Examining the Foundations

Developer Tyler Parrott on the New Rules Reference Update​


“In the chaos of war, the chain of command unites the valor of samurai.”
   –Akodo's Leadership

The Rules Reference and Learn to Play documents have been updated and are now available to download! These new changes will formally go into effect on January 6th. As always, you may access these documents anytime under the Support section the Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game page.

With Rokugan on the precipice of all-out warfare, samurai and skilled warriors across the land prepare for the coming conflict that will shake the very foundations of the Emerald Empire. As this "season of war" approaches, the strategies and tactics devised by the Great Clans are reflected by the newly updated Rules Reference and Learn to Play documents for Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. In this article, learn from Tyler about everything new with this significant update and ensure that you're prepared for the forthcoming battles!

Tyler Parrott on the Rules Reference Update

For the Great Clans of Rokugan, the festivities at Winter Court reforged bonds of friendship and tested the greatest warriors, diplomats, and shugenja of the Empire against one another. Jose Luis Saenz has claimed the champion title of Shogun for the Phoenix Clan, and the clan champions have seen fit to allow each of their samurai to pursue the elemental role that they most desire.

Yet as the year comes to a close, Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game has an opportunity to embrace a bold new future. In preparation for the oncoming Clan War, it was prudent to take one more critical look at the rules of the game to see what could be cleaned up going forward. This was done alongside the development of a new Learn to Play, which can now be found online alongside the updated Rules Reference. 

While this update contains a large number of changes to the rules, very little of the actual play experience has changed—these changes are primarily focused on minimizing unintuitive card/rules interactions and streamlining the way the game is structured. This article should help contextualize and explain these changes.

Where Is the Restricted List?

The first thing many players are bound to wonder is, “Where is the Restricted List?”

The Rules Reference is meant to be the core rules for the game, regardless of which format that game is played in. Now that the game has many different formats (Tournament Play, Enlightenment, Team Conquest, Draft, and others), having a Restricted List for a single format in the core rulebook will serve to cause more confusion than it alleviates. As the Imperial Law document already contains the necessary restrictions and errata for tournament play, that document will be the home of the tournament Restricted List going forward. Additionally, this means that the Rules Reference and Imperial Law no longer need to be updated at the same time—the Imperial Law will be updated according to the quarterly schedule that has been established over the past year (October, January, April, and July) while the Rules Reference will be updated only as necessary.

The Imperial Law document has also been updated for this quarter and will go into effect on January 6 alongside this Rules Reference update. It will be published on Friday alongside an article explaining the changes contained therein.

Standard Updates

Among the changes in this rules update are several standard updates to address the rules surrounding recent and upcoming product releases. As these are rules adjustments to accommodate new cards, they are relatively minor additions.

Defenders of Rokugan: To answer the question, "Does the holding placed by Kaiu Shihobu’s Action ability enter the province faceup or facedown?”,  Kaiu Shihobu (Defenders of Rokugan, 10) has received errata stating that she puts the holding into play so that it enters the province faceup.

Clan War: The rules for the Support keyword have been added, and the language surrounding unopposed honor loss has been updated to account for Endless Plains Skirmisher (Clan War, 57) and [REDACTED] (Clan War, 91), which both allow a character you control to participate on an opponent’s side of a conflict.

Dominion Cycle: The rules for each major mechanic in this cycle have been added: the eminent and rally keywords, multi-element provinces, and dynasty events.

Seekers of Wisdom: To answer the question, "How do Togashi Mitsu (All and Nothing, 86) and Dragon Tattoo (Seekers of Wisdom, 23) interact?”, the rules have been clarified that you cannot play a card from your deck unless by a card ability that explicitly references that zone. Therefore, by the time Mitsu finishes successfully playing an event from your discard pile, it is in your deck and Dragon Tattoo cannot trigger.​

Is This Needed?

The primary goal of this rules update is to revise the rules of the game, trimming out corner cases that are unnecessary or that have caused undue confusion. This level of revision could not be possible without an update to the Learn to Play, which is why a new Learn to Play is also digitally available! This should dramatically improve the presentation of the game to new players and ensure that players are learning the most up-to-date version of the rules. In this review, many topics were considered, and changes were made to the following rules:

  • Conflict Character Limit
  • Discard Pile Order
  • Ring Effects
  • The Dependent “Then"
  • Fate and Regroup Phases
  • Dueling Terminology

What follows is an overview of each of these changes. They are not meaningful changes to the play pattern of the game, but some do cause certain cards to change in function. These changes have been highlighted so everyone knows how these rules updates will affect cards they may encounter.

