Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game Review & Ultimate Guide

The Great Clans of Rokugan all remain faithful to the Emperor. However, they are not immune to petty squabbles as they fight for favor.

In this mythical samurai world, your job is to come out on top.

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game (Core Set)
  • Take control of one of the seven great clans of Rokugan and...
  • Out play your opponent with unique honor bidding mechanics
  • Uses the Fantasy Flight Games living card game format for...

Brief Overview of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

Legend of the Five Rings Overview

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game is a two-player living card game, however, it can be played using just the base game.

Set in a fictional samurai-like land, you and your opponent take control of one of seven clans and must battle each other for either military or political dominance. Using cards from your hand, you must be the first player to take your opponent’s stronghold. Mind your manners, though. For if you act too dishonorably you will bring shame upon your clan and, even more shamefully, lose the game.

Versions & Expansions

Legend of the Five Rings Card Game Expansions

As a living card game, there are numerous expansions to Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game, and will continue to be so until the series ends.

Clan War

One of the more notable is Clan War, released this year, which is a big box expansion that adds in 234 cards to the game. Interestingly, it also introduces the possibility for up to six players to take part, rather than the usual two.

Legend of the Five Rings: Clan War Expansion
  • A brand-new premium expansion for Legend of the Five Rings: The...
  • Two new formats officially introduce multiplayer to the game
  • 234 cards bring new strategies to the game, including a new win...

Children of the Empire

Children of the Empire is another ‘premium expansion’. Like its sibling, it also adds 234 cards to the game, this time with a focus on building out the imperial theme of the original. There are no major shake-ups in terms of game mechanics, rather just a bunch of new cards to add extra color.

Otherwise, there are plenty of smaller expansions, generally broken down into 60-card Dynasty packs and 78-card Clan packs, which focus on building out specific clans.

Unboxing Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

Legend of the Five Rings Card Game Unboxing

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game comes in a neat box, which includes:

  • 7 Stronghold Cards
  • 117 Dynasty Cards
  • 98 Conflict Cards
  • 17 Province Cards
  • 20 Status Tokens
  • 40 Fate Tokens
  • 50 Honor Tokens
  • 5 Ring Tokens
  • 1 First Player Token
  • 2 Honor Dials
  • 1 Imperial Favor Card
  • 5 Role Cards
  • 2 Reference Cards

The first thing to note is how fantastic the artwork and design is. The box itself starts things well. However, every card and character is brought to life with some great graphics. Real care and pride has clearly gone into each one. 

In terms of quality, everything is really well made. The cards are thick and the tokens nice and easy to punch out.

The rulebook is fantastic, too. Not just in terms of how it looks, but how it reads as well. It’s lengthy, but it didn’t feel unnecessarily so. I liked how, in order to teach you the rules, it gives you an end-to-end run-through of the first round. Once I’d gone through this, I was more than happy with how to play and was left with very few questions about how things worked because of its comprehensive style.

You actually don’t get all that much in the box. But there’s ample room in there to add in the new card decks you buy as you grow the game.

How to Play Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

Legend of the Five Rings How to Play

The Aim of the Game

You can win the game in three ways. Firstly, by taking your opponent’s stronghold. This is done by first defeating three of their four non-stronghold provinces, before moving on to defeat their stronghold province.

The other ways to win are through honor. Actions in the game can increase or decrease your honor level. If you reach 25 honor, you automatically win. Alternatively, if your opponent reaches zero, you win.

Setup

The rulebook handily provides a prescribed start-deck for your first game (although they are randomized). However, in future games, players will get to choose their own clan and create a bespoke deck

First off, build your Dynasty and Conflict decks as described and place them on the table. Then, take five province cards and one stronghold card. Secretly place one of the province cards face down above the Dynasty deck, putting a stronghold card face-up on top. The remaining four provinces are placed face-down in a line in between the Dynasty and Conflict decks, with a Dynasty card placed face-down on top.

Then, take the number of honor tokens shown on your stronghold card, and four conflict cards to populate your opening hand.

Phases

There are five phases in each round of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. 

1. Dynasty

This phase is when you get to pick the characters that will take part in this round. You do so by upturning the cards in your provinces and placing them in your active card area. Bear in mind you will also have to pay the cost for each card you play using Fate, the game’s currency. You can play as many characters as you like, providing you can afford them.

At this stage, you can also pay one extra Fate to have those characters active in future rounds. If you don’t, they’ll be discarded at the end of the round.

2. Draw

This round sees players secretly bid the amount of honor they want to sacrifice to get extra cards. Players choose a number between one and five. On revealing your bids, the player with the highest number gives the other player honor tokens matching the difference between their two bids.

In return, the player with the highest bid takes extra conflict cards equalling the number of their bid.

3. Conflict

Now to the action. Players simultaneously declare conflict on one another, with a maximum of two conflicts per player. To do so, the attacker chooses whether to initiate a military or political conflict, along with a Ring Element type (this is the reward at the end of the conflict, and grants the owner a special power at that time).

They then select from their hand the character they want to initiate the conflict. Each character has a military and political skill level — these will be used to measure the victor at the end of the conflict. The attacker also identifies the province to attack. If the province is not yet revealed, it is flipped over and its effects are resolved. In response, the defender chooses the character they want to defend it.

