Hello, and welcome to another L5R Newbie corner. Last time we started our discussion of the attack by focusing on the attacker. This week we’ll look at the other side of that coin: Defense.
Obviously, in an attack, one player will be the attacker leaving the other player to be the defender, though their defense might not involve any personalities/units. Even an attack focused deck is going to need to defend itself occasionally or it will lose. That said, different decks will have different ways of playing the defense. A mid game military deck is going to fight tooth and nail to save its province, unless it’s hoping to just get ahead on the numbers. Meanwhile a passive deck is likely only going to show up with a few bodies and try to make do with just a few actions. And of course the stage of the game will alter this: where the passive deck might let its first few provinces go relatively undefended, should it get to just one province left it should be an all in defense to not lose the game. Often players will save their resources for this last pitched battle.
Thus we see there can be many goals for the defender in a battle. While they (usually) want to keep the province alive, sometimes the goal might simply be to conserve their resources. Often an honor or dishonor deck will want to gain honor/ cause honor loss in addition to – or possibly even instead of – the otherwise primary goal of province protection. Keep in mind, the (dis)honor player is not winning the game by having provinces. Rather, their provinces are a resource – win the game before you run out of them. You don’t want to lose too many too early since they also provide other resources, but losing a province to gain a major advantage in the game can often be worth it.
It is this understanding – provinces as a resource and trading them in for value – that separates the new defensive player from the veteran. If you hear someone referring to their provinces as the clock, now you know. (I’ll cover clocks in more detail in a later article. For now, just know that I mean a clock in the sense of “Beat the Clock” – you need to win before time, in this case your provinces, expires.)
So, how do we do these things? How does a defender protect their provinces, hopefully while also advancing their primary goal? In Emperor you’d play with cards like Seeking the Way or Wall of Honor with a built-in honor gain kicker, but based on what we’ve seen of Ivory these cards are going away. Instead we’ll need to be more clever with our honor gains. While the obvious honor gain to the new player is to win the battle and get that tasty 2 per card, you can’t count on that. Meanwhile, military players will be looking to kill your personalities, and given that they are usually squishy courtiers with low force and few if any protections they will likely succeed. A good rule of thumb for an honor deck is to assume you will get one action per personality you defend with since (if they can) the military deck will kill or otherwise remove one of your personalities with each of their actions. Briefly here, before going back to honor, I will mention that this is often a military deck’s secondary (or even primary) goal for their defense: killing as many enemy personalities as they can so their own attacks are as poorly defended against as possible.
So, how are defenses going to play as we get into Ivory? Honestly it’s too early to tell. There aren’t the cards to both help win the battle and advance your condition. Instead we’ll have to go back to just saving the provinces, prolonging our own clock. For a defensive deck, Absent actions are your friend. As I mentioned earlier you’d normally get one action per personality you use to defend, but each absent action is another action to take in battle. As to the worth of even trying to defend, I suggest the same advice I did for the attack: assuming you have one person per action and they do nothing but take out your defenders (and assume they’ll start with the best ones) can you save the province? If yes, go in and try to keep your toys. If not, let them have it but make them pay. Or at least save your resources for later. If they take the province but you kill several of their attackers it may mean later in the game they cannot mount a successful offense.
Another standard EE based strategy for the defensive decks is to run away. We’ll see if it stays in Ivory, but it’s still import to be aware of even if not immediately viable. Basically, most of the strongest battle actions for a military deck to be taking are those that require opposition. As such, defensive decks would play with cards that would move their own personality home to deny them the use of these actions. Obviously this won’t work the whole game, but if one action can keep your provinces alive until you cross (or they do) then you can go all out on the final defense. It is a similar philosophy that makes open phase actions desirable for the defensive: anything you can do to dull the attack without risking your resources (personalities) is a good thing.
While there are several complications in preparing your defense, there are two you need to keep a special eye out for: Naval/Sneak Attack and Cavalry. Now, both of these are changing in Ivory (and we have no idea if Sneak will still be in) but they still present fairly straightforward complications. Naval is really annoying for a defense. With our personality per action calculation we now need two defenders to get that first action instead of just one. Although the change to Naval does mean you’ll know what potential actions they could take, I’d imagine they’ll still have the option of killing something showing. This puts a great strain on the honor deck, since they basically need twice as many people to safeguard the early provinces and they’ll have less to defend with when it’s time to go all in. There’s not a lot you can do about it, so you’ll just have to include it in your defensive calculations.
As to Cavalry: it’s been toned down in Ivory but it’s still fairly effective at bypassing your defenses. Expect to lose a province or two early against Unicorn. That said, the honor defense plan is the best against cavalry: send one person at each province, since that’s all you were planning to send anyway, and do your defense as normal.
Hopefully in all that jibber jabber you’ve gotten an idea of how to defend yourself. Feel free to ask any lingering questions you may have down in the comments: this is a complicated subject and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Similarly, if there’s anything you’d like to see me cover in this article series in the future do let me know: these are most helpful if they are what you’d like to learn about.
Protect your provinces!