Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 7 November 2017

Collect 100 for a 1-up:- Legend of the Five Rings

Game: Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Designer: Brad Andres, Erik Dahlman, Nate French

Year: 2017

Legend of the Five Rings is a 2-player living card game (LCG) in which you take control of one of seven clans and attempt to conquer another clan through the combination of political intrigue and outright brute force. Legend of the Five Rings uses two decks for each side as well as a series of provinces which you must take over before you can finally conquer your opponents stronghold and win the game. However you must be careful, if you fight too shamefully you will be dishonored and unable to win.

Legend of the Five Rings works in a round based system, each round you get a certain amount of fate, the game's currency. This can be spent at the start of the round to recruit troops from your dynasty deck, or held back to pay for surprise cards from your conflict deck. Next both players will bid honor in order to draw from their conflict cards. Honor represents a secondary way to win or lose the game, if you run out then your armies are demoralized and shamed enough to abandon you. Similarly if your opponent reaches 25 they will instantly win. To bid honor you select a number from 1 to 5 on a dial, then both players reveal their dials simultaneously. The number you select dictates the number of conflict cards you can draw that turn, while the difference between your number and your opponents results in honor being given to them/taken from them.

This brings us to the meat of the game, the conflict phase. During the conflict phase players will take turns to attack their opponents provinces, each player gets 2 chances to attack each round, once with their military strength and once with their political power. When you attack you must select a target province, one of the elemental rings and whether you will be using military of politics. So you might perform a "military fire attack on your second province". The defender gets to choose troops to defend and then reveals the province if it was upside down. Provinces act much like trap cards, you don't know what to expect the first time you attack one and some of them have very nasty abilities (my favourite changes a military attack to a political one, I love the mental images of an army of angry warriors sitting down to have a discussion on the finer points of the Shang-Hau treatise!).

A play area part way through the game, on the left is the black conflict deck on the left, the white dynasty deck on the right and all of your provinces in between.

During any one battle players take turns to play cards from their hand of conflict cards or use actions from their already played cards. This can result in huge swings where you buff up a character by giving them a sword, but then your opponent sends your character home, but then you recruit a new one to take his place, so they buff their character, which... well you get the idea. This is a system that works very well, however it can be very swingy, sometimes you can spend a lot of resources to inch out a win, then your opponent casually plays a card that decimates your attack. It's all very much like the end of a game of Munchkin when someone is trying to win.

There are of course a ton of other rules which I don't want to delve to deeply into, each of the rings gives you a different power should you win your fight, characters can become honoured/dishonoured to boost/debuff their stats etc. There are a whole swathe of rules which only apply to a handful of cards too, most are explained in detail on the card, but there have been a few occasions where we had to stop playing to flip through the rulebook and find out what an obscure rule did. The reality is in an LCG these rules become second nature over time, but it does make the game a little less friendly to new players.

The conflict deck revolves around dirty fighting and surprises, it contains equipment, events and characters which you can call straight into battle from your hand. The dynasty deck contains characters which you have to recruit at the start of your turn and holdings which reinforce your provinces.
Legend of the Five Rings also has deckbuilding rules, supposedly to add more replayability and depth to the game.Swapping between the starter decks in the game is easy, you simply take all of the cards for that clan, and then add one of each neutral card and voila, you have a starter deck ready for a two-player game, I highly suggest doing this as the starter decks seemed to favour the lion clan over the cranes, while other clans felt more balanced. Unfortunately the starter decks are almost half the suggested full "Tournament" size in the deckbuilding rules! In fact you can't even make a single full sized deck with one copy of the base game! There simply aren't enough cards. The rulebook does confess to this, suggesting a lower card number, but honestly why do this? We haven't encountered running out of deck mid game yet, so clearly the starter decks are big enough. Even if they aren't there are rules for shuffling your discard pile, which comes at the cost of honor and therefore makes you more likely to lose if you have to do it, which seems perfectly balanced. It almost feels as if they wanted to rub it in your face "Nyah-Nyah, your deck isn't tournament legal".

Ultimately Legend of the Five Rings is a very good LCG, the combat is tense but very regimented, the factions are nuanced and unique, and the game flows very well once you get the hang of the lengthy rules set. While I'm not a huge fan of the theme personally, it has been integrated extremely well, both into gameplay elements such as the honor system and some of the incredible art found on the cards. The core box provides a great two-player experience, but I really do wish that you didn't need a second set to create a "tournament legal" deck.


Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game was a review copy provided by Esdevium Games Ltd. It is be available for an RRP of £36.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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