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Subject: CCG Journey Week 40 - Legend of the Burning Sands rss

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Mike Haverty
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Having already visited pseudo-historical fantasy Japan (Rokugan), The CCG Journey heads out for a visit to pseudo-historical fantasy Arabia, and a game system sometimes referred to as L5R 2.0.

The Game
Legend of the Burning Sands came out toward the tail end of my heavy involvement in Legend of the Five Rings, in 1998. L5R in a faux Arabian setting while I was living in the Middle East -- shoulda been a slam dunk. I think it was a victim of timing, though -- we moved back to the US in November of that year and I think I just hadn't gotten any product yet; then I had nobody to play with, so I didn't get any, and it died off not too long after that, so there you go.

I saw on the Wikipedia article that there was an attempted resurrection in 2006, including tournaments at Gencon, Lackey support, and a photographic catalog of all cards so that they could be proxied. That's an interesting topic in itself to me, as the growth of Artscow-like print services makes it pretty easy to create high-quality proxies; I'll probably discuss that at the end of the Journey one day.


The Decks
Brian was coming up to O-Town to join us for lunch gaming, so I took 3 unaltered starter decks with me. Glancing through them looked like they were made to be playable -- each included a stronghold card for the faction, many faction cards, and enough city section cards to go with the stronghold. John grabbed the Ashalan deck and Brian grabbed the Qabal, so I had the Senpet by default. We didn't really know anything about the factions going in.


The Play
So, LBS is immediately recognizable as a sibling to L5R to anyone who has played it before.

* Cards still have a monetary cost, now measured in copper rather than gold. In addition, many LBS cards have a water cost.

* There is no honor in LBS. There is an influence stat, but it has no default role in the game and the rules indicate it is mainly for future use -- I have no idea if that ever came about due to the game's short life (3 monthly Rolling Thunder expansions and a big Awakenings expansion).

* Force and Chi are now Strength and Ka, and seem to function pretty much the same; heroes still die if Ka is reduced to zero.

* All cards have a fate value at the bottom, similar to focus value in L5R (or bravado in Spycraft, or destiny in Star Wars, or ...).

* The standard four Provinces have been replaced by a variable number of City Sections, which seems like a very interesting change. Each city section has a water capacity. Water is spent to pay for certain cards but is also used to absorb damage when that location is attacked. Water is also one of the standard victory conditions -- you are eliminated if you run out of water. This is reminiscent of the blood pool in Jyhad -- the more you spend on cards, the closer you are to being eliminated. The city sections also have varying city point costs (checked only during game setup) and each stronghold supplies varying amount of city points -- this mixes up the "everyone is the same" province structure of L5R. I'm curious to see the pros and cons of playing with many small city sections versus fewer bigger/stronger city sections.

* The game still uses the action structure of L5R. Open actions are playable in any action phase; Day actions only during Day phase; etc. L5R's basic main phase has been replaced by Day and Night phases. Thematically, sneakier actions are written as Night actions. The turns are fully interactive now; there isn't a main player who is the only person who can declare an attack during the turn, for example -- one of the actions available to each player during Day is to declare an attack. This really opens up the timing of actions, bringing out more heroes, etc. Night has it's own form of attack called raiding, which I'll cover a little later.

* The Enlightenment Victory with its Five Rings have been replaced by a more flexible Story Victory. A story victory requires playing 5 points worth of story cards, and from what I've seen most of them are worth 2 points. This seems like it would be a little easier (only needing to trigger 3 things instead of 5), plus it's not the same 5 cards every time. Presumably, they published various story cards so it's a little harder to guard against all of them, plus it allows more thematic changes without introducing new mechanics (like the Black Scrolls in L5R for example).

* There is just the single deck now, too. I wonder if they ditched the fate + dynasty deck concept for design reasons, or to reduce printing costs (single back instead of two backs) or what.

Those are some of the bigger changes one would immediately note. In any case, we started setup by placing our city sections and loading them with their full capacities of water. Starting hand is 4 cards + 1 per city section you control, which is also your max hand size that is checked at the end of each round. Hm, this would mean having many small city sections gives you more starting cards and a larger hand size, at the risk of having them destroyed easier -- remember that water is lost to absorb damage in an attack, so it is effectively "hit points" in addition to your resource.

