrong. Either it was us (the players) or the rules. I can't say as all this was 12 years ago.

Anyway this game is known to be the most complicated CCG game. There are four win conditions, ten factions you can affiliate with and a very large card database (even for the most limited format which is Celestial).

To learn to play the game alone is almost impossible. (unless you go through the Judge Rules which actually give enough information how to handle each situation in the game). Thus another skilled player is needed to explain the game. If this isn't your first C/T/L card game you might be able to grasp the game pretty quick. But still there is a problem with deck building and playing the deck itself. The basics of the game are quite simple but that's not the only thing you need.

If you go search the internet for some decks you probably won't find two decks being the same (unlike in Magic where the top tier decks differentiate with one or two cards and side board). Most of the sites won't tell you how to play such a deck so understanding how it was build and why (and against what) might be a mystery for some time.

When I first played the game I was explained how to win the game in military terms. Each player has 4 provinces from which he buys personalities (used to fight battles over those provinces) and holdings that produce gold to buy the personalities (and other stuff as well..). If you are playing a military deck then you try to destroy all the provinces your opponent has. When he has no provinces left he loses the game. I have no idea what deck I was playing nor what I played against. But it looked like this - both of us were playing personalities and till the force of our army reached 20 we started attacking. This led to a really long and chaotic battles. A lot of actions could be taken from the personalities and thus 8 cards on our hands was usually sufficient. But well it seems that this was the wrong way to play this game. That's why I build a scorpion dishonor deck. My artisans weren't much for a battle but were capable of reducing Family Honor of my opponent. (losing personal honor has consequences on what the player can do in the game. this results in slowing him down). When the player's Family Honor gets to -20 that player loses the game. That's what my deck was capable of. The problem I encountered was some time later when I discovered a different approach of playing a military deck. I played against Unicorn military deck. My opponent played many cheap personalities and attacked in swarms. This was too fast for me and I quickly died. At that time I was incapable of finding out how to improve my deck and help wasn't really near.

Few years later I came back to the game and there were people willing to teach me the game. But most of the time I did not get any good information about the game rules and the turn structure. The games mostly resulted in once again a pretty long game where in the end the biggest unit with most attachments got through and destroyed all the provinces. Something was wrong with the game...

Few years later I tried once again. This time the game looked completely different. When I first started to play, the game was just changing its design. But the differences in the design weren't that big. Now few years later the cards look completely different. It was confusing at first as strategy cards were no longer red and there were different types of cards (actually there were card types missing rather than the other way round).

During one long night I was given a L5R lesson in the form of Mantis vs Lion starter. I played Lion and even though at first choosing to be military I switched to play Honor (when you reach 40 and it is your turn you win the game) it worked. As I had someone thinking the same way as I do and really trying to win the game as best as the player can I finally understood the mechanics of the game. Now everything made sense (except that the rules are quite different from those I more or less knew) and soon I was able to come up with what the deck I have in hands would need.

It was a long process coming up with Lion Honor. I had no idea what cards existed in the game and what effects I could search for (yeah, of course something that says "gain honor"). Anyway I started trying to figure out how I could use my stronghold and accordingly build my fate and dynasty deck.

Each player has a Stronghold, Border Keep, Fate Deck and Dynasty deck.
Stronghold is something that defines the players deck (Clan). Each Stronghold has an ability and determines the win condition. It also determines the province strength, starting family honor and gold production. Border keep (a novelty to me but I got used to it quickly). Border Keep is a holding that lets you "mulligan" cards in your provinces and also produces gold. Dynasty deck holds you personalities and holdings. Fate deck constitutes of other cards that represent spells, armor, weapons and battle strategies.

My stronghold says: "Battle: Target your unbowed Personality and discard a card: Bow a target enemy Personality with lower Personal Honor. Gain 2 Honor if you discarded a Bushido Virtue."

This limited me enough to search for something. I started looking for Lion Paragons with Personal Honor = 4 for my Dynasty deck and for Bushido Virtue cards for my fate deck. I soon discovered that I can't build a fully Paragon deck and that I need to borrow some other personalities. The same was with Fate deck. I started to think about the numbers of Paragon personalities needed and Bushido Virtue needed. I later realized that the number is not actually that big. In the end I ended up with Paragons with PH=4 and deathseekers that are required for Fate cards that can gain me a lot of 'Honor'. After some time I got to a build that I liked and it was supposed to work the way I wanted it. But for some reason it did not work. Why? Later I found out that the Gold Production of Lion Clan is one lower than of most other clans and thus the personalities I play need to be cheaper. This let me choose different personalities and the deck started to work well. (it's funny deck, it dies surely to other Honor and Dishonor decks but it still can switch to military mode).

