Review – Embers of War (L5R CCG)

Embers of War is the latest expansion for the Legend of the Five Rings CCG. It contains 159 different new cards (plus six tokens), and is sold in 11-card booster packs and 87-card starter decks (9 of the cards are only found fixed in the starter decks). Embers pre-release tournaments are going on now, and the set become legal for tournament play on June 2, 2012. This review will look at Embers of War for the more casual player – a more in-depth analysis will be forthcoming on the Strange Assembly podcast.

Story

Legend of the Five Rings is, of course, the interactive storyline CCG, so every new expansion brings not only new gameplay, but also cards affected by prior storyline tournament wins, and new information about the setting’s ongoing story. Embers of War has about a dozen credited cards, including Bayushi Tenzan, the card printed for the winner of one of the items made available by AEG in the Amber Blackburn BGG Charity Auction.

The ongoing story in Embers of War focuses on the activities of the Great Clans in the recently founded and the even-more-recently opened up to every Colonies (this mirrors the story of the Kotei season that is going on now). This includes a variety of references to the Spider and Mantis (who, along with the watchful eyes of the Dragon, had been assigned to deal with the Colonies up until this point) and how they really, really resent this turn of events. Other story points highlighted include the ongoing alliance between the Crab and Scorpion (who seem to be sharing a Dark Secret), new hostilities between the Phoenix and Lion, and attacks on the Unicorn’s overland route to the Colonies (possibly by Yodotai-affiliated bandits).

The Cards

The most exciting place for a new L5R expansion is typically the three Strongholds. Embers of War brings new ones for Spider, Lion, and Unicorn. I am most excited about the new Lion Stronghold, The Marshaling Fields, which is another option for their Scout theme. Lion Scouts have a Terrain emphasis, and I wasn’t enthused about the original Emperor arc Lion Scout Stronghold (The Golden Plains) because by automatically creating a Terrain at your battles, it didn’t give you any reason to play with actual Terrain cards. The Marshaling Fields, on the other hand, makes you want to shove a bunch of them in your deck.

 

 

The Unicorn received The Ki-Rin’s Path (the name for the aforementioned overland route to the Colonies), which supports their Tactician theme. Unicorn Tacticians, unlike the rest of their themes, are a mix of Infantry and Cavalry Personalities. Ki-Rin’s Path let’s you go back to having an all Cavalry force when you want it, with some extra Force to boot. It may also enable Tactician “Superfriends” decks, playing lots of out-of-Clan Tacticians and turning them into Cavalry.

 

 

 

 

Finally, the Spider’s Commanders theme received The Plain of Glass, which represents a new secret hideout in the Colonies. The original Spider Commander box (Keep of the Dead) incentivized loading one Personality up to take advantage of the Conqueror keyword and the Stronghold’s Battle ability. The Plain of Glass, on the other hand, pushes you towards spreading the Follower love a little bit by letting you Conquer with two different units each attack. The ability to attach Followers as a Battle action is also not to be underestimated.

 

 

 

In addition to the Strongholds, each starter deck has the usual fixed Personality, and a new feature with Embers of War, a fixed item as well. For the Lion and Unicorn starters, these are Experienced versions of the Clans’ Celestial Swords, powerful artifacts that we haven’t seen cards of in quite some time. The Spider starter deck features an Experienced version of the Ancestral Sword of Hantei, the ancestral blade of the original Rokugani ruling dynasty.

 

 

 

 

Embers of War features of a couple of cycles of Personalities of note. First are the Sensei, one for each Clan, whose mechanics provide global boosts for their player or for the Personalities around them (the Sensei are all uncommons). Second is the appearance of the first batch of the Seven Sohei, a collection of story-selected Monks with Clan tie-ins (the Sohei are rares, but they are Unique and shouldn’t be tough to get).

Additionally, Embers of War has stacks of Focus Effects, aimed to encouraging duels to involve more focusing, instead of just striking to get it over with.

