Fate and Honor - A Tale of two virtues (Part One)


(Part One)

A Tale of Two Virtues


Avoid Fate - Illus: Ben Peck

"There is no breath quite as sweet as the first after you realize you are still alive." - Bayushi Kwanchai

One of the main curiosities held by those anticipating information from Fantasy Flight Games was knowing which parts of the game they were going to keep, and which parts they were going to cast towards the eastern winds. Nostalgia aside, the original version of L5R suffered from a host of illnesses which remained untreated for the better part of two decades. This isn't to say that the game was terrible, but it had obvious flaws which impeded it's growth and maturity.

"In Simplicity, there is honor" - The Tao Of Shinsei

Like the Tao of Shinsei teaches us, "In Simplicity, there is honor". Simplicity was certainly one ailment L5R never suffered from. Any of us who sat down to teach a friend how to play the game, understood the difficulty in explaining the rules of the game. Numerous clans, varying card types, action windows, two decks, multiple provinces and a menagerie of keywords - some of which carried more weight than others. These are just some examples of the bloating which eventually suffocated the game beneath it's own weight. Knowing this, I was pleased to see that Fantasy Flight Games decided to strip the game bare, keeping only remnants of the old game just to remind players of it's roots.

One Koku - Illus: Albert Tavira

It's the economy, Stupid!

One of the biggest mechanical changes made by FFG was the correction of the economy. The economy was an exponential mess which would oftentimes single handedly determine the victor. Gold Screw was something that AEG tried to fix on numerous occasions, and never could get right, even if they were progressively feeling themselves closer to achieving the impossible. Fantasy Flight Games have decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I must admit in this situation at least, it was the correct decision. Replacing the onerous gold structure is the Fate mechanic, an elegant example of ingenious game design which solves numerous issues in one fel swoop. The economy is now fixed in the literal sense, each player gaining an amount of "Fate" per turn determined by a value on their stronghold. Your collected fate tokens carry over between turns and can be spent to ensure key characters are kept around for longer. So now, rather than a player reacting to whatever his/her deck decides to spit out at them, they are given direct control over their fiefdom like a true feudal age Samurai! This solution is a happy medium between the boom or bust gold structure of old L5R, and the modern steady curve economies seen in popular games like Hearthstone. Replacing a reactionary play style with one that gives the player meaningful options and letting them change their strategy between games without needing to modify the cards in their deck is nothing short of genius.

All that lives must die

The other aspect of old L5R that has been potentially solved by the fate mechanic is the issue of stalemates. If you played in earlier editions, you would know that military vs. military match-ups came down to one thing, (Unless of course you could get a turn one Bayushi Kwanchai & Tsuburu No Oni combo out! ) and that was who drew into their Rallying Cry sooner. Rallying cry itself wasn't to blame, it was a victim of it's own success given that it effectively solved the inherent design issue of stalemates. huge armies on board, and no way of attacking without losing an army easily or not losing all your provinces on the counter attack meant many hours were spent digging through your fate deck for one card. With the fate mechanic, at the end of every turn, one fate token is removed from each personality, when that personality cannot discard a fate token, they are discarded. Thematically this means that each character is vital to the time and the place and must be used with urgency if they are going to make an impact. Mechanically, this forces you to play the game at a faster tempo, and in a pro-active manner, not depending on raising massive armies in the hope you can battering ram your opponents provinces. This is a huge improvement to the game, one that drastically changes the ebb and flow of the game.

All in all, Fate is a very clever mechanic. While it may feel bad at first knowing that your Clan Champion is going to die in one more turn, it also means you no longer feel the need to protect them from harm, giving you the freedom and impetus to play uninhibited. The mechanic also means your protagonist may be different each time you take to the field. This opens up another dimension of the game, where you have greater control over managing the different match ups for your deck and you will be led down different  paths each game.

To Be Continued.

Thanks very much for reading. Part two of the Fate and Honor article will come soon and we will be exploring the new honor bargaining mechanic.


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