The Year in Review
Author: Simcof

Two clan packs, twelve dynasty packs over two full arcs, 11 Kotei’s and 6 Grand Kotei’s across 9 countries, the World Championship, two and a bit restricted lists, a plethora of OP kits for many store events, 18 fictions, 2 clan novellas, countless podcasts, global and national community-led discord events and endless raging debate over a constantly shifting meta. This was 2018 for the Legend of the Five Rings LCG.

The Rollers hope you are keeping well over the holiday season and in the never-ending search for things to read on long plane, train or automobile rides we present a recap of the year-that-was to keep you company.

The Product
We began the year playing triple core, which seemed like an amazing start to the game. There’s a great Flashback event going on at time of publication, that uses those deck construction rules and it really shines a light on how far the game has come in such a short time.



The Imperial cycle introduced powerful cards like Pathfinder’s Blade, Policy Debate, A Fate Worse than Death, Kanjo District, Iron Mine and Imperial Palace that are still meta-defining cards today. Games still took the full hour, but cards like these reduced time-outs (and increased cries of doom!)



Disciples of the Void gave us a second stronghold for Phoenix, and damn was it strong. Recursion is often a serious worry in LCG’s, especially this early on. So far Phoenix has yet to dominate the scene, but we can’t help thinking that this has limited design space for Spells. Most of the cards in this set don’t see a lot of regular play. Isawa Tadaka is definitely an exception and was the stand-out card from this set, with many Crane and Scorpion players found paralysed once the Earth Master arrived.


   
The Elemental cycle was a big one. Unicorn began to feel playable. They got a new box (along with Lion) and a bunch of new toys like Shinjo Shono, Minami Kaze Regulars and Shiotome Encampment. It was Christmas every day for Dragon, with the legendary Void Fist playing lead to the Hurricane Punch, Sacred Sanctuary, Ancient Master, Togashi Mitsu, Hawk Tattoo and Master Alchemist backing band. Crane got a great province in Magistrate Station.



The final release of 2018 was the Underhand of the Emperor, a clan pack for the most malnourished and under-performing clan of the year (extreme sarcasm). Scorpion did do okay out of this, with Alibi Artist, Duty and Ignoble Enforcers seeing a lot of play. The new stronghold has yet to be proven, but with competition like the City of the Open Hand it may take a ban to see that change. We saw some neat effects like Peasant’s Advice and Stolen Secrets start to add some depth and unpredictability to certain match ups.

The Restricted List, Errata and the RRG
The introduction and maintenance of the restricted list (RL) has been vital to the health of the competitive game. Along with updates to the Rules Reference Guide, it is a sign that developers are paying attention and keeps players engaged by updating the “meta-game”.

At time of publication there are 14 cards on the RL. 8 from Core, 4 from the Imperial Cycle, 1 from Disciples of the Void and 1 from the Elemental Cycle. Over time the set designers have started to work out how to add depth to the game without resorting to simple power-creep. This is a good thing.

There are ten cards that have formal errata, most of which are just templating or wording issues. The biggest exception was the formidable Hawk Tattoo that was so amazingly powerful that in the very short time prior to errata being issued was present in very close to 100% of top 16 premium event decks. That was a great example of one word making a meta-warp of a difference!

The latest RRG seems to respond to player concerns about NPE (Negative-Player-Experience) effects, balance concerns and preparation for the release of Deluxe Expansion #1 (Children of the Empire) in January 2019.

FFG and the Community
One of the most difficult parts of living in the shoes of a ravenous L5R fanboy like myself is wanting to know what cool new stuff FFG are going to bring us, and when! In this brave new digital age companies like FFG have the ability (and burden) of being able to connect with fans faster and more directly than ever before. With this great power comes even greater expectations from fans.

In the days of old we’d learn about upcoming product through quarterly product update brochures that our local gaming staff would show us or would be included as advertising inside our product. The internet has been with us for a while now and it turns out people use it. Digital channels of communication like Discord, podcasts and YouTube mean that news can be disseminated far faster than it can be compiled.

We saw the good and the bad of this earlier in the year when FFG employed radio silence for about six or so weeks. The community was in uproar, not knowing when they could next spend their hard-earned dollars on their favourite product. If the older school gamers among us were told that our TCG overlords would provide us with product news every six weeks we’d be joyous! Now it is an expectation that we know about things the second they are decided.