This period of building this deck taught me many things and showed me a different approaches I can take. In the end I realized that tempo in the game is really important and the choice of the cards I want to play is really important as well. Now I can say what I need in turn 1, turn 2 etc and what I need if the game goes awry etc. I'm not good L5R player but after those 12 years I finally understand what it means to play L5R. Building a deck yourself and playing the way you want is really important. I was always stating this when speaking about Magic. Nowadays in Magic anyone can just take a deck and play it to some extent. In L5R it doesn't work out so easily.

In the meantime I build a Mantis Commander deck which I'm really struggling with but for the time being counting as the best competitive deck I have (there are two proxies though), Crab clan deck which started as a berserker deck built by Lukas, later has been changed by me to be more of hero deck, then back to berserker deck. Later I changed the stronghold and made it less berserker, more hero and less Crab. The deck did not manage to get stable ... (now it's in a duelist/hero variant). I also played few games with Phoenix Honor which I liked but there were things I just couldn't do much about (like not being able to get the right personalities) and this deck just couldn't fight battles (unlike Lion). I build a Scorpion Ninja deck lately that showed me that Scorpion Ninjas aren't good and can't get after few months I'm still searching for a clan (for sure it's not going to be Dragon Clan).

Usually in L5R a player choses a clan that suits his play style. Each clan has its primary win conditions and secondary ones. The primary ones can be played at competitive level. Even though most of the decks are does not mean that they use the same 'strategy'. They don't. Dragons are duelists, Crabs are strong and hard to kill, Lions are little tacticians (that can augment their strength in battle), Mantis use naval and ranged attacks. All this might not tell you anything specific but well just understand that each clan has a different tactic they use. If you find a style you like you can keep to that clan.
Now there's one last thing I should mention. Most of the players would probably put this at the beginning. The game setting is set in Rokugan a fictional empire that is similar to feudal Japan though it also includes aspects of other Asian cultures, mostly Chinese but also Mongolian and sometimes Korean. There is magic and mythical/magical beings in the game.
If you know the setting of Kara-Tur or Oriental Adventures by WotC you also know everything about Rokugan.

The society in Rokugan is divided into clans. There are Great clans and minor clans.

The Crab Clan is considered the least cultured or courtly of all the clans. They guard the Carpenter Wall that separates the Empire of Rokugan from Shadowlands. In Shadowlands we can find various undead creatures, demons (Oni) and other evil creatures like goblins for example. They guard the Wall for ages and that is why they are masters of defense. Their warriors are experienced in battle, wield massive weapons - tetsubo (a long two handed club) or no-dachi (long two handed sword used by infantry against cavalry).

The Crane Clan is considered the most artistic of all the clans. They are known for their trained courtiers, artisans and duelists. Crane samurai are arguably the finest duelists in Rokugan. They are trained in Iaijutsu (martial art consisting of drawing a katana out of its scabbard - saya) which makes them good duelists as they can quickly draw the sword and kill the opposing dueliest with one slash.

The Dragon Clan controls the mountains to the north of the Empire where they reside in their strongholds and ignore what's going on in the rest of Rokugan. Most of their homeland is being cut off by heavy snow for most of the time of the year. Their samurai are masters of niten ichi combat style which consists of using both katana and wakizashi, those who showed affinity for elements (thus becoming shugenja) were of taught of them by Agasha. The rest showing neither talent in battle nor 'casting spells' became monks.

The Lion Clan is known as a very aggressive and honor-driven clan. They are the Emperor's Right Hand, personally defending his causes above all else. Some of the finest generals of all Rokugan have come from the Lion clan. The Lion Clan also has the biggest army in the empire, and it's known for its rigid adherence to the Bushido's Code.

The Phoenix Clan is known as the most skilled with magic in the empire, and also as the most peaceful. They have schools of magic associated with each element (Fire, Water, Earth, Air), including the empire's only school dealing with Void magic.

The Scorpion Clan is known as the Underhand of the Emperor. They are known for their courtiers' abilities. Their ninja are experts in assassination and espionage. Scorpion knowledge is not shared with outsiders, but is a true thing of power. Scorpion architects have constructed many key structures throughout Rokugan. As a result many of those structures have secret passages and rooms unknown to all but the Scorpion clan. It is a Scorpion tradition to always be masked or face painted.

The Unicorn Clan is known for their cavalry and horsemanship. They are considered barbarians by the other clans because the clan as a whole spent nearly 800 of the last thousand years outside of the Empire. They hunt game and eat red meat and have adopted a number of other customs that are considered taboo by the rest of the Clans (eating meat - especially red meat - is meant only for the lowest ranks in the social hierarchy. it's considered barbar).
Before they left the Empire the Unicorn Clan was known as the Ki-Rin Clan. The Unicorn clan as we know it is 'founded' by the descendants of Ki-Rin clan. However the horses they brought back from far off lands are faster, stronger, and larger than any found in Rokugan.

