War of Honor, by AEG, has just been released, and Legend of the 5 Rings fans will find some innovative creations here. For those who don’t know, L5R is a collectible card game set in the Japan-inspired land of Rokugan, and employs a continuing story arc throughout the sets. War of Honor takes this historic game, layers a board creation element on top, and provides four starter decks.
For the L5R enthusiast, this set will provide a new way of playing the game with multiple opponents. New ally rules for attack and defense add to the game, and the tile setup creates additional abilities and considerations when going to battle. War of Honor is very successful in bringing some fantastic elements for the long time fan.
For the newcomer, L5R includes four basic clan decks and promises compatibility with any clan starter deck. In that way, War of Honor takes on a Living Card Game type flavor. However, I’m not sure that War of Honor is completely effective in creating a simplified playing experience for the raw recruit. War of Honor leaves in almost all of the complexity while adding the additional tile elements. New players may feel intimidated and persecuted in this multi-player variant.
The Basics. You may have some familiarity with the rules of L5R. However, if you’re new to the entire experience, I’ll break down the salient rules. Your deck is composed of Fate cards drawn into your hand and played when the time is right, and Dynasty cards which are flipped over into four piles called Provinces. Those Dynasty cards are either one time use Events that occur immediately, Personalities who can fight for you, or Holdings that can provide gold.
There are four paths to victory in L5R.
1: You can simply kill your opponents. Every successful attack, if it exceeds a certain value, destroys one of your opponent’s provinces—essentially weakening them. Do that four times and they are eliminated.
2: If you are able to play down a copy of each of the five rings, then you immediately win.
3: You can also achieve an Honor victory by accumulating forty honor over the course of the game.
4: Finally, you can achieve a Dishonorable victory by using cards to Dishonor your opponents until they reach negative twenty honor.
War of Honor keeps all of these elements in principle with its own paths to victory. The Path of Enlightenment still requires five played rings. The Military paths now requires that five provinces be destroyed from among any of the opponents. The Honor path now allows you to move up if you accumulate eight honor in a turn. Do that five times and win. Additionally, the Dishonor path allows you to move up if you collectively dish out eight points of dishonor on a turn. Do that five times and win.
Getting away from the standard Honor and Dishonor victories, the players now care only about reaching the magic number eight in a single turn. Points accumulated on prior turns do not carry over. And dishonor does not reduce honor.
War of Honor also introduces a tile system. The players are given five tiles (three fortresses and two plains) with which to create the board. The fortresses each provide a permanent ability (one Open, one Limited, and one Battle) that the player can use. The plains tiles are used to create distance from other fortresses or to box a player in. The reason is that attacks are now launched from a designated fortress and directed at a fortress of the enemy. Adjacent fortresses may be asked to ally with you - making placement important. But, the game provides encouragement to attack an adjacent fortress as well, so there’s somewhat of a double edged sword there.
Best yet, though the game includes four starter decks, it also includes these tiles for every clan - with abilities designed to assist their preferred path to victory. So, a player can go out and buy a clan starter deck and there are tiles for that clan waiting in the War of Honor box.
To simplify things from the traditional card game, there are no Family Honor requirements to bring out Personalities and there is no Imperial Favor.
The Feel. In my plays, the basic decks from War of Honor start off very slow. It’s all a player can do to snap up a holding or two that first round and then be unable to do anything particularly important. It takes several turns to really get things going. However, by game end, the players are basically able to do whatever they want and pay for every Dynasty card that comes up. It’s almost like the game has a juicy and interesting middle, but plays monotonously on either end.
Perhaps it is designed this way to prevent one strategy from being more effective in a multi-player scenario. Indeed, even as the military leader has huge armies, and the Enlightened player has gotten several rings down, the Honor and Dishonor players can generate six automatic honor or dishonor per turn. It becomes substantially easier to move up the paths at end game.
The trouble with War of Honor is that it will have a very different feel depending on who is playing it. To the L5R veteran, or the student of war looking to get into the game, it can be a very fulfilling endeavor. It has simpler cards meant to provide a cleaner experience. The new Paths to Victory allow players to achieve their goals at roughly the same point in the game. AEG has done a good job of mitigating the danger that one player might get close to an Honorable Victory too early and then be destroyed by the other players. Put on top of that the other strategic considerations about which Fortresses to attack and you’ve got a fantastic re-implementation of L5R in a multi-player setting.
However, if you’re a brand-spanking new player sitting down for the first time, I would strongly caution you about a War of Honor game. L5R can be very complex. There are a lot of exceptions and special rules, such as when it comes to counting the Force of a unit with some straight cards and some bowed cards. And the penalty for an unsuccessful attack or defense can seem very high - the destruction of your entire fighting force. A new player may see their Personalities utterly decimated. Then, as the weakest, "limpy gazelle" player, they can be allied against and kicked around by the remaining players.
Additionally, while the tile set provides new powers and strategies for seasoned players, new players may find it overwhelming considering all of the items to keep track of in War of Honor. New abilities, in addition to everything else they have at their disposal, simply means one more thing to remember in an already complex game. For those new to the game, I would strongly suggest playing a few one on one games to familiarize yourself with the basic tactics without worrying about multiple opponents.
And, while it might be fun to grab a clan deck off the store shelf and start your play, not all cards are compatible. Some cards in L5R impact the victory conditions - making Honor victories more difficult, for example - and those cards will have no effect in War of Honor. I verified this with the War of Honor guru at AEG, Bryan Reese. It’s disappointing that there isn’t some way to incorporate these cards, as it is a pity to buy a starter deck for War of Honor and not be able to use some abilities.