The aim of the conflict is to have the highest total skill level for the type of conflict that took place. During the conflict, players alternate using actions from their character and province cards. Actions take many forms, some will increase or decrease skill levels, for example. They can also choose to add in new cards from their hands, such as special items or extra characters, to increase their range of actions and total skill level.

The conflict ends when both players decide to pass. To resolve it, total up the remaining skill levels of your active characters. Whoever has the highest total skill level wins and gets to resolve the effect of the contested Ring.

Finally, if you won the conflict by an amount that’s higher than the province’s strength, it becomes broken.

4. Fate

Following the conflict, remove characters with no Fate remaining on them from the game and take one token off those with Fate.

5. Regroup

Cards can be discarded, are restocked and the game is reset for the next round.

As The Game Progresses…

Rounds continue as above until one player manages to break three of their opponent’s provinces and then moves on to successfully break their stronghold. Once this is achieved, they win! Of course, that’s providing neither side achieves an Honor Victory along the way.

Your First Game of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

Legend of the Five Rings First Game

On your first game of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game, I strongly recommend following the step-by-step example in the rulebook. It’s brilliantly written and will have you dictating your clan’s road to victory in no time.

However, there are a few strategic things to bear in mind. For example, despite all this talk of honor, I would advise against focusing on this as a winning tactic. Nearly all games will end by breaking your opponent’s stronghold. The honor system’s role is largely to be a safeguard to prevent players from abusing certain features.

Also, when it comes to the Draw phase, choose who to invest extra Fate in wisely. Some characters cost more than others, however, it only costs one Fate to keep any character in the game. It might make more sense to pay Fate to keep the more expensive, and therefore more effective, characters active.

Finally, keep a very close eye on your opponent. One of the reasons Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game is so good is that there’s a lot you can do to spite your enemy. So, if you ever think there’s not much you can do to improve your current situation, think about how you can negatively impact your opponent’s.

Pros & Cons

Legend of the Five Rings Card Game ProCon

Pros:

  • Fantastic game mechanics
  • Extremely tactical
  • Immersive samurai theme
  • Great artwork

Cons:

  • Insubstantial number of cards in the base game

The multiple mechanics in each phase of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game have been masterfully crafted, creating a wonderfully strategic game. For example, the Draw phase, in which you choose how honorably you’re going to act. It’s a simple bidding system, but quite how you decide to bid isn’t quite so simple. After all, you may not be desperate to acquire new cards, but do you need to stop your opponent from doing so? And can you really take the risk of sacrificing honor? It’s exciting, fits perfectly into the theme, and is really easy to learn.

The same can be said of paying extra Fate to keep characters in the game for additional rounds. It felt like you were paying them to hang around and fight for you for longer. It’s a great bit of strategy to include, making you think multiple turns in advance. With so many mechanics comes plenty of opportunities to make decisions and tweak the game board to your advantage throughout each phase. 

There’s a slight bit of randomness in terms of when different cards appear in-play and the effects of the province when it’s first attacked, but there’s a lot of opportunities to manage this. Overall, Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game can be a beast of a strategic endeavor.

The theme, for me, was also a massive win. You can get incredibly involved in taking on the role of a clan warrior. Having to manage the different personalities at your disposal, keeping control of your military prowess, taking political swipes at your opponent, all alongside maintaining your own personal honor. It’s entirely up to you what type of clan leader you want to be.

The thematic side of the game is resoundingly supported by the fantastic cast of clans and characters you can choose from. The rulebook gives an in-depth description of each one, and the artwork in the book and on each card only backs this up further.

If there’s one drawback it’s that, because there are so many clans included, the amount of cards provided for each one in the base game is relatively small, resulting in limited opportunity for deck building. For those only looking to purchase the base game, it might have been better if there was the option to reduce the number of clans included in exchange for beefing out the remaining ones. However, this isn’t the way the game is designed to be played. Instead, if you enjoy the game and want to build it out, there’s ample opportunity for doing so with the multiple expansions out there.

TL;DR

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game is a competitive samurai-style, two-player game that sees players battle it out to destroy their opponent’s stronghold.

The theme is fantastically presented in both in terms of the design and features. Players have many decisions to make if they are to effectively manage their clan’s military success, political might, and state of honor. With innovative and brilliantly-designed mechanics making up each round, this is a super-strategic game that’s full of intrigue.

Conclusion: Verdict?

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game brings together a number of brilliantly designed mechanics to create an engaging and thought-provoking two-player competitive game. As any good clan leader knows, there’s more to winning a war than just military might, and this game ties that up brilliantly, meaning you’ll have numerous tactical decisions to make along the way.

In particular, fans of the Japanese samurai theme will be more than happy, as Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game beautifully brings the experience to life with great graphics and smart mechanics.

There could perhaps be more cards in the base game box to complete the experience. But, luckily, as a living card game, there are 28 expansions to satisfy anyone with cravings for more, massively boosting the replayability.

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game (Core Set)
  • Take control of one of the seven great clans of Rokugan and...
  • Out play your opponent with unique honor bidding mechanics
  • Uses the Fantasy Flight Games living card game format for...

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Stats at a glance

Players: 2

Ages: 14 +

Hard

45-90 Mins

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Published: 2017