 

 

Other cards that have generated buzz are The Snow Has Teeth (meta against several different passive defense deck tactics), Inexorable (an anti-Reaction Reaction that is a weakened version of the old power card Fall On Your Knees), Low Market (a Region that generates Gold to pay for attachments), The Heir’s Wrath (an expensive but powerful Unique Strategy that lets you destroy a unit as a Limited action), and Games of Will (a meta effect that stops Force penalties and the popular Games of Sincerity). Inexorable is the only one of these that is a non-Unique rare.

 

 

The Clans

The Crab have had the strongest tournament performance so far in Emperor Edition, and pick up some nice support in Embers of War. Although their strongest theme (Scouts) comes up largely empty-handed, their second-best theme so far – Berserkers – brings home quite the haul. In addition to the obligatory Crab Clan Berserker Personality (Hida Bakishi), they also get Sakti, an Unaligned Berserker who will go in basically any Berserker deck. The Hida also receive Splintered Weapon, which has decent stats and the powerful ability to destroy any card without attachments. All of these Berserker cards are non-rare, although the excellent-for-Berserkers Strategy Power of Strength is rare. A fan favorite for Crab from Embers of War is likely to be Kaiu Onizuka, the newest Topaz Champion.

The Crane, on the other hand, have had poor tournament performance of late, and will be looking for a pick-me-up from Embers of War. It is, however, unclear whether they’ll get enough of one. The Crane’s best additions are probably to its Scout deck, which sees a couple of good new Personalities, including the Daidoji daimyo, Akeha (daughter of the very popular Daidoji Kikaze).

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon is another Clan that has been riding high on the tourney scene, with two different high level decks in the Weapon-platform Kensai and honor-running with the sharp-eyed Kitsuki. The Kensai get another few great options, with the high-Force Mirumoto Kouzei and the versatile Strategy Moving and Unmoving, which can serve as send-home or move-in. Embers of War also has a couple of new Weapons, including the nice Sankaku-Yari and the decent Shamsir. Moving and Unmoving is the only Rare among these, which is most relevant with regards to the Weapons, as it has been tough to field a good set of Emperor-legal Weapons without a lot of rares and promos. The Kitsuki also have some decent additions, headlined by the Experienced version of Kitsuki Daisuke, who draws a card whenever he wins a duel (and also continues to have great flavor text).

 

Lion have also been able to field two strong tournament decks, one with their Ancestor-focused honor theme and one an amalgam of their Paragon and Tactician themes (mostly a Paragon deck with a splash of Tacticians to activate the card draw on Eternal Victory Dojo). The Lion options in Embers of War are noteworthy for the Ikoma takeover of the set, as the relatively small (by Lion standards) family grabs four of their Personality slots in the expansion, including not only the expected Scouts but also a couple of Paragons (including the new Ikoma daimyo).

 

 

 

The Mantis’s greatest tournament success so far has come from using the Kalani’s Landing Stronghold to generate tons of cash, and this deck picked up a nice option in the extortionist Yoritomo Kanaye. Indeed, all of the Mantis themes picked up something or another, with the Tsuruchi Scouts grabbing the most Personalities (3). Movie geeks are sure to enjoy the Spell Incite the Phantoms, which includes a lethal rabbit-related shout-out to Monty Python.

 

 

 

 

The Phoenix assortment in Embers of war is headlined by the new Master of Fire, Isawa Koiso, who is sexy in more ways than one. Another Fire Shugenja, Isawa Mina, should also help out their successful Library of Rebirth decks, as there are a lot of attachments in good military decks these days. The card draw of Broken Cipher won’t hurt either. The other themes get something too, as Inquisitor decks (well, the non-rocket ones, anyway) will be glad to add another honor-gaining ability in the form of Asako Megu, the Shiba get the nasty Yojimbo Assemble (another “destroy something without attachments” effects), and Henshin get the situational but hyper-powerful-when-it-works Riddle of Rebirth.