Conflict Character Limit

Now that there exists far more data on how players engage with deckbuilding, and with the pool of conflict characters remaining very limited, it has become clear that the arbitrary “no more than 10 conflict characters” limit is unnecessary. Therefore, it has been removed.

Discard Pile Order

So far, only a single card has been printed that interacts with the order of a player’s discard pile: Illustrious Plagiarist  (Meditations on the Ephemeral, 110). As that mechanic has not received any further development—and because it will not, due to the complexity necessary to utilize it—it has been removed. Players may freely reorganize their own discard piles to more easily track which cards are in them.

This changes the way that Illustrious Plagiarist works. Because each player may reorganize their own discard pile, a player may decide which event is topmost when an opponent's Plagiarist is going to trigger. Understandably, this makes the Plagiarist weaker, but the play experience and design space for discard pile interaction effects will be improved going forward with this change.

Ring Effects

The language surrounding ring effects has long confused players. In this update, that language has been condensed and clarified such that the ring effects work the way players expect: each ring has an effect that a player may resolve by winning a conflict as the attacking player or by triggering a card effect. The old language required each of those ring effects to include the phrase “as the attacking player,” which added unnecessary words to an otherwise intuitive effect. Additionally, this caused great confusion when Doji Hotaru (Core Set, 52) or Akodo Toturi (Core Set, 79) won a conflict as a defender.

Going forward, any cards that resolve ring effects will be reprinted without the phrase “as the attacking player,” and the rulebook language explaining ring effects has been updated. Resolving a ring effect now simply performs the game action associated with that ring, and the rules explicitly say that when a player wins a conflict, they may resolve the ring effect (as described) of the contested ring. Doji Hotaru and Akodo Toturi will resolve the claimed ring’s effect despite being the defender. 

The Dependent “Then”

In addition to adding rules language, this update also removed a rule surrounding the word “then.” Prior to this update, any ability text that followed the word “then” could not resolve unless the card text that preceded the word “then” successfully resolved in full. This rule, in combination with the rule stating that all card abilities resolved simultaneously, caused some issues. This update resolves those issues by removing the dependency of the word “then” (dependency still exists for the word “to”) and by issuing a string of errata to cards to clarify whether they are dependent or not.

Going forward, the word “to” or the phrase “if you do” will be used to indicate whether the second half of an ability is dependent upon the first, while the word “then” will be used to indicate sequentiality in the resolution of card abilities. The following cards have received errata changing the word “then” to the phrase “if you do” to maintain the dependency that is necessary for those cards to function:

  • Keeper Initiate (Core Set, 124)
  • Kitsuki Shomon (Underhand of the Emperor, 13)
  • Sage of Gisei Toshi (Children of the Empire, 28)
  • Hand to Hand (Children of the Empire, 62)
  • Ide Ryōma (The Children of Heaven, 79)

These cards have received errata adding the word “then” to clarify the sequence of resolving the card’s ability:

  • Prepare for War (The Emperor’s Legion, 25)
  • Hida Sukune (Defenders of Rokugan, 5)
  • River of the Last Stand (Defenders of Rokugan, 14)
  • Regal Bearing (The Children of Heaven, 84)

The Fate and Regroup Phases

The Fate and Regroup phases both served the same purpose but were separated to provide two end-of-round action windows. Two end-of-round action windows are not necessary, and as both phases serve the same purpose, they have been merged into a single phase (the regroup phase is now gone). In almost all cases, this will not be a change that players are likely to notice.

The one card for which this does matter is Jurōjin’s Curse (The Fires Within, 55)—this card now doubles the effects of both the fate and the regroup phases, and the character it is attached to will always be ready to trigger the ability (mitigating the card’s printed cost). If it is determined that this change to the card’s functionality does not warp the metagame in an undue manner, then the card will remain untouched by future balance updates. Otherwise, it will be removed from the metagame by way of Imperial Law.

Dueling Terminology

Before this update, the terminology surrounding the phrase “initiate a duel” as it appeared on a character left it unclear as to whether or not the character initiating the duel was chosen as the target of that ability (this has very minor—but not zero—rules implications). As the previous templating that uses the word “challenge” definitely does not target the character that is initiating the duel, the language surrounding duel initiation now clarifies that when a character initiates the duel, it is not targeted by that ability.

When a Card Must Change

Sometimes, changes must be made that impact card balance in Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game regardless of format. This update contains four changes to card errata that are meant to help balance the game. Before getting too far into discussing those specific changes, I would first like to briefly cover the costs and benefits of errata, and why errata will be used less often going forward to affect game balance than it has been.

