An engaging card game with beautiful storytelling but tremendously steep learning curve.
Legend of the five rings, or L5R for short, is a Japanese themed card game about samurais, honor and fate. L5R is a two-player game, with intriguing storytelling and an interactive gameplay. The setting of the game is an interpretation of what Japan would have been like during China’s war of the historical three kingdoms-period in 220–280 AD. In the game, there are seven clans fighting each other for political control. Each clan has their own set of cards, and the player can build their own deck based on one or two clans. To win, the player needs to lead their clan successfully and break their opponent’s strongholds. The name of the game comes from the five elemental rings, which are an essential part of the gameplay.
Being recently introduced to this game myself, I wanted to share my experience as a newcomer to L5R, which to be honest, has not been a bed of roses. Before my first game even started, I felt rather intimidated just by looking at the game set in front of me. The sheer number of cards (86 in total) and the piles of trinkets lying on the table did not make me feel like I was going to be a very successful leader of my clan. After multiple recaps on the rather long rules, I vaguely recalled what each pile of cards and tokens represented and was ready to engage in the fierce battle between the samurai clans Scorpion and Unicorn.
The sheer number of moving parts and details in the game left me very quickly feeling disoriented. Even though I had studied the cards in my deck prior to the game, I still had to keep asking other players what certain cards could do. There is not a way for making the game easier for newcomers, and the learning curve of the game is tremendously steep. The game introduces so many moving parts that it is inevitable for a newcomer to lose the track of the game multiple times. It is not only important to plan ahead your own game, but be just as aware of your opponent’s situation, and the possible future actions. It was not unusual for me to forget to perform a possible action due to so much happening on the table at once. However, slowly learning the game, and becoming familiar with successful strategies felt rewarding, which kept me playing.
If the challenge of getting into the play is not enough to intimidate you, there is much enjoyment to be gained from the marvellous combination of the game mechanics and storytelling of L5R. They are fit seamlessly together, resulting in a highly engaging play and story experience. Game mechanics are wrapped in storytelling aspects in a clever way, and the game was true to its theme throughout. I would not recommend L5R to the faint hearted, but those enjoying challenging card games and intriguing stories are bound to find the role of a clan leader extremely rewarding
Designer: Rob Vaux and Bryan Reese
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Release date: 1995 – present
Number of players: 2
Playing time: 45 – 90 minutes
Banner picture © 2019 Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.