The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 31 May, 2021
There is a lot going on in a game of Legend of the Five Rings. Throughout the four phases of each round, and the many action windows within these phases, there are plenty of opportunities for players to make choices with long-lasting consequences.
A key aspect of gameplay that distinguishes beginning players from veterans is the ability to manage resources effectively. A new player may wonder why, at the end of their second turn, their opponent has 5 fate while they have 2, and yet their opponent also seems to have a much larger board presence and more cards in hand.
Resources are scarce in Legend of the Five Rings, but there are a number of ways to reach beyond the standard 7 fate and 5 conflict cards each round. This guide looks at the different types of resources that exist within the game, and the ways to maximise each.
In the original iteration of Legend of the Five Rings gold was the primary currency. As with most other card games, Legend of the Five Rings the CCG featured a resource curve that rose as more holdings were played to produce more gold. Some holdings could also produce honour, and the rush to expand these resources could become a mini-game for each player with little interaction between them.
Legend of the Fives Rings the LCG, by contrast, features a far flatter resource curve. With the exception of Shiro Shinjo, each stronghold produces 7 fate in the dynasty fate. Beyond this, it is possible to achieve incremental gains per turn, and it is here that experienced players look to out-leverage their opponents.
One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced players make is overcommitting in turn one. While it is tempting to buy a number of characters to establish a board presence, these cheap characters generally have minimal influence on the board (unless a deck is specifically designed to rush an opponent). In addition, each player only has 4 conflict cards during the first Dynasty phase, making it difficult to determine synergy between board and hand.
It is also best to avoid putting too much fate on 1 or 2 cost characters. These are easy targets for Assassination, leaving an opponent with a clear fate advantage. A character with one fate is also a tempting target for the void ring. In addition, low-cost characters are generally non-unique and cannot be 'duped' for extra fate, resulting in the loss of any associated attachments or honour status tokens. As a general rule, only invest fate and attachments in characters who will stay on the board. This is much easier to do in turn 2 when more fate is available to spend and an opponent's strategy begins to emerge.
Gaining passing fate is another effective way to build a resource advantage over an opponent. While not strictly a 2-fate swing, passing first does provide 1 fate, whilst denying an opponent this benefit. This can have a significant effect on how a turn plays out, and the effect is amplified when repeated over multiple turns.
Collecting fate on rings is another important way to gain a resource advantage. Whilst it is always best to go for the most impactful ring choice available, it is worth considering which rings have fate (and how much). Again, this not only gives access to more fate, it denies said fate to an opponent. Fate on rings is the closest mechanic Legend of the Fives Rings the LCG has to a resource curve and it pays to keep ahead on this trajectory.
For a more in-depth look at passing fate, and out-playing an opponent in the dynasty phase in general, refer to Siowy's video.
While cards in play may appear to represent one's forces, it is cards in hand that often hold the real power. Conflict cards represent options, and importantly, options that opponents do not know about. While dynasty cards clearly telegraph their abilities, conflict cards remain out of sight until played or revealed. Using conflict cards to bow, discard, and move characters is often the deciding factor in key conflicts, and it pays to build up a healthy hand size as early as possible.
The Earth ring is always a good choice when declaring a conflict. It achieves a clear 2-card swing when claimed, an effect that cannot be undersold. In addition, the defender must randomly discard a card from their hand. This is significant as it can potentially remove key cards before they are played. This cannot be relied upon, but it plays out often enough to be useful. In addition, it is rare that a player holds completely dead cards in their hand: if they put them in the deck it is because they hope to use them.
Upholding Authority is a popular choice for the earth province slot, although slightly less so in Earth-role decks where it is less likely to be broken. Upholding Authority has two significant benefits: it removes all secrecy from an opponent's current hand (provided these cards can be remembered), and it allows one of each copy of a key card to be removed. Defenders will sometimes Banzai! attacking characters to deliberately break their own province, so great is the benefit of Upholding Authority.
Imperial Storehouse is a free holding that provides an extra conflict card. A staple in many decks since core, the only real downsides are those which affect holdings in general: they take up a character slot, and they potentially clog up the province row. In general, around 10 holdings is reasonable when deck building. Consider carefully what your deck is trying to achieve, which holdings best contribute to this, and then decide if/how many Storehouses you want to include.
Draining an opponent's hand is an effective way to achieve card advantage. Always try to determine what an opponent is hoping to achieve throughout the game, whether that be to break a province, remove a character, gain or drain honour, etc. Once an opponent's objective(s) have been established, forcing them to overcommit cards to achieve this can leave them vulnerable later in the game.
As an example, suppose a political attack is declared with one character. The opponent blocks with a Courtier, and then plays Court Games to dishonour the attacker. It is highly likely that their next action will be to defend the province by playing For Shame! to bow the attacker. Having established the defender's objective, the attacker should work to make this as difficult as possible. Attaching a Finger of Jade is an effective way to achieve this. The defender must either use an attachment control card to discard Finger of Jade, play an action to force the attacker to use the Finger of Jade, play another card to influence the conflict, or pass.
All of these options are favourable to the attacker
If the Finger of Jade is discarded the defender has now played two cards to the attacker's one, and they will need to play a third to actually interact with the attacker. If the defender makes another play they have still played two cards to one, and if they pass the attacker can proceed with the conflict.