We cut for Caliph's Blessing (first player) and I won that, so I started off the round. This actually felt very L5R-ish to me as we all spent the copper from our strongholds on getting more cash holdings out. The second round was more of the same, except John brought out a hero while we did not, which he used for a free raid that Night. Raiding lets you steal water rather than destroy it. Only one hero can raid each city section, but you can send raiders out to as many city sections (belonging to any number of opponents) as you want. Each city section has a strength value (all of ours were 1). When you raid, you play a card face-down on your raider using the fate value at the bottom of the card as the raid value. Your raid value must exceed the target number. After assigning all your raiders, the defending players may each assign one unbowed hero to defend the raid, again playing a card to create a raid value; a defender's raid value must be beaten rather than the undefended city section's strength value in this case. That's it -- by default, there is no action phase or combat that goes on during raiding. If you succeed, you carry away 1 water from the target section. At the end of the round, all water must be distributed from heroes to city sections, with any leftover being lost. So John stole a water from Brian, woo!

The usual multiplayer trickiness began in earnest by turn 3. Heroes have to bow to attack, bow to raid, and be unbowed to defend against either, so with three of us there was a lot of timing/planning going on. John got out several heroes, including a guy named Adnan who appears to be the Toku of LBS (in L5R, Toku was a 0/1 samurai with no abilities but who cost nothing -- he was popular for chump-blocking, sacrificing, etc. -- so popular, in fact, that they later made an experienced version of him, hehe), who was then sacrificed to put an Eyeslicer ghul into play (see? heh). John also summoned a Jinn of Decay using an ice sorceress named Kurrat al-Ayn that must pay 2 extra water when summoning, but gives the jinn a permanent +2/+2 bonus, making it a massive 4/5 hero. Brian got several guys out as well, including more sahir (== shugenja, mage). I only had a couple guys out but they had decent stats -- enough to deter outright attacks on me. Overall, John had the best table going, I think.

We finally had our first battle around turn 5 when I attacked John because I thought I had a single guy strong enough to survive. Battles are a bit different than in L5R. Instead of taking actions until everyone is done and then totaling force to find the winner, LBS is a more interactive fight. A standard action open to anyone is to Engage, which bows one or more cards from a unit to inflict IMMEDIATE damage on the enemy. This damage is absorbed by destroying heroes/followers from the opposing army or, in the case of the defender, by losing water off the city section where the battle is located; if there is no water left, it can also be absorbed by destroying the city section itself to soak its strength value. This is similar to ranged attacks in L5R, except the enemy chooses how to take his losses; archery in LBS lets the attacker choose.

If we read the rules right, it appears that a hero of sufficiently high strength would be untouchable by the enemy. I sent Qer Apet (Senpet Brother of the Black Shield) to attack. He is a 3/2 that gains +1 Strength while attacking, making him a 4S. John's big jinn was bowed and he just had some 2 and 3 strength heroes with no followers to back them up. So, unless he had tricks up his sleeve (what, in a CCG? no way!) he didn't have anyone strong enough to take him out. Worth a shot, anyway.

The trick up his sleeve was Wisdom of the Stars, a reaction that adds 2 damage when you engage a hero (though he does lose 1 Ka permanently). Defender goes first in battle, so that was that, heh.

We had a couple more battles, with Brian and I both attacking John since he had so many guys out. Between us we thinned him out a bit, but then I started to become the big target. I had a Abd al-Zhayn out, a decent 3/3 hero, but more importantly he had Trained Peacocks with him, a follower that gives Carry +1, which does exactly what you'd think it does. I was raiding hard every turn. Between that and not spending that much water hiring people, I was sitting around 15 water to Brian's 12 and John's 9 (a lot of his had gone to his recruiting, plus jinn require a lot of water to summon). I started getting pounded in the Day and raided at Night, until Brian turned his eye back on John.

We also had a couple duels in there. Dueling in LBS feels like a cross between duels in L5R and boarding in 7th Sea. Instead of just playing focus cards until someone declares a strike and the higher total winning, it is broken down into thrust and parry. The first active player thrusts first by playing a card face-down from hand; the opponent plays a card from hand OR the top of his deck. Compare the fate values and the difference is how much temporary Ka loss the target suffers. Note: it's the difference, whether positive or negative. When parrying, you don't want to beat the thrust value; you want to guess/tie it exactly to suffer 0 Ka loss. If the hero survives, it becomes his turn to thrust, etc. Note that you must pass if you have no cards in hand when it's your turn to thrust as you can only parry off the deck, not thrust. If neither hero has died (due to Ka being reduced to 0) when both players pass consecutively, then the hero with the lower Ka loses, which is fatal.

I successfully killed Brian's defender when raiding (using a reaction card to force a duel during a raid). Brian had a sahir out that can challenge jinn to gain control of them, and went after John's beefed up Jinn of Decay, but John just paid the water cost to refuse.

We actually ran out of time at the end. My last city section was destroyed, which would normally eliminate me at the end of the turn because I had no water stored, but I had 2 water stuck on al-Zhayn because he was Sabotaged coming back from a raid (prevents water distribution and straightening, which we took to mean he had 1 turn to stick around before it was discarded because it wasn't stored at the end of the next round, thus eliminating me). John went ahead and bent the knee and we declared Brian's Qabal the winner as he had the best position and most water at that point.


