Saturday, 10 January 2015

A different kind of card game

I’ve never been a big fan of Magic: The Gathering for two reasons:

The first is that the background story has just never grabbed me. Not to say it is bad, I wouldn’t know as I’ve never read much about it, simply that there’s not been a hook to pique my interest and get me reading.

The second reason is my introduction to the game back in the late 90’s. Magic (at least back then) had a reputation as being one of those games where if your opponent had collected the rare and powerful cards and built a good deck with them they could obliterate you within a turn. This is ultimately what happened to me when a friend tried to teach me the game. We set up our cards, played a few turns to get some cards down on the table, and then he destroyed me in one turn by succesively combining a few powerful cards. After the first game we set up again and repeated this scenario about 2 or 3 times. Needless to say this approach didn’t really endear me to the game so afterwards whenever my friend asked me if I wanted a game of Magic I always seemed to be busy for one reason or another.

In hindsight it’s unfortunate that this lone situation influenced my thinking so much. Recently I’ve been watching episodes of Spellslingers through Geek and Sundry and I’ve been finding them not only quite amusing but also I've found the game to be quite interesting. So when a friend suggested we play a card game called Legend of the 5 Rings over the Christmas break I was pretty keen to give it a go.

From the little I’ve read on the website the story is very loosely something along these lines:

8 major clans vie amongst each other for power in the mythical land of Rokugan. Each clan has its strengths and weaknesses, some are military powers, some political, some spiritual and some centred around espionage or intrigue. The world of Rokugan is based primarily around feudal Japan but also has other Asian influences such as Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

The really interesting part about the storyline is that it is directly affected by tournament results. The current storyline revolves around the major clans all manoeuvring to place one of their people on the throne as Emperor. I only skimmed over some of the other fiction surrounding the game but there is an incredible depth of background and history to the game which has been built up over the two decades since it's inception.

Anyway enough about the background, here’s a quick play-by-play of our game. I was representing the Lion Clan who serve as the Emperor’s right hand and hence have a heavy military focus. My friend Mark was playing the Crab Clan who are one of the clans bordering the demon lands and hence have a greater inclination toward resilience from all the invasions they have weathered. We both set up our Dojos and got into building an army to attack with.

Mark is still pretty new to the game and it was my first time playing so we kept things very simple in terms of rules. Not a whole lot happened for the first 3 turns as neither of us was able to draw the right cards to do anything other than build. At about the 4th turn however I had an opportunity to attack so threw caution to the wind and sent my army in to inflict virtual card based pain on Mark’s Crab army.

With all the various stats involved and special play cards that either increase or reduce stats we quickly lost track of exactly what the numbers for each side were. In future I think I would come up with a better system of managing the maths for battles. Maybe using some kind of markers or tokens would have helped. In the end however we worked out that I had marginally won that battle and hence Mark lost one of his 3 provinces held under his Dojo.

After the first battle we discovered what I thought to be one of the best parts of the game; the counter attack. After committing so many troops to attacking Mark’s Dojo I had inadvertently left nothing behind to defend my own Dojo. With no one at home to defend my provinces in Mark’s turn he simply wandered in to my territory and pillaged one of my provinces.

Eventually however Mark just wasn't getting the cards he needed to defend his provinces against the massive army of the Lion and ultimately I had enough troops left to whittle down the last of the Crab resistance.

To the victor go the spoils!

I have to say I REALLY enjoyed this game. Not just because of the medieval Japanese theme, which is something I've always had a passion for, but also because the game seemed to play well to the concept of two armies trying to invade neighbouring territories. The game also appears to have a lot of depth to it; we only really played the 'stand em up, knock em down' approach because we didn't know the rules very well, but there are rules for other traits such as honour and magic so you needn't rely solely on military strength. Lastly the artwork on the cards is absolutely stunning and in my mind if there's not some cool aesthetic to a tabletop game I personally can't see why I shouldn't just play chess.

I'm pretty keen to pick this game up a bit more regularly but Mark doesn't live in Christchurch so if you know anyone locally who plays please let me know. Otherwise if you get the chance to play the game then definitely give it a go.

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