The Mantis Clan was originally a minor clan. But became one of the Greater clans. Their duty within the Emerald Empire is to guard and patrol the seas of Rokugan, protecting the Empire against threats from the oceans.

There are many minor clans usually bearing the name of animals (hare, ox, badger, fox whatever else...). Some of these clans were absorbed by other Greater clans (example Fox clan was absorbed by Mantis clan, Snake clan by Spider clan.)

And lastly there is the Spider Clan which is not actually a Greater Clan as the rest of the clans. The clan is now hunted through the Empire, since it has been revealed that it is the Clan of the Dark Lord Daigotsu.

Well, that's all the basic info about clans you can probably get. The 'world' of Rokugan has its history as well as its clans. There are many stories being written and a lot has happen in this setting. Many will quote what which personality said and many will be telling you of what happened. I'm fed up with being targeted with "we also want our empire, you have your own!". I have no idea how Mantis got an Empire and personally I don't care about it.

The setting is a melting pot of Asian cultures and for me it is really difficult to accept this as a fact. This makes many things just wrong and it creates false 'knowledge' of Japanese culture. Some players understand this and can distinguish between the fantasy world of Rokugan but some just can't. It hurts me and pains my eyes. The names and some behavior just don't make sense.

If you know Oriental Adventures 3e, then you probably know the setting. Kara-Tur setting was pretty similar as well (except that it has different history and is a part of Abeir-Toril, thus Forgotten Realms setting.)

Overall this game is really a good game, complicated but that's also the charm of it. I spend several years telling me that when Magic goes wrong this is the game I'm going to switch to.

Well Magic got wrong, I play L5R and I like it (but I still hope that Magic gets back to where it was...but I guess I can't hope in this)

SoM Prerelease

Today some of you might expect me posting about Scars of Mirrodin. I did not play the sealed deck and I did not really go through the spoiler so well... I can't describe my experience with SoM much. I knew of the 3 planeswalkers' existence and I knew about the new Mox. I read the spoiler once. I did not really get to the artifact part though. At first I liked the idea of infect but seeing it in action at the tournament I'm not convinced that this was a good idea. Proliferate was something that could have a real impact on the game so it shouldn't be ignored. And metalcraft? Hm, well having three artifacts that actually do something except than doing nothing worth noting is quite difficult. But who knows this might actually work. Chalices come to mind, we have an indestructible artifact, mox and memnite...something has to come out of it. But what it is going to be?

Anyway I ignored the (Scars of) Mirrodin spoilers and rumors for the whole time but I managed to hear something about Mirrans and Phyrexia (messing with Mirrans). I couldn't believe it. After opening few boosters I realized that it's actually true. Then I remembered the email announcing Game Day. For the SoM game day each player can build a deck that is affiliated with Mirran or Phyrexia. The cards in SoM are watermarked. The more or less circle watermark belongs to Mirran and the other one is Phyrexian (poison counter has the Phyrexia watermark). Each deck must contain at least 10 cards of one faction and none of the other one. The two best players of each faction will receive a Mirrodin Besieged promo card (either Phyrexian or Mirran based on the deck they played with). BTW each participant will receive Memnite promo card and top 8 players will receive Tempered Steel.
On Saturday morning we got up and started cleaning our game store. Then we moved a computer, screen and other stuff to create a judge station in the main gaming room. On the screen we had a timer and DCI reporter was running there as well. I was showing pairings and standings on the screen.

I tried to make smaller but nicer (than last time) numbers on the table number markers and Lukas sticked them to the tables. An hour later everything was ready and people could come in.

Most players were pre-registered so those got a 20 sided die and a pencil for free. All of the players got Thermal navigator which could be redeemed - a drink and a candy of choice. Two players arriving from airport came a bit late otherwise we would start on time.

I gave each player his pool and told them what to do with the checklist. Everyone started sorting out the cards and first mythic rare was revealed. Tomas opened a foil Venser. Everyone was at awe but not so many people knew that he also got Wurmcoil Engine and other good rares. We all agreed that this deck would be the winning deck. In the end it wasn't the case. The not so experienced player played it and did not win the tournament. The person who opened this pool though won the whole tournament^_^.

The tournament went on smoothly and I hope that all the players enjoyed it. I had to explain what protection from artifacts does to some players but otherwise everything was ok.

I hope that next pre-release tournament will be as good as this one or even better. Thank you everyone for coming and playing.