Behind the scenes their appeared to be some internal shuffling and a hardening of the L5R vision. To the general delight of the community we now get updates once a week at roughly the same time. Expectation management is one of the hardest tasks that a gaming company has with an active and engaged fan-base. FFG showed us that they are listening and have added great excitement to my Thursday morning coffee and yogurt.

The Controversy
So L5R is not immune to controversy. There was that one thing that happened that you can read about at great lengths somewhere that is not this article. We seemed to have moved on from that, so let’s get back to the good stuff.

Big Moments
There were quite a few big moments in the game this year that don’t fall into any other category. Here are a few of our favourites:

-         Frotop at PAX South – there was a time long ago in history where Scorpion players were obliged to have a dynasty phase. Frotop worked out that this phase was an unnecessary addition to the game serving only as a distraction to ones' path to victory. Frotop dropped this science at PAX South and inspired designers to double-down on this philosophy with the Hidden Moon Dojo.

-         Jakub Triple-Crown – A legend was born when Jakub took down three Kotei’s in a very short time frame. The undisputed king of European L5R put out a challenge to the world saying “Come catch me!”.

-         Wydwen is good – Early on in the Global Discord League days we got this crazy guy taking down two tournaments in a row against the hardest competition around. He established himself as a master of Scorpion and continues to be an innovative force in the game, even fighting for A Perfect Gift’s place in the meta.

-          Copy of Test – This listed was developed by a number of strong players (TowerNumberNine, Nyxnyxnyx, Qkieu etc...)  championed by Mind’s Desire. It became notorious around the world as the deck-list to give to new players, so they could stomp experienced vets. These guys perfected the face-up “I-want-to-make-the-cut” deck recording many deep runs and wins along the way. Interestingly, very few big results from Dragon outside these few originators were achieved. 

-         Erik beats Kingsley – The Erik (Crane) vs Kingsley (Dragon) match at Worlds was almost certainly going to be a dragon-favoured match. Few pundits backed Crane to stand a chance against an average Dragon player, let alone a master. Erik ignored this advice and showed that innovative deck choices (Fury over Policy Debate) and perfect plays meant that any mountain could be scaled with the right preparation.

Global Discord League
Discord is a technology that was for gamers by gamers. It has all the modern conveniences the community needs to achieve some amazing things. It is the first game that I have played where Discord is the central hub of engagement and the dividends produced are bountiful. If you have not already joined, click here to start the fun!

The Global Discord League as well as the various national discord leagues we see are a great chance for players far and wide to experience large scale tournaments and cross-pollinate local meta-games. The leagues are also where stories start. We can follow great players from season to season and start to speculate on who might do well at Worlds.

The list of the global discord league champions is dominated by Scorpion who secured six out of eleven seasons. Wydwen and Mind’s Desire becoming the only two players with multiple wins.

·        Season 1 – Bitmetal (Crane)
·        Season 2 – Wydwen (Scorpion)
·        Season 3 – Wydwen (Scorpion)
·        Season 4 – Mind’s Desire (Dragon)
·        Season 5 – Nyxnyxnyx (Scorpion)
·        Season 6 – Mind’s Desire (Dragon)
·        Season 7 – Byron Krane (Scorpion)
·        Season 8 – Qkieu (Crab)
·        Season 9 – AmmanasPL (Scorpion)
·        Season 10 – Kaza (Phoenix)
·        Season 11 – Sinnyl AKA Palumbo (Scorpion)

These discord leagues have also given the chance for amateur broadcasters like myself to get involved in adding some colour commentary and strategic analysis to the games. If you are interested in watching some games, all you need to do is hop onto Twitch, YouTube or get links from #LeagueMedia on the global discord server. The technology and casters are always improving, and no doubt we will many improvements to this in 2019.

Check out the Hall of Fame to take a deeper look at the results to-date.

There is a fantastic World Cup event still running at time of publication. Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Greece are the top four. You can watch all the matches on YouTube with this amazing playlist. This World Cup was another great example of a community run event that showcases some of the best in the game.