The only downside here is the one fate that was spent on the Finger of Jade. However, given that this was spent in the pursuit of an objective (attacking a province) this is a reasonable investment. Other buffs can now be played on the attacker with the confidence that the defender will need to play at least two cards to retain parity in the conflict.
Finally, there are a number of clan-specific cards that provide additional card draw. Some common examples of these are shown below, and each should be considered when deckbuilding.
While honour is not 'spent' in the same way that fate is, it is required for cards such as Assassination, and is a vital resource for achieving honour or dishonour victory conditions. As Quinns noted in his Shut Up and Sit Down review for Legend of the Five Rings: "Honor is probably my favourite mechanic in the game, because it’s a resource that does nothing ... Nothing at all. Oh- but if you ever run out of honor, you instantly lose the game. And if you ever reach 25 honor, you instantly win."
For players of many decks the only honour token that matters is the last. In most matchups they will bid five in the draw phase, play Assassination at will, and accept the 1-honour loss for undefended conflicts. However, once your honour drops below five it pays to start conserving honour. This could mean bidding low, assigning token defenders, and focusing on the Air and Fire rings. Unfortunately, none of these actions help to win the game, they only avoid losing it.
An opponent, meanwhile, can maintain this pressure to keep the initiative. They also have the option to bid five to gain card advantage, albeit sacrificing their previous honour leverage. Regardless, they are the one with agency in the scenario.
The question, then, is whether to play without consideration of honour at the beginning of the game, or to always take pains to conserve honour where possible.
This will depend largely on clan choice or deck construction.
If playing an aggressive deck that aims to break an opponent's stronghold quickly then honour loss can generally be ignored. The game should be over before reaching zero. If playing a mid range or tower deck, however, keep a closer eye on the honour count, dropping your bid as necessary, and targeting the Air or Fire rings if needed.
The exception to all of the above is the Scorpion clan (as is often the case). When playing against a Scorpion dishonour deck it is generally best to bid 5 in the first round, and then drop your bid from round 2 onwards, unless you have an alternate way to conserve your honour. Once your honour reaches 3 you can expect to be shutout of the game through Backhanded Compliment in short order.
In many situations unbroken provinces are like honour: the only one the matters is the last. A common mistake for inexperienced players is to spend unnecessary resources defending provinces in the row. A broken province may seem significant, and in Legend of the Five Rings the CCG a broken province could no longer produce characters or holdings, but in the LCG broken provinces can still produce dynasty cards and it is fine to sacrifice them if needed.
That said, different provinces lend themselves to defence more than others.
Some provinces only provide value when broken and are best left undefended: Upholding Authority, Restoration of Balance, and Cycle of Vengeance are the most common examples of these. By contrast, provinces that provide value the longer they stay in play are worth defending. Examples of these include Manicured Garden, Fertile Fields, and Meditations on the Tao. Lastly, there are provinces that by their nature can be defended with very little investment. These include Shameful Display, Pilgrimage, and Midnight Revels. These should be defended, and are also worthy choices for stronghold provinces (although Shameful is usually best in the row where it can start generating value early).
In Legend of the Five Rings, as in many card games, discarded does not mean gone. While the core framework of the game does not include interaction with one's discard pile, there are a multitude of cards that allow discarded cards to be 'recurred' if the right conditions are met. Note that cards can be recurred from both the Dynasty discard pile (Champions of Yomi) and Conflict discard pile (Warm Welcome).
It is also important to note the difference between 'discarded' and 'out of play'. Once a card leaves play under regular conditions it moves to its respective discard pile. Under special circumstances, however, an action can cause a card to be removed from play (for example, Isawa Ujina). There are no cards or mechanics that allow a card that has been removed from play to return to the game.
Since launch, the number of cards which allow recursion from either player's discard piles has grown, to the point where a number of decks now use recursion as a primary mechanic to achieve their win condition.
To make use of recursion it is important to quickly fill the necessary discard pile. For a long time this was achieved with the Imperial character Miya Satoshi, although more recently the number of more efficient in-clan or neutral recursion tools has grown to the point where Miya Satoshi no longer sees play.
Some more commonly-played cards to fill the discard pile are shown below:
Some commonly-played cards which allow cards to be returned from the Dynasty and Conflict discard piles are show below (note the prevalence of Lion cards, who make thematic use of recursion more than other clans):
Recursion decks grow in power the longer the game last. While Kitsu Spiritcaller does not have many targeting opportunities in round 1, in later rounds she has increasing opportunities to pick the right character for the right conflict.
Slovenly Scavenger, a commonly-played neutral 1-cost character can be used to shuffle an opponent's discard pile back into its respective deck. If it is clear than an opponent is hoping to use recursion tactics, this can be an efficient counter.
All games involve some form of resource management, and much of the complexity in Legend of the Five comes from effectively managing the many resources that are available.
While this can seem overwhelming, the golden rule is that cards win card games, and fate allows these cards to be played. By achieving card and fate advantage over an opponent you gain leverage that forces them to make increasingly-desperate plays to remain in the game.
Beyond this, it is worth keeping an eye on your honour count (especially if an opponent is pursuing a dishonour win condition), and keeping an unbroken province or two as a buffer for your stronghold. Lastly, if you are using a recursion strategy, make sure you have ways to put cards in your discard piles quickly, and ways to then put these card into play.