For a non-digital game, any card text changes require player knowledge—and more importantly, player memory—to keep track of how cards function. When there are only a few errata issued that visibly change how a card functions, they can be easy to remember. As that number grows, it becomes increasingly more difficult to do so. Miller’s Law (drawn from a famous psychology research paper by George Miller) posits that human brains can only hold about five to nine distinct “things” in their short-term memory at any given time. Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game is very complex and forcing players to remember that there are unwritten changes to existing cards only increases the already-significant mental load.

The rich depth of tactical and strategic moves that each player is faced within this game is what makes this game so great. But each player often has over a dozen options at any given time to consider (between ring selection, abilities on holdings, provinces, characters, and strongholds, and a selection of often eight or more cards in hand), and when players have to remember incidental, often automated, triggers such as discarding cards in broken provinces, unopposed honor loss, adding fate to unclaimed rings, the Imperial Favor, role text, etc., those incidental necessities add a mental tax that draws focus away from what makes the game fun. Adding errata on top of all of that creates too much complexity, and thus should only be used in extreme circumstances.

Additionally, not all errata are made equal. Some errata, such as “attach to a character you control” on Hawk Tattoo (The Ebb and Flow, 75), are easy to remember because the change is a single short line of text that is intuitive to what one might expect the card to do (one does not normally tattoo one’s opponents). Other errata, such as changing “take 1 honor from that opponent” to “select one – they lose 1 honor or you gain 1 honor,” are less difficult to remember because the new ability still fundamentally feels like the old ability, even if the complexity level is higher. This kind of errata is at the upper boundary of what is acceptable, but it is still acceptable.

Then there are errata such as what was given to Isawa Tadaka (Disciples of Void, 10), where the change fundamentally alters when his text is active vs when it is not. That erratum has ultimately proven to be too much of a departure from the printed text, and because there have been no reprints of Isawa Tadaka featuring the new text since the erratum was applied, it is being reversed in this update. This is necessary to allow for the addition of other, more important, errata that can improve the game going forward.

There are three new errata in this update that are intended to change how cards function, and they were chosen very intentionally. Two are very simple changes: Against the Waves  (Core Set, 117) and Daidoji Uji (Masters of the Court, 11) each gain (or lose) a few words of text. This is easy to remember, or even to mark on a card, and both allow the cards to operate better within the context of the entire card pool. However, even that is not enough: a card should not receive an erratum simply because it is simple and would make the game better. These two cards were selected to receive changes because they will be included with the updated text in Organized Play kits starting early in 2020, so players who attend Organized Play events will hopefully be able to easily gain access to updated versions of the cards. If a card can receive updated text quickly through Organized Play, then the mental tax of errata is lessened, as players can continue playing with cards whose text is correctly printed on the card being used.

The third change is to Kyūden Isawa  (Disciples of the Void, 1). This stronghold has proven to be powerful enough within the larger context of the whole card pool that it needs to be made weaker. Unfortunately, adding it to the tournament play Restricted List would not be sufficient, as the opportunity cost of restricting a stronghold is much higher than restricting any other card. However, as a stronghold, it is high-profile enough that each player in a game sees it as active at all times, and thus it becomes easier for players to ensure that the change in card text is not forgotten. This should ensure that players quickly learn the change and the mental tax remains low. Of course, this also requires that the change be straightforward—fortunately, it is.

Kyūden Isawa now requires its controller to discard a Spell event from their hand to play a Spell event from their discard pile. This applies a cost to an ability that previously did not have one, but it is a cost that can allow for compelling decision-making during gameplay. The stronghold provides the ability to play an event twice using only a single copy of the card, allowing players to gain additional uses of powerful Spell events such as Supernatural Storm (Core Set, 175) even if they have already used all of their copies of such a Spell. That ability has not been taken away, but in order to use it, a player must give up one of their uses of another powerful Spell. You may still use Kyūden Isawa to cast two copies of Supernatural Storm to win a conflict, but it may cost one of your uses of Clarity of Purpose (Disciples of the Void, 23) that could allow you to participate in multiple conflicts that round. That Clarity of Purpose can still be used in future rounds, but the ability to use it immediately has been lost. This tension between “what Spells do I need now” and “what Spells do I need later” should decrease the power of the stronghold while increasing its tactical and skill-testing potential.

Only Half of the Story

This update goes into effect on Monday, January 6 along with the new Imperial Law. With the remaining rules corner cases resolved in this update, the need for consistent rules updates should begin to go down. The Imperial Law will continue to be updated quarterly, and this quarter’s update will be published on Friday, December 27 along with an article discussing the changes contained therein. There are many more to look forward to!

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