The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 31 May, 2021
When the rebooted Legend of the Five Rings card game launched in 2017 there was one way to play: the 1v1 format which has come to be known as 'Stronghold'. Since then, new official and unofficial modes have been introduced which allow players to interact with the game in new and interesting ways.
This guide offers a brief overview of these different modes, and the purchases which may be required to play them
Official Game Modes
Stronghold / Imperial
When you purchase a core set of Legend of the Five Rings the rulebook inside describes what is now known as the 'Stronghold' game mode. Given this name to contrast it with Skirmish mode (which does not use Stronghold cards), it is now also referred to as 'Imperial' mode to contrast it with the fan-created 'Jade Edict' (which does not use the official Imperial Law rulings).
Stronghold is the version of the game that Fantasy Flight Games intended at launch and it remains the official version of the game; if the final Winter Court (World Championships) ever happens, this is the version that will be played. That said, in online spaces it has been largely superseded by the unofficial Jade Edict which bans or restricts a large number of powerful cards. If you are looking to play the physical version of the game then check with your local playgroup(s) to see which version they prefer, and consider adapting your deckbuilding to suit this local meta.
In the Stronghold version of the game each player creates a deck with 1 role card, 1 stronghold, 5 provinces, 40-45 dynasty cards and 40-45 conflict cards. In addition, every three months throughout the life of the game FFG released an Imperial Law document which banned or restricted a number of cards to in an attempt to balance the competitive metagame.
If you do intend to play Stronghold mode then be aware that you are being exposed to the best and worst things the game has to offer. Stronghold gives access to all cards not on the official banned and restricted lists, and with this comes many powerful cards and combinations that can feel very good to play with, and very bad to play against.
Stronghold is arguably the purest Legend of the Five Rings experience and, while not for the faint hearted, does give great satisfaction when you achieve the goals you set yourself within it.
Note: for a full breakdown of the Skirmish mode, refer to Severijn's in-depth guide.
Skirmish is a more agile, nimble game mode that was introduced by Head Designer Tyler Parrot as a way to reduce playing time and welcome new players. Inspired by the Battle Box (detailed below), it strips out many of the complexities of the game in favour of a faster, more interactive experience.
As outlined by Tyler in his announcement post, Skirmish makes several changes to the Stronghold mode, the most important of which are outlined below:
No stronghold, province, or role cards are used.
Dynasty and conflict decks contain between 30 and 40 cards.
No more than 2 copies of a single card by title can be used.
Each player can declare only one conflict.
No fate is placed on unclaimed rings.
Ring effects are less impactful.
In dueling, a higher skill value only adds one point to the revealed honour dial.
In addition, the 'rule of three' can be used to remember important numbers:
Each player has 3 provinces
Each player starts the game with 3 cards
Honor dials go up to 3
Each player draws 6 fate each phase
Each player starts the game with 6 honour and wins the game if they reach 12 honour
While players who enjoy Skirmish mode speak positively about the experience, it was unfortunately released just before the COVID-19 outbreak and, much like the multiplayer modes in Clan War, was hamstrung from the beginning. That said, it does have full implementation on Jigoku and several seasons of Skirmish Discord League were held.
In more traditional collectible card games, the draft format sees playes opening randomised packs and selecting synergistic cards to make the most competitive deck possible. The non-randomised nature of 'living' card games makes this difficult, however, Tyler (a big fan of draft) introduced a draft version of Legend of the Five Rings just before the 2019 Winter Court, and invited entrants to play a tournament with him at this event.
In Legend of the Five Rings draft, 6-8 players select from randomised 'packs' to create 40-card dynasty and conflict decks. These decks are created from an official card pool which was last updated at the end of the Dominion cycle. While a general knowledge of the Legend of the Five Rings cardpool is beneficial when selecting synergistic cards, the absence of pre-constructed decks (and a bit of luck when 'opening' packs) means that players compete on a more level playing field. Thus, draft is a great way to bring together players who are new to the hobby, or have taken a break for a while.
A day of draft in Sydney.
There is quite a lot of preparation involved in sorting, sleeving, and and preparing for a draft event, but the result is a very enjoyable tournament that encourages players to employ combinations of cards that would not be possible in regular gameplay.
Introduced in the Clan War premium expansion, Enlightenment sees three or more players compete against each other to achieve victory. To win, players must either reach 25 honour, be the only player with an unbroken stronghold, or claim all five elemental rings. The latter of these conditions is unique to this mode and riffs on a victory condition from the original AEG game that required players to put all five elemental rings into play. In this mode, however, claimed rings are placed on a player's provinces, and must then be defended against opposing players until victory is achieved.
While the rules for this mode are available for free online, the Clan War expansion did introduce two new card types which relate to a unique Enlightenment feature: treaties.