The Verdict
We all enjoyed the game (Brian even declared it his favorite of the AEG games he's tried). I liked a lot of the differences between LBS and L5R, though it was possibly due in part to my weird reaction to revisiting L5R. The setting and power shift in L5R from my old original days makes the game feel sort of alien to me. Here, I have a game that is similar and yet different, with a new theme but in the same world... it feels both familiar and fresh at the same time, without causing me to be disoriented by changes from the past (since I've never played it before).

I feel like the action phases are tighter, especially with the ability to attack any time during the Day and to raid any time during the Night. It makes keeping some unbowed guys around for defense even more important, I think. There is also a hand management aspect to it since every raider and raid defender requires a card from hand, in addition to thrusting in duels, and even absorbing battle damage (another battle rule I omitted in this report since we didn't actually use it).

I really like the blood pool-like aspect of your water. I lost my water in battle, but John lost most of his to summoning and hiring, plus refusing duels, while most of Brian's water loss was from raiding. It feels like a more satisfying goal than simply attacking provinces to destroy them. It's also nice because you can always attack a city section to destroy water on it, whereas in L5R if you didn't have enough strength to beat a province you generally wouldn't even bother going for it.

In any case I'm looking forward to building decks for it. We might play one more time with plain starters, but I'd really like to see what a battle deck vs a raiding deck might look like, and many city sections versus few, and so on. I give this an initial rating of 7.5 with more to come.


Notes on the Journey
Total plays (plays since last report). Lots of Warhammer activity as I got a huge lot in a math trade, allowing me to give a bunch of cards to John to start his own deck building and completing the Corruption Cycle packs for me. Of course, John is now two packs deep into the Enemy Cycle, so the arms race continues! I just learned that FFG is now doing 3x20 in each pack now, instead of the previous collation, so a single copy of each new pack is a full play set = A+. I still need to get to Middle Earth CCG on the Journey, which I love, but that new LotR LCG that FFG announced is looking juicy, too...

World of Warcraft = 33
Magic = 20
Warhammer = 17 (+12)
Game of Thrones = 16
VS = 11
The Spoils = 9
Harry Potter = 7
Doomtown = 6
City of Heroes = 5
EVE = 5
Mystick = 4
Conan = 4
Jyhad = 4
Epic = 4
Warlord = 3
Lord of the Rings = 3
BattleTech = 3
UFS = 2
Doomtrooper = 2
TMNT = 2
Legend of the Five Rings = 2
Shadowrun = 2
Star Wars = 2
Legend of the Burning Sands = 1 (+1)
Corunea = 1
Tempest of the Gods = 1
Netrunner = 1
Myths & Legends = 1
Cyberpunk = 1
Gridiron = 1
Wyvern = 1
Spycraft = 1
Kingdom Hearts = 1
Echelons = 1
OverPower = 1
Hyborian Gates = 1
Arcadia = 1
Fantasy Adventures = 1
On the Edge = 1
Shadowfist = 1


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Paul - the
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Good write-up. thumbsup

Still one of my favourite CCG:s of all time.
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Andreas Josefsson
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Yeah. This really made me want to revisit the Jewel of the Desert.
This is the one collectible that would get my cash if it ever was resurrected.

Come on FFG! LBS the LCG! Hey, try that one on for size: FFG:LBS:LCG! Acronym Heaven.
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Marstov
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LBS is a good game, but there were some broken cards that need to be removed or the fun factor drops significantly. Off the top of my head the Elephant follower was way overpowered; also a person holding several Sudden Strikes had a huge advantage, especially if defending.

My friends and I collected all our LBS cards together and built what we considered balanced decks, one for each faction. We use these to play multi-player and it's a very good time. You could probably find a fair number of cards for cheap on ebay and do something similar.
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Paul - the
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Marstov wrote:
LBS is a good game, but there were some broken cards that need to be removed or the fun factor drops significantly. Off the top of my head the Elephant follower was way overpowered; also a person holding several Sudden Strikes had a huge advantage, especially if defending.

My friends and I collected all our LBS cards together and built what we considered balanced decks, one for each faction. We use these to play multi-player and it's a very good time. You could probably find a fair number of cards for cheap on ebay and do something similar.


We actually banned Sudden Strike locally, made for a much better game. Otherwise everyone would pack three of them. Without them you got much more diversified decks.
 
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Filip Stamate
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Anyone interested in playing this over LackeyCCG? I'm trying to learn it so you'll have to put up with that at least for a couple of games.
 
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