A New Dawn - Rebuilding a Fallen Empire

A New Dawn - Rebuilding a Fallen Empire

Ruins of Yotsu Dojo - Illus: Tony Moseley

The Fall

The year is 1995 and the world is awash with a deluge of collectible card games flooding the market. While many of these fledgling games depend on an already established movie, book or television franchise, one stood out from the crowd with it's own original philosophy, it's name alone told of the ambition of this brave new adventure, the stuff of legends, one Legend, and Five Rings.

Not a blank slate, but a delicately poised premise - a beautiful pastel universe of Asian culture, seeking to tempt story-tellers to write the history of Rokugan. While some would argue that the democratisation of the storyline led to abuse, this was L5R's unique selling point, and surely contributed in some way to it being the second longest running Collectible Card Game of it's time, second only to the Juggernaut that is Magic The Gathering.

At the time of the games Honourable sepukku in September 2015, I was in the curious position of seeing it unfold somewhat from the inside. My suspicions were first aroused after we had been waiting almost three times as normal for the next set of cards to playtest. We had been told previously that the next expansion was ready to go, but then all of a sudden communication ceased. I remember I was speculating over an email with other members of my playtest team that there might be something wrong, to which a good friend of mine referenced me to Hanlon's Razor . Not more than a week later we saw the news and it was quite a  shock! For this time at least, Hanlon's razor was blunted.

Yes I know, how could I have been shocked? It was an ailing game, the writings were on the wall. I was shocked because there was a real shift in attitude towards the game from the top levels of management and design. There was a Trojan effort put into fixing the game and I truly believe Onyx was going to breathe a new lease of life into the empire. If you have ever been on playtest you'd know it can be very boring, and I had felt that way about earlier expansions. Onyx however, was different, I was having fun again. Was it perfect? No, definitely not. It still had it's problems, legacy issues that I will go into at a later date, but it definitely was a big improvement from Ivory edition. So for me, seeing such big improvements from the inside, I was surprised to see the game cut loose and it's destiny handed over to a new Company.

Moto Gaheris - Illus: Dave Leri

Two years in the Desert

Like the Unicorn clan wandering the burning sands, I spent the time following the end of L5R looking for something to do. I began to look for other things. I tried other card games that I would never have but for the absence of L5R. Netrunner and A Game of Thrones 2nd Edition, while both good games in their own right, never sucked me in like Legend of the Five Rings did. It left a void within me and I gave up gaming for some time. Perhaps it was the break I needed! I found myself doing other strange things, Losing weight, taking up martial arts again and even getting involved in Politics! While I was keeping occupied with other very positive things, I began to really miss L5R and I would keep tabs on the FFG website, consistently hoping for some news. Time kept passing by and my interest in what fantasy flight games were doing with the game kept rising. Then news started to trickle down that there will be an announcement on the 19th of April, and I was ready to be excited again. An Oasis in the middle of the desert had appeared over the horizon.

Hantei - Illus: Andrew Olson

Return to the Empire

Fantasy Flight Games seem to have a philosophy of feast or famine. When news broke, the information dump was substantial. In one news article we learned about the setting, most of the mechanics and a fair amount of new cards! I was sitting in my office at work when the article went up, as I see a notification from a friend that the article was released, a colleague came to my desk to ask me some work related questions. He must have been very confused by my abrupt feedback, and surely experienced that feeling you get when someone just wants you to leave them alone! All I could think about was The Legend of The Five Rings and what FFG had done with the game. After what felt like an eternity he left, and I got to have a peek, I was blown away!

Bayushi Shoju - Illus: Le Vuong

A New Emperor 

Fantasy Flight Games have clearly laid down a marker. Scrolling down the first news page it dawned on me, FFG were going to reset the storyline. Even though it was entirely new art, the image of Bayushi Shoju was immediately recognisable. This is testament to not only how diligently FFG have crafted their vision of Rokugan, but also how effectively they have captured the spirit of the Emerald Empire. Fantasy Flight Games have boldly taken ownership of the game, and bringing the empire back to the iconic time period of the Clan Wars allows them to put their indelible stamp on the game going forward.

The sun rises yet again on the Emerald Empire and a brand new day awaits us all.

- Steve

Thanks for reading. If you have anything to say leave a comment below.

Popular Posts