 

 

Scorpion have spent Emperor Edition so far in the unusual (for recent years, anyway) of having the overwhelming majority of their tournament participation coming from military, rather than dishonor decks. This is likely to change with the release of the Embers of War pre-release promo, Den of Iniquity. But Scorpion dishonor also gets fodder from Embers itself, including the fantastic experienced version of Soshi Yoshihara. And, not to be left behind, the Scorpion military decks each pick up a (rare) Strategy that will provide a boost – Yojimbo Assemble for the Paragons and Help From The Shadows for Ninja. Bayushi Tenzan is pretty great too.

 

 

Although not as poorly performing as the Crane, the Spider have also lagged in tournament performance, and most of their decks don’t look to get much of a pick-me-up. The headline Spider card is the new version of the Shadow Dragon, who is worth every penny of that 20 Gold Cost. Along with Help From The Shadows, he could assist the Goju Ninja deck have a little more success with actual Ninja. The Spider Sohei, arguably the best deck Spider has going, picks up the Kensai cards discussed earlier, plus a decent Personality in Sugihara.

 

 

 

Finally, the Unicorn look to continue at a moderate pace, with their themes picking up some decent cards, but nothing explosive – unless they can rip multiple Two Fronts in time to make a last stand impossible for the opponent (Crane Scouts can aim for this too). Battle Maidens add Utaku Lishan (Reactions are much better tempo than Battle actions) and You Are Not Worthy to destroy almost any attachment. The Tacticians get another nice use-at-home Personality in Moto Isul, while the Commanders can use Flanking Unit for even more province sleazing. And Moto Rani could be a standout performer for the Priests of Death.

 

That’s it for this look at Embers of War – which I imagine will become the bonfires of war soon enough.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of review material.

13 thoughts on “Review – Embers of War (L5R CCG)

  1. IMO, set should’ve been called “Rich Get Richer”. It’s a well designed set, at least from a quick glance, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to do jack to shake up Crab/Dragon and to a lesser extent, Mantis’ strength.

    1. Agree. It’s ironic that there’s such a good correlation between ‘decks doing well in the kotei season to date’ vs ‘decks that get good support out of Embers’. Rocket honor is the only winning deck not to get some strong support, while Lion and Crane scouts are, I think, the only non-winning decks to get an above-average boost.

      1. Yep. Yay for sets designed without any actual tournament data, so the clans doing well get boosts while the clans doing poorly get nothing.

        And I know I’ve been beating it to death, but this Design Team has yet to show it can bring a lagging clan up to snuff. They either fail miserably at it (Spider in SE, Scorpion in CE) or overboost them (Crane in CE), neither of which is an acceptable option.

        1. Well, sets being designed without tournament data is probably far better than the alternative. (Sets designed/playtested in only a month or so, with less time for artists, administrative work, card printing, boats from China, and so on.)

          1. Or anything from Lotus. *cough cough* Test of Enlightenment *cough cough*.

            Is there any truth to the urban legend that that one saw no playtesting at all?

    2. Yes and no. There are good decks that got cards. There are bad decks that got cards. There are good decks that didn’t get cards. There are bad decks that didn’t get cards.

      Crab Berserkers and Dragon Kensai are strong decks that get more good cards (although it’s unclear how many of the new cards will actually end up in Dragon Kensai decks). Lion Ancestors gets a couple of playable cards (although not ones that generate honor). Scorpion Paragons got a kick.

      Weak decks that got subpar help given their status include non-Scout/non-rocket Crane, non-Spider Monks, and both Commander decks.

      Multiple good decks got left out. Crab Scouts gets relatively little. Phoenix (and Crane) honor rocket aren’t really helped. Lion Paragons doesn’t get a ton – there are some nice new Tactician cards, but that doesn’t really interact that strongly with the TactaGons decks.

      There are also non-great decks that got boosts. Crane Scouts gets better. Lion Scouts gets better. Mantis Scouts too, with a lot of new guys. Passive dishonor generally has gotten a boost (in addition to Den of Iniquity). Scorpion Ninja got more tools.

      And, of course, there are all sorts of other decks that got moderate support. So, like I said, I don’t agree that it’s just a “rich get richer” thing, although it is also not exclusively a “poor get richer” situation. The biggest “losers” seem to be Crane, Commanders, and non-Spider Monks. The biggest “win more” seems to be Berserkers.

