Why you should be playing Legend of the Five Rings

Why you should be playing Legend of the Five Rings

If you’re someone who has heard about Legend of the Five Rings but doesn’t really know what it’s all about, then this is where you should start.

What is Legend of the Five Rings

First, it’s a setting. Where A Game of Thrones was based on the War of the Roses and European cultures, Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) is based on feudal Japan and East Asian cultures in general. It’s full of samurai, ninja, and kung fu monks, but it also weaves in mythology with Asian magic and monsters.

Second, L5R is a card game. You might have heard of Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon Trading Card Game, or Yu-Gi-Oh! These are all games where you get your collection of cards, you build a deck, and you battle other players. Games like this are a combination of deck building, play skill, and a certain amount of luck.  The card game isn’t the only way to get involved with the L5R setting, but it’s considered the ‘main’ game in the line.

Why should you care?

While we all love our classic western Tolkien style fantasy, it can be really refreshing to see something different. Shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender have shown how awesome this kind of setting can be, and L5R has a lot to offer. There are short stories, novels, and a roleplaying game based in Rokugan, the main continent of the setting, so there is tons of content for those who really want to get stuck in. In fact, the setting has been around for over 20 years! In that time a lot of creative effort (writing and art) has been poured into it. Don’t worry, you won’t need to catch up on 20 years of fiction, the story was recently ‘reset’ just like the Star Wars canon. It went back to the start of the old story but with subtle differences and we don’t know how it’s going to play out yet! The new story team also tidied up the setting, making it more inclusive than it was (for example, the number of prominent female characters is roughly the same as male) and incorporating a better understanding of the real world cultures that inspired the setting. This has set the stage for some epic samurai drama!

The L5R card game is one of the more in-depth card games currently available on the market. A normal game can take 60 minutes, and there are a lot of decisions for players to make during the game. Typically, these are small decisions that slowly culminate to an outcome. The number of choices can be taxing, but they also mean that player skill is very important. Although luck is a factor, you’re not going to lose a game because of a bad opening draw like you can in some other games. A unique element of the game is the way characters who enter play will eventually leave when they run out of fate. This means that even if your situation might look poor one turn, there will be an opening for you to mount a comeback. In addition to being a great game, it has a relatively friendly business model. This is one of several Living Card Games (LCG) made by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). With an LCG you don’t have random boosters, so you always know what you’re getting. Every month or two FFG releases new cards, so the game stays fresh without you having to chase rare cards. This does mean going from 0 cards to a full set at the start can be expensive, but you don’t need to get all the cards, and we can guide you through the quickest way to get from beginner to competitive without breaking the bank.

One of the really cool things about L5R is how the game and story collide. Players who do well in card games tournaments have an opportunity to influence the story. In 2017, Samuel Benies decided the Lion clan samurai Matsu Tsuko would pursue justice, investigating who killed the Emerald Champion rather than seeking vengeance for the death of the Lion Champion. This changed the entire course of the war between the Lion and Crane clans! In 2018, Erik Baalhuis assigned the samurai Kakita Kaezin to protect the Crane delegate to the Fox clan. Will the Fox end up allying with the Crane because of it? We have yet to see, but if they do it will be because Erik made that decision.

Getting started with the Story

We think the story is one of the best things about L5R, a great game gets you engaged, but a great setting gets you invested. Due to the story, most players align with a specific clan in the game and will only ever play that faction in tournaments. They will attend tournaments to win glory for that clan, and one of the most sought-after prizes is to earn the title of Hatamoto (General) of your clan. So the story is a big part of why we love this game. L5R is over 20 years old, but it recently moved over to FFG who reset the setting back to the start. This means that now is the perfect time to learn about the background as it’s new and fresh. The best place to start is by reading through the short stories available on the FFG website. This will introduce you to the seven great clans and the problems they face. As you go through the stories, you’ll begin to see it’s all leading up to something, what the something is we don’t know yet! We have a page on Imperial Advisor where we’ve linked to all the stories so you can work your way through those.

Getting started with the Card Game

If you like the story, you definitely should check out the card game. You can play it like a board game where you play with just the core set, but FFG also regularly release extra cards, so the game is continually changing. We suggest you start by getting a single core and play with it to get a feel for the game. Geek and Sundry have an excellent learn to play guide on YouTube that will give you the basics. We also have a few optional variants that will let you get more out of the core set than usual. The core set has 1 copy of each card (with a few extras), as you can have 3 copies of each card in your deck, the next step is to get two more core sets. The core set has a lot of valuable cards for the game making 3 copies a great start. You could split your box with some friends, but we recommend holding onto them as you can ‘splash’ cards from one clan into another.

If what you’ve heard so far interests you, check out our L5R Story page and our Starting L5R Card Game page.


If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Imperial Advisor websitepodcast, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the L5R LCG.

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