I sometimes see newer players struggling to get the hang of the basic strategies of the game, so I’ve gone ahead and put this Basics Primer together in the hopes that it will give a helping hand to those getting to know the ropes. It should be noted, however, that nothing in this guide should be taken as gospel. This game has many dynamic situations that prevents any “rule of thumb” from being useful all of the time, and as players get more accustomed to the game and their deck they should find most of this guide will quickly become obsolete. Still, this should be able to help players get a better understanding of the decision making process, especially in the opening rounds of the game.
If I could only give one piece of advice to new players it would be this: Play Conservatively. All too often I see newer players make the mistake of using way to many resources (Fate, Conflict Cards, Honor, ect) in the early rounds. They end up winning the first few conflicts but then their deck starts running out of gas. By round 3 they may find themselves desperately trying to muster the fate to get a respectable amount of characters on the board, going into conflicts with only a few cards in hand. The most important skill to develop in this game is learning to wait to play cards until you need them. NEED THEM, not want them. Often times the best action you can do is nothing at all. As a quick rule of thumb, if you think it is going to cost more than a card or two to win a conflict simply don’t bother playing anything. Just take the loss and prepare for the next conflict. Yes, losing a conflict is bad, but not as bad as losing a conflict and several cards. Knowing when to fold ensures you have resources to last for the whole game.
Choosing to go First or Second
Pretty much everyone agrees that going Second is the best option for a number of reasons. Obviously the second player starts with a Fate, which is already really good. But on the second round, when Fate starts to accumulate on the Rings for the first time, you will get the first opportunity to attack, and thus the first opportunity to gain Fate from rings. A bigger factor, however, is that it is much easier to defend a province than atack one due to the extra power of the provinces, so the first player to attack is the one taking the biggest risk and often spending the most resources. Finally, the second player of any turn gets to make the last attack of the round. This is important because each round every player can only dedicate a portion of their characters to any given conflict because they need to be able to attack and defend several more conflicts. But on the last conflict you can go all out knowing that you do not need to conserve any character for defense.
Mulligans and Buying Characters
When you Mulligan the cards in your provinces, usually you want to keep cheap characters (characters costing 1 or 2 Fate) and discard everything else. These cheap characters are useful in the first few rounds of the game because at that time you are often not going to know which province cards your opponent is using. So, if you attack with a cheap character and something terrible happens then you will not have lost a major investment. You are going to want to buy 2 characters, and at least one (if not both) should be bought with 1 extra fate. Avoid putting more than 1 fate on cheap characters as ubiquitous cards like Assassination can discard them, losing your entire investment. This setup will give you a decent amount of characters to attack and defend with while leaving you with a healthy amount of Fate to spend on actions and conflict characters.
There are some notable alternative first round buys strategies as well. Decks with potent 3 Cost characters like Lions Pride Brawler and Doji Challenger are worth buying of the first round. You are still going to want to buy at least one 1 Fate character as well, but make sure whenever you buy a character costing 3 Fate or more that you put an extra 2-3 fate on them. This ensures their powerful abilities will be around for most of the game.
Mulligans for Conflict Cards are a bit different, but the concept is the same. Get rid of any card that requires a lot of fate, requires complicated set-up, and do not keep more than one copy of a card so your hand remains flexible. Resources are limited early in the game and shouldn’t be wasted on the first turns relatively unimportant conflicts. That said, holding on to a single conflict character is not a bad idea, and particularly rare cards that are key to your long term game strategy might be worth keeping. But the “importance” of any particular card varies wildly from clan to clan, deck to deck, so you are going to have to identify which card these are in your particular deck as you gain more experience.
Bidding 5 is almost always the right answer. The more cards you have, the more ability to have to affect the game. In the first round, do not worry about anyone bidding less than 5. It rarely happens, but if it does it will not hurt your honor in a significant enough way to risk you losing the game. Even is someone bids 1, you may have lost a lot of honor but you will have WAY more cards than your opponent and should be able to control the rest of the game easily.
During the game, keep bidding 5 during every Draw Phase until your honor has dropped below 7 or 8. At this point, as long as you have roughly the same amount of cards as your opponent then you may want to only 3 or 4 to gain some honor back. If your honor has dropped to 5 or lower you are going to need to only bid 1 or 2 as bidding any higher risks losing by dishonor.
Attacking is relatively simple for the first round as the only thing you really want to accomplish is to learn what your opponent has under their provinces. Avoid using more than 1 or 2 Conflict Cards to win the Conflict. It is much easier to defend a province that it is to attack it, so spending too many resources will give your opponent an overall advantage. Often you should pass as soon as you have enough skill to win the conflict, even if you have additional cards in your hand that can get you the bonus you need to break the province. This is because your opponent will sometimes be holding back a card that can ruin your chances of winning the conflict, let alone break, and they are trying to trick you into spending more cards from your hand before stopping your attack. Don’t let them. Even if you are not winning the conflict, still stop and accept the loss rather than over investing too many cards. Losing a conflict sucks, but losing a conflict AND a bunch of cards is worse.
If you attack with a bigger character with a few fate on them then you can get a little bit looser with your cards. Any attachment you put on a character with extra fate is going to augment that character as long as they are in play, so they can be given out more liberally. Still do not rush ahead to drop every attachment you have on them, but a little investment will not be bad even if you end up losing the conflict.