Treaties are formal arrangements by two players to work towards a mutual end. When formalising a treaty each player declares their intentions on the treaty pad, along with the duration of said treaty and the amount of honour that the agree to lose if the treaty is broken. In addition, there is also a deck of (optional) treaty cards which can be drawn at random when a treaty is broken to either punish the offending player, or reward the loyal one.
Tyler broke down his thinking behind treaties and their intended effects during a lengthy interview conducted during a Fantasy Flight Games In-flight Report.
The second multiplayer mode introduced in the Clan War expansion, Team Conquest, sees two teams of players compete against each another. While this will most commonly be two players versus two players, the format can expand to larger teams if you have enough space (and really good eyesight).
As the official announcement states, in this mode "players attack and defend as a team, meaning that they can share their resources, plan their strategy together, and prioritize whichever opponent has the weaker board position until both opponents’ strongholds are broken." To encourage said gameplay, Clan War introduced a number of cards with the Support keyword which allows other players to contribute to the fate cost of a card. Thus, a card like Appeal to Sympathy—horribly overcosted for 1v1 play—becomes somewhat palatable in Team Conquest mode.
Both the Enlightenment and Team Conquest modes were interesting additions to the game. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, they arrived just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and thus never really took off for many playgroups. I still haven't written on any of the slips of my treaty pad, although I still hope to do so one day.
Co-operative / Solo Play
The premium expansion Under Fu Leng's Shadow introduced the Shadowlands faction to the game, along with a number of ways to play with or against them.
When deciding to play with the Shadowlands faction there are number of ways to approach the game. Firstly, you can have one player take control of the faction, or it can be treated as an AI that plays itself. The Shadowlands are also powerful enough that they can play face more than one player at once, ramping up their abilities accordingly.
Whether consciously or coincidentally, Under Fu Leng's Shadow introduced the ability to play Legend of the Five Rings as a solo experience while the much of the world was still in various states of lockdown. While this should have been cause for celebration (and those who have played against the Shadowlands speak favourably of the experience), the expansion will forever be tainted by the simultaneous announcement of the end of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. Thus, what might have been a new and exciting way to experience the game well into the future, instead became for the final capstone for the game that was. Still, the card art is wonderfully aesthetic and it was nice to see the long-awaited Shadowlands box finally arrive.
Unofficial Game Modes
The Jade Edict
Note: for a full breakdown of The Jade Edict, refer to Severijn's in-depth guide.
Announced very soon after the end of the official game, The Jade Edict has come to redefine Legend of the Five Rings play, at least in the online arena. The initiative grew out of an open letter to Tyler which called for sweeping changes to the banned and restricted lists to limit the effects of powerful cards and combinations. Work then continued behind the scenes by players who hoped to introduce such changes as an alternative form of the game, and once the game officially ended this proposal was swiftly introduced to the community. Since then, it has become rare to see non-[JADE] games being played online, and all the major leagues and tournaments follow its banned and restricted lists.
The rationale behind The Jade Edict is discussed with two of its creators in episode 193 of The Jade Throne podcast, and the full breakdown of regularly-updated changes can be found on the Jade Court website (for a time it was very confusing to know which 'Jade' was being referred to in the community). Much of the impetus came as a reaction to Rally cards which speed up their Dynasty Phase of the game, allowing players to 'thin' their decks to more quickly find powerful cards. In practice, this ensures that Dragon players, for example, inevitably see Togashi Mitsu on Round 1 or 2, who then becomes a super-tower capable of defending a stronghold with Sacred Sanctuary indefinitely. Playing under the Jade Edict, therefore, is necessarily a more cautious, less lethal version of the game, somewhat akin to the way the game was played in its first year before powerful decks combinations came to dominate the meta.
If you do plan to play and compete online, it is worth becoming familiar with the Jade Edict rulings.
The inspiration behind the official Skirmish mode, 'Battle Box' is a rapid-fire version of Legend of the Five Rings developed by a group of Canadian players and introduced at Winter Court 2018.
This mode does away with deckbuilding altogether and instead has both players draw from shared 100-card Dynasty and Conflict decks. Only two provinces are used and these are blank with 4 strength, and no strongholds are needed. Players start with 2 cards, 5 fate and 5 honour, and gain 5 fate per turn. Dials go to 3, and 10 honour is needed for an honour victory.
Ready for battle
Battle Box is a cheap and cheerful way to play the game. It is very easy to set up, transport and teach, and games typically go for only 10-15 minutes. While there is a suggested list of cards, it can often be fun to throw things together to see what happens. It feels good to see rarely-played cards on the table, and it can help you to become familiar with the wider card pool.
While most games of Legend of the Five Rings will follow either the Stronghold/Imperial or Jade Edict formats, there are plenty of other ways to interact with the game. While the LCG cannot transition between 1v1 and multiplayer modes as flexibly as the original CCG, it is now amorphous enough to appeal to players who prefer competitive, co-operative, or even solo play.
Experiment, have fun, and hopefully you can find a way(s) to play the game that suits your time, budge, and interests.