Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game – Review

Rokugan is a land of Samurai a land where honour is strong. You will wage war with the other clans, using steel, cunning and deception to outsmart your opponent in this living card game.

Players: 2
Age Rating: 14+

Time to play: 45-90 Minutes
Designer: Brad Andres, Erik Dahlman, Nate Finch

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price: £36.99 RRP

What do you do?

Legend of the Five Rings is a living card game set in lore rich world of Rokugan. Players take on the role of one of the five starter clans from the base game and will build a deck from their preferred clan. Each clan has their own set of unique cards, there are also ‘neutral’ cards that can be placed in to any deck. If it’s your first game, then the rule book will suggest a starting hand to play with for two players first foray in to the game.

Once you have your deck set up – similar to shown above, you will battle it out across five phases:-

  • Dynasty Phase – Gain fate equal to the value of your stronghold and play characters from you provinces
  • Draw Phase – Bid honour in secret using the honour dial and draw the number of cards equal to the honour you bid.
  • Conflict Phase – Declare conflicts (provinces you want to attack), resolve conflict (battles), contest Imperial Favour.
  • Fate Phase – Discard characters, remove fate, and add fate to unclaimed rings
  • Regroup – Ready cards, discard cards from Provinces and pass on the first player token.

Obviously each of those steps has lots of little details and nuances that I won’t go in to major detail on, but will touch on them a little more throughout.

Honour, Glory and a lot going on…

Honestly, at first I thought there was a lot to get your head around with the aforementioned nuances. It took re-reading and testing things out before I fully got to grips with the flow of a turn. But once you get in to it and start to understand your clan things get really good.

That’s a big part of it too actually, your clan having it’s own deck of cards means that it can play quite differently, some a more military style whilst others are more political and this is important when declaring conflicts because at this time you also decide whether it’s military or political. Each of the cards from your conflict deck have a score for each alignment, meaning some will be better at military conflicts or the other way around. Equally you will want to consider what your opponent is defending with as they may have a strong political defense, but not much in the way of military. With your attacks you will also get to choose an element to use from one of the five rings – water, fire, earth, void and air, if successful with your conflict you will gain bonuses based on the rings element.

Another factor to consider is when bidding with your honour dial. You can bid between 1 and 5, but should you bid more than your opponent you will have to had over the difference in honour tokens to them. So whilst you will then get to draw more cards for the conflict phase you will ultimately lose more honour and running out of honour means you lose the game. Should a player reach 25 honour in their pool they will win.

The other way to win – and more fun way, is to destroy your opponents stronghold, but before you can attack it you will need to break three of the four provinces of your opponent.

Attack & Defend

When you declare that you’re attacking a province (conflict is declared). The player with the first player token has the opportunity to make the first move, they can then play cards from their ‘home’ area and slide them forward to denote an attack is being made. The attacking player would then take one of the five ring tokens and place it on any of the defenders strongholds either political side up or military. You then get to duke it out activating the various abilities on your cards that you’ve played until ultimately you either win that conflict or lose it. This can continue for two turns for each player or you can choose to pass.

If the eventual outcome results in more ‘damage’ being done to the province than it has health then that province is considered broken – rinse and repeat until you can attack the big bad stronghold to inflict the ultimate humiliation on your opponent.

Look & Feel

It’s gorgeous. The cards are packed full of wonderful artwork and detail, with each of the clans fairly easy to distinguish from one another. The setting for the game is perfectly depicted across all of the cards and really sell you on the setting.

The cards themselves feel good quality and you get big enough bags in the standard set to pack them all away safely. You don’t get enough bags for the tokens so unless you have some spare lying around they will be floating around the box a little carelessly. I never really understand why there aren’t just a couple of extra bags tucked away to secure things, it’s something that I really, really appreciate in a game but is quite rare. The quality of the tokens is also great, so even if they are loose they should still survive providing you’re not shaking the box around too much.

There’s also some really great lore about each of the Clans in the rule book, so I’d recommend taking a look at that if that’s your kind of thing.

Pros & Cons

+Beautiful artwork
+A lot of depth to play
+Great quality
+Enjoyable gameplay
-Loose items in the box
-Could become expensive with additional Clans
-Quite complex, so could put people off

Conclusion

Maybe I was just being a little dense when learning, but I did feel like the learning curve for the game was fairly steep (compared to other games). It wasn’t necessarily just the rules or the phases of play, but also that you have to factor in how each of the Clans have unique cards and that it could take ages to tinker with you deck to find something you really like. I’d say it has a lot more of a hardcore appeal to it rather than just a casual pick up and play. That’s not to say I wouldn’t pick it up and play with a friend if they just wanted a game of something. It’s just that there is clearly a lot more depth to the gameplay than I might be used to and that could some of your more casual players off.

Overall I really like Legend of the Five Rings, it’s wonderful artwork and engaging gameplay make for some really interesting battles. If you’re looking for something that can take time to master then this could be the game for you.

There also seems to be a fairly healthy competitive market for the game too, so if that’s your thing then get down to your local game store and see if they play!

-Will

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