Attacking in later turns is a bit more difficult. First, you should have a some of your opponents provinces revealed. Now you can not only better anticipate what your opponents defense is going to look like but you will be able to deduce what their remaining provinces are. It will take some time but you will eventually learn that each clan tends to run a very similar set of province and individual clans will almost always have the same cards under their province, but do not worry too much about it while you are just starting out. When making an attack, try to use only the fewest number of characters you think you need to break your opponents province while assuming they are going to defend with their strongest characters. As a rule of thumb, only send 1 quarter of the characters you have available to any given conflict so that you have enough bodies to make future attacks and defences with. Feel free to use more Conflict cards than you did in the first round, but still try to use as few cards as possible. As long as you’re characters have enough skill to win and break the province, pass until your opponent plays something that could potentially stop you. If your opponent gains the upper hand and you find you need to spend 2-3 cards just to catch back their skill it is probably better just to pass and accept the loss. Odds are they will still have more cards to ensure they win but you will ended up losing way more cards in the process.
When your opponent declares an attack against you the province they end up revealing will give you guidance on how to best defend. For instance, a province like Shameful Display benefits from you defending with a high glory character while something with high province strength like Pilgrimage may not require any defenders at all. Your primary goal in every defence is to only prevent them from breaking the province. Again, If you try to hard to win the conflict you will end up losing too many cards to last you through the game. Fortunately, defending is MUCH easier than attacking. Since the average province strength in the game is 4 and the average skill on a character with no additional bonuses is 2-3, your opponent needs to spend at least 2 cards (the character they are attacking with and a skill boost or another character) to threaten to break a province, all while suffering the effects of whatever your province does. Many times you do not even need to have a character defend as your province and one of the cards in your hand will be enough to stop the attacker from breaking. But as usual, if your opponent makes an attack that you are unsure you can win it is often better to just not defend and let them break the province. The only province you should ever waste all of your resources defending is your stronghold.
Probably the most important thing to identify when selecting a ring is not which one benefits you the most but figuring out which ring you LEAST want your opponent to have. Even if selecting it does not gain you a bonus, taking the option away from your opponent is a good thing. Sometimes it’s even a smart idea to make an attack you know you are going to lose just so your opponent will not trigger the ring when they claim it on defense. Also, keep in mind if your opponent has a keeper role or not because if they claim the ring matching their role they will be able to play their Keeper Initiates for free and possibly gain a fate if they are on defense. However, if any available ring is not particularly dangerous or beneficial to you then there is nothing wrong with prioritizing a ring that has fate on it before other factors are considered.
Void is important because each fate on a character represents 1 turn they will be on the board. Claiming void is key to ensuring you can keep more characters on the board for longer than your opponent. Over the course of the game, you and your opponent will often be buying the same number of characters each turn, but the player that claims the void ring the most will ensure that they have up to twice as many characters on the board in later rounds. Void is often the most important ring to choose and should be considered before all others, especially if there are big characters with extra fate on the board.
The air ring is often the least useful ring……until one of the players drops below 5 honor and suddenly it becomes the most important! Consider selecting it when you hit the 7-8 honor mark to avoid getting into a dangerous honor situation.
Maintaining resources, such as cards in hand, is the key to winning the game. So the Ring of Earth is often one of the best options to take in any situation as it helps you maintain card advantage. Randomly discarding a card in your opponent’s hand might cause them to lose a powerful card they were saving for a future conflict. Also, since the honor bid is tied to card draw you will find that honor/dishonor decks will focus on the earth ring, trying to bleed your hand and forcing you to bid higher when you don’t want to (such as when your honor is low).
Any character with 2 or more glory will be majorly impacted if they gain honored or dishonored status tokens. If a character like this has extra fate on them then Fire becomes a great option for boosting your characters or hindering your opponents. But status tokens are also key to effecting a number of cards in the game. Perhaps the most ubiquitous is For Shame! Which lets a player choose to bow or dishonor their targeted character. However, if a character is already dishonored then the player MUST choose to bow as it is the only legal option. Additionally, Fire plays an important role with honor as honored and dishonored characters gain or lose 1 honor respectively when they leave play. These tiny bumps in honor can add up very quickly! Special mention must be made concerning the Crane, Scorpion, and Phoenix clans. Crane and Scorpion each have a number of cards that are contingent on characters being honored or dishonored. I won’t go into detail about each card here, but as a rule of thumb you should do your best to make sure Crane do not get more characters honored than you and do not let Scorpion keep your characters dishonored. In fact, try to keep all Scorpion courtier characters dishonored so they cannot play their powerful Forged Edict to cancel your events. Phoenix on the other hand are blessed and cursed with many high glory character. This mean they get substantially stronger if they are honored….and become practically worthless if dishonored.
The Ring of Water can greatly alter the board, changing everyone’s attack and defense strategies. Any character on the board with no fate is at risk of being bowed. Often when a player with fateless characters is attacked with water they will simply defend with those characters since they will be bowed anyways, but if a player has many important characters without fate they are at risk of bowing them or overcommitting them on defense, which can be just as bad. However, water can be most useful when you are the second player in the round. If you used a character to defend against your opponents first conflict you can make a water attack in an attempt to straighten that character so they can attack or defend again. Finally, Water can be used in the final conflict of the round to straighten a character with high glory, potentially allowing you to gain the Imperial Favor
I hope this guide is useful to anyone taking their first steps into Legend of the Five Rings. This game can be incredibly complicated but also very rewarding and a joy to play. If anyone has any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to reach out to me in the comments section, in the forums, on our facebook group, or anywhere else you might see me online. Good Luck and have fun!