Toshi Ranbo – The Second Kotei Season
With the ultra-short Kitsu Matsuri season behind us, we dived into the first feature-length Kotei series - Toshi Ranbo. There were 17 events, including 6 getting the “Grand” prefix unlocking additional prize support.


The first year of a game can often be a warped one for the scoreboard. Only three of the seven factions managed to put up a result. Similar to the Global Discord league it was Scorpion who dominated winning over a third of games. See here for the breakdown.

Many Hatamoto’s were crowned with seven of them going to Mind’s Desire. There are new rules coming into place next year, making this title a much rarer commodity.

The Global L5R Discord created a channel for every Kotei, acting as the unofficial method of communication during these events. Some were streamed, some were well organized and all were followed intently by the fans!

Register here for Season 12 of the Discord League, you have till the end of the year!

Worlds

The World Championships of L5R are like nothing else. This event is the culmination of the competitive year for our beloved game. This is where all the trash talk goes to die and only the deadliest samurai will survive. The lead up and hype to this event by the community was astounding. It is the competitive community’s north star and to the victor go the ultimate spoils. The games were intense, the skill level was oppressive and the final match between the now legendary Erik and Johnny Shen will go down in history as one of the all-time greats.



Worlds is not just about who gets to take home the glassware, it is also just as importantly about a coming together of people who are probably a bit too passionate about a card game set in a make-believe world of samurai, magic, monks and sea monsters.  There were so many fantastic moments through the four or five days:

·        Legend of the Five or More Podcasts – a bunch of the pod-casters who managed to make it up to worlds got together to record some barely moderated fun. It was a chaotic but enjoyable hour!

·        The Dance-Off – some rings players got together to strut their funky stuff to help a community member in need. This sort of stuff brings a tear to your eye and makes you remember that there is more to life than cards (not much more, but a little bit!)

·        Cornhole – A certain handsome lion specialist lead a late night round of a bizarre and little-known game called cornhole. The out-of-towners were fascinated by this ritual and will no doubt try to import this sport into their home communities.

The New Legends – Year of the Specialist
It is hard to win a Kotei and almost impossible to win more than one in a year. Looking back at 2018 we see two names that stand out as legends beyond the world champion.

Jakub Irzyk won an unbelievable four Koteis in large fields. His dominance of Europe was amazing and was capped off with a deep run at Worlds. I’ve heard more than one player comment that even though they are sitting on the same table and moving the same tokens around, Jakub is playing a different game. He is a Scorpion specialist and we all wait eagerly to see if he can extend his streak in the new post-RL world of 2019.

Mind’s Desire has a mere three Koteis, two global discord leagues and seven Hatamoto titles to his name but is probably the best-known rings player on the planet. His “Copy of Test” deck list, developed with the help of another Dragon legend (Kingsley), has become the default template for anyone playing the faction. Often MD will post his lists to the public prior to tournaments. This is not really from a position of arrogance, but more from the knowledge that the thirty or forty thousand extra games that he has played than the average player will trump any deck knowledge.
Jakub and MD got knocked out at Worlds prior to seeing the heads-up game we all anticipated, but there is always next year!

An interesting side note is that most players who have made multiple deep runs over the year are ultra-specialists, playing only the same clan and many times just a modified and tightened version of previous decks. Christopher Pottorf (Frotop) and Bert Perry (Toreadory) are probably two of the exceptions who regularly make deep runs with whatever dirty combos they can figure out the night before the tournament.

The Podcasts and Other Media
There is a bad joke rehashed on many American sitcoms which alludes to the idea that everyone has their own podcast. The L5R community is no exception- no matter what your predilections, there is a podcast out there for you. The proliferation of pods is a truly great thing.

Podcasts have become more for me than just dissecting news posts, reviewing new cards and talking about tournaments.  Whenever I listen to the latest episode of The Jade Throne, Focus-Focus-Strike or any of the other quality programs I feel like I am part of this on-going global conversation. I get to pick up the conversation I left off with Tobin at Worlds or hear Murph’s latest sermon on the state of the game. The audiences intersect but are not quite the same.  It’s like you are at a party, with different folk hanging out in different corners. The loud opinionated Aussies in one corner, probably drinking one-too-many-beers, the Canadian’s hanging out with that one guy from New England and in the middle of the room is Aneil showing everyone the latest gold watch or luxury themed gaming accessory he has acquired.