Components: 4.5 of 5. War of Honor does phenomenally well in this regard. The cards are sturdy and of the same quality as the fine L5R. The game comes with multiple markers to track the Paths of Victory in case a clan is represented more than once. And, lets not forget that the game includes tiles for all of the clans even though it only comes with four. War of Honor does not skimp on components. And the rulebook is a large print, full color, art filled, thing of beauty.
The only negative is that the Rulebook doesn’t answer a few questions that would be difficult for a new player to intuit. For example, if you attack a player, and he defends, and you bow one of his units so that it no longer contributes Force to the fight, does it die if you win the battle? Players with a background in Magic might assume no. But my reading of the Celestial Edition rules, with some inferencing, leads me to conclude the opposite.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. As a card game, there will always be some luck. However, War of Honor does a very good job with the starter sets. Each one has multiple copies of needed cards to ensure that they come up quickly. The decks are well tuned towards their goals and are roughly equal in power. This allows for a good deal of strategic thinking and plotting in the game. And, with the new allying system, it even fosters negotiation and politicking among the players.
Mechanics: 3.5 of 5. War of Honor ensures that each of the four Paths to Victory are viable and competitive. It also does a good job of preventing one person from nearing the end first and becoming the communal victim of the rest. However, I found the tile setup to be a little forced. Since it’s created at the beginning of the game, it’s difficult to know who will be the better ally or the scarier foe. So, while you can create distance or try to block other fortresses, it feels very blind.
Replayability: 2.5 of 5. With the set as is, a four player game will get dull fairly quickly. The same four decks will be available, the same play styles will ensue. And though the tile layout will be different, it’s not really enough to dramatically impact the game. Expanding with additional starter decks, though, will vastly increase replayability.
Spite: 4 of 5. Spite is high in this game. Even when allied to a player, it may be in their best interest to harm you (as with the awesomely named card: "Begone, Fool!"). Additionally, the direct attacks can result in the loss of a province, and therefore, a debilitating loss in momentum. Players need to be able to roll with the punches and accept that they will be under attack at times.
Overall: 2 or 3.5 of 5. For the experienced L5R player, I’d give this a 3.5. It’s a great way to introduce your friends to the game and a fun way to play through other nonpreferred clans. While the tile element is a nice addition, War of Honor really provides a fantastic format to engage in mutli-player games with friends. If your group enjoys L5R, the rules for multi-player will allow you to engage with a large group.
If you’re a newcomer to L5R, or were hoping for a more board game like experience, however, I’d rate this at a 2. L5R can be very complex. And the rulebook, while beautiful, can be unforgiving. Several critical rules are stated only once - making them easy to forget or hard to find. For example, the definition of a "Ranged Attack" and how it works is only described in the glossary - nowhere in the actual rules for battles. The pace of the game can also be a problem, as it starts slowly, warms up, and then goes overboard with players bringing out essentially whatever Dynasty cards happen to show up that turn. All of this can be resolved through multiple plays and increased familiarity, but it definitely does not start off intuitive.
(A special thanks to AEG for providing a review copy of War of Honor)
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)
Awesome review! I had my eye on this one as a possible substitute to A Game of Thrones LCG, but your review gave me the facts I needed to keep away from War of Honor.
Thank you for the insightful review!
As I'm a bit nuts about anything with anything vaguely Japanese-themed, I already have a l5r collection (cards from 2001-2008). Deck-building however seems particularly hard.
I didn't find any guides like the excellent Deadlands: Doomtown ones that
made available on the geek. So I was thinking to buy this play with the four decks until I get the hang of it and then start making decks with the stuff I have.
Now, I'm not so sure. Particularly as the rules don't seem to be explaining everything and things like timing reaction, and what resolves what & when is still a mystery to me.
Still such a great theme! Biggest draw back to me is that there is really a lot of text on each card and after 2 games I need to switch to something else. But I guess that will improve with experience
Edit : Typo's
- Last edited Sat Jun 18, 2011 7:46 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sat Jun 18, 2011 7:43 am
Never know what's next.
You can also check out The Gaming Gang's review for a different perspective as a new-to-L5R War of Honor player (they quite enjoyed it).
Admittedly you'd probably enjoy the first few games more if you had a veteran L5R player around to walk you through a few things, though that's common with just about any game. But it's not an insurmountable obstacle, and once you get into L5R, it's easily one of the most engaging game worlds you can be a part of.
I also purchased this and do not know what to do with it!
I purchased this and do not know what to do with it!
We have found new players to really take to the game, but there is usually 1-2 of us playing with them who have been playing L5R for a few months now (and have surpassed the growing pains of learning the rules). Of course, I didn't find it too hard as I had to learn without the support of a veteran.
For deck building guides you could start here. In this 2-part series the fundamentals are laid down quite nicely, of course this is one perspective to the process... Nothing substitutes for simply making it, playing it, finding out where it falls short, tweaking it and repeating...:
Gardens by the Bay
You can also check out The Gaming Gang's review for a different perspective as a new-to-L5R War of Honor player (they quite enjoyed it).
My micro-summary from one play is that this game hits 80-90% of the satisfaction of a 2-player game of L5R, which is much, much closer than multiplayer has been over the game's 16 years.
Admittedly, I had no experience with L5R prior to War of Honor. But, I think my review does show that those who have experience will get a lot of enjoyment. I think it successfully brings the two player format into the multi-player environment. I just don't think it does as good a job stepping new players through the process.