  2. I guess Crane scout gets more viable? That’s nice. Illusory Defense also rocks. I still think the Asahina shugenja deck has the potential to be the strongest Crane theme on the table, although Shinden Asahina is terrible.

  3. I did get the feeling that dragon Kensai was getting support it didn’t much need, but I also agree that as good as the deck is, there is a question if it wants any of the new support all that much. I had a spider Kensai built but I think its time to give up on that and go to the dragon side of the weapons game.

    Non-Human got a nice boost with the new 15 force monster that also sports a strong battle action. They also got a new workable holding in a 4/3 that makes 4 for many of its stronger personalities that I think helps it start to have a more workable gold scheme.

    From the shadows is a brutal card for Goju decks. That and Far from the Empire make them the ultimate sleaze deck. Nothing like attacking with no one, sending home un-opposed defenders and then wandering in with a formerly bowed unit. With 3 cards its a trick, with 6 its a strategy. The shadow dragon is a bit iffy, but I tried him and as a sort of bonus card in the deck, he has his moments. I was down on the blank 6f shug at first, but with the sleeze strategy he’s great as nearly any attach makes him a province buster and if unopposed he doesn’t much need an action. Not sure its a winning deck, but its gotten much more dangerous.

    I’m still struck by how weapons are so superior to followers at this point. Gold for gold they come up short on force and abilities in all but a tiny number of cases and followers remain more vulnerable to bowing and destruction than weapons. I wonder what the justification is.

    1. I’m not sure how much different they really are, especially on the Force front. At 6G, Followers get Legion of Pain and Weapons get Sankaku-Yari (both 5F, and Legion of Pain arguably having a much stronger effect). Veteran Advisor and Modifications are mirrors of each other. Stalking Tiger has one less Force than Tsuruchi Daikyu, but its attack is one bigger. Pretty much everything for 4G is 3F – Nightingale Blade is the best 4G attachment if you’re Kensai, but then all the (non-Unicorn) House Guards are mostly great.

      The big difference on individual card power level is that Followers doesn’t have anything to compete with Wyrmbone Katana and Cursed Relic. Khol Riders and The Vengeful have more Force and have kill actions, but they just aren’t as good. Followers probably have the strongest overall effects on an attachment (Elite Sentry), although it comes at an awful lot of Gold.

      As for bowing, Weapons are obviously less vulnerable to bow, but their Personalities are then more vulnerable to bow. Classic tradeoff. Followers are more vulnerable to normal Ranged/Melee Attacks, but Weapon units are more vulnerable to Sniping (or other stacked RA boosts). This favors the Weapons, but it’s not entirely one-sided.

      So, while I agree that Weapon-bearing decks are better than Follower-bearing decks, a lot of that is because (1) there are two particular extremely good Weapons; and, with regards to Kensai v. Commander, (2) Commanders don’t have anything as good as Again!/Hundred-Fold Cut, and (3) Dragon Kensai can cull their weak Personalities and use out of clan/ronin guys.

      1. I agree its the two uber weapons that are the biggest boon, but even at just force for gold + ability I find more functional weapons than followers and are less often unique.

        I wasn’t as focused on Kensei vs Commanders but I agree that disparity is as bad or worse than items vs followers. I tried to make a Commanders deck… but I just couldn’t get very excited about it in any clan.

        I just assembled a Paragon/Kensei spider deck, and tried to mix the best weapons and best followers (at least among those I have available which is a bit limited still). It was more an experiment to see what happens if I play with nothing but personalities with decent battle relevant actions and then try to make a kind of best of fate side to go with it. Haven’t actually run the thing yet. I suspect its workable but inconsistent.

  4. Even with my comments, I like the set thus far. It’s not mentioned here, but Lion blitz is now real, and unless I’m missing something, is foul and evil.

  5. Does anyone have a list of what the starters contain other than the new fixed cards? Is it pretty much the same as the emperor starters or are there more cards from embers of war?

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