The party was real in Roseville, when we had way too many people in one room recording the chaotic Legend of the Five or More podcasts. Over the next few years it is my hope that we see more cross-pod entertainment. Everyone loves it when they see Batman in a Superman move (right?!?).

The Imperial Advisor and No-Funny-Stuff are two examples of great YouTube content for the discerning gamer. This is a space no-where near as saturated as the pod scene and hopefully we get more of it in 2019.

The Bling
There lies a great creative spirit deep in the heart of the L5R community, more so than most trading card games. Whilst the components provided in the core set of the game are functional, the community yearns for more personal and flamboyant ways to express their individual aesthetic. Some folk have even formed companies that are dedicated to bringing the best in gaming bling.



Panda Gaming (RIP) produced very thematic intricate wooden designs, Architect Gaming are the laser printing kings and Luxury Playstyle are the undisputed champions in over-the-top indulgence. Beyond these professional outfits are those unique pieces designed and built by the community. There is that gigantic dragon stronghold that has a castle literally jutting out from the box, the many custom tokens and deck boxes constructed through mini-carpentry projects.

Hidden City Highlights
To conclude, I’ve asked the Rollers for their favorite moment this year in L5R:

Remedy (AKA Glen) – “I think the best moment for me was winning against scorpion with Yurt Unicorn just after imperial cycle dropped. Lots of fun playing a different win condition to the opponent and using way of the chrysanthemum to go from 10 - 18 all in one move.”

Toreadory (AKA Bert) – “Everybody dies. Higher body count than entirety of Rambo quadrilogy... Round of 64 at worlds 2018. R.I.P. everyone.”

Simcof (AKA Ben)-  The entire trip to Worlds was phenomenal. Not only was it my first time in the US, it was also my first-time meeting all these amazing folks that I got to know via the Discord League and podcasts.  On equal footing would be the Australian Kotei which was incredibly well organized, an absolute blast and had people flying in from all over the country (and overseas!!!).

Merlin (AKA Merlin) – “I think winning phoenix Hatamoto at Melbourne Kotei is the highlight for me. I was very uncertain about my chances and was very proud when I managed to pull it off”. Merlin had an amazing round 7 game against one of the best Scorpion specialists in Australia (Cameron Popple). This was a great example of someone setting a tournament goal for themselves and working hard to overcome their toughest match up.

Budders (aka Nathan) – Shadowblade’s run at Madrid, taking Lion to second place in a huge and competitive field. Lion seemed at an all-time low-point but we were proved otherwise. Against all odds!

Jay K – There are two moments that stood out for Jay:
  • Handsome Dave (not to be confused with Dan) conceding to George Glover who had somehow piloted Unicorn to the top 8. Time was called and technically Dave was up on points but was so impressed with the skill of George that he gave up his spot to see if Unicorn could taste glory.
  • “The Ennsy Gambit” – This is a move best left to the bold and the stupid. The legendary Chris Enns was playing in a local store final, facing down a Crab with two Watch Commanders in play at the current conflict. He looked at his five honour, the Shrewd Yasuki taunting him and the Assassinate in hand. The next play was obvious.  That is how the Ennsy Gambit was born and immortalized.
2019 and Beyond
Huge thanks to all the amazing people who make the community tick and keep everyone engaged! The Rollers have had a ball playing the game and bringing a little but of levity to the world. We are looking forward to 2019. CotE, the clan packs and a lot of cards.

Keep on rolling and keep living the dream!



3 Comments

  1. + big drop of players in important tourneys

    worlds 2017 - 318
    worlds 2018 - 200

    pax 2017 - 219
    pax 2018 - 67

    madrid 2017 - 445
    madrid 2018 - 260

    etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is an issue that players of FFG games seem to be experts at not talking about. I've seen the same pattern in other games. In L5R, it might be even more than the standard game fatigue, though, as the game is particularly tough to break into as a noob with scarcely any local metas around and a time-consuming and skill-intensive game that punishes inexperience as hard as any game I've ever seen.

      How much more decline can the game sustain and remain viable?

      Delete
  2. Guys what can I say great podcast, great fella's, great time. Was awesome to spend time with you all at worlds, hope do do so next year. Jason/Hamertron

    ReplyDelete