Game Name: War of Honor
Designer: Bryan Reese
Players: 2 to 4 players (More with additional clan decks)
Ages: 14 and up
Playing time: 60 to 90 minutes
Interestingly enough we’ve had quite a few deck building games come across our review tables of late and many of the latest releases are coming from our friends at AEG. As you’ve read, Elliott has already tackled the latest stand alone expansion to Nightfall, with Martial Law and now I’ll take on the second of the three newest titles from Alderac Entertainment: War of Honor. War of Honor isn’t a collectable or deck building game but, if I can steal a term from FFG, a living card game.
War of Honor is part of the Legend of the Five Rings family of games. The game is played using a modified version of the collectable card game rules. While most people think of Magic the Gathering when someone mentions a CCG it’s important to note L5R has been around for fifteen years and is still going strong, with an extremely devoted fan base. As opposed to the multitude of CCGs that have come and gone over the years, L5R has an ongoing tale that weaves its way through each successive expansion. The game is well known for having an exceptionally strong theme.
I’ll be the first to point out that I haven’t played the collectable card game since shortly after it premiered so I came to War of Honor without any preconceived ideas about what the game should or shouldn’t be. I’m also not going to rehash every last item in the rule book since the folks at AEG have been kind enough to place it online for your perusal. Of note, the game makes a few changes to the usual play of L5R by simplifying the rules of the game while adding fortresses to each clan and new victory conditions.
Included in the game are decks for use with the Lion, Dragon, Phoenix, and Scorpion clans. These decks are made up of cards available in the CCG and each deck can be modified by any card in a player’s L5R collection. AEG has also included tiles for each of the other clans of Rokugan, the land in which the action takes place, so additional players can take part or replace any of the current decks with those of their own. Also AEG has provided a nice insert to keep everything in order.
As a quick rundown for those who’ve never played L5R, each player represents a clan and has two decks: one made of Dynasty cards and the other made up of Fate cards. Simply put, the Dynasty cards are characters and resources while the Fate cards are abilities you’ll play and then discard. Resources (otherwise known as holdings) are used to purchase characters and other enhancements so they may be placed on the table. Each player also has five tiles that will represent the land where the upcoming battles will take place. These tiles are a new twist to be found in War of Honor.
Each player has four provinces (these are not the tiles) that they must protect because if they were to lose these provinces they’re out of the game. Players take turns using holdings to purchase cards and look to build up their forces or abilities in which to take on their enemies. It isn’t all about battles because there are four paths to victory: Military, Gaining Honor, Dishonoring your opponents, and putting Ring cards into play.
As I mentioned previously, I won’t go into all the details since the rules are easily available…
So how does War of Honor play? Very well actually! There are enough twists involved where you’ll be able to test out various strategies and deck construction. Obviously each prebuilt deck focuses on the strengths of each clan so you might not look to win by bring Ring cards into play if you’re the Lion clan but, instead, look for a military victory. Of course adding additional cards outside of those already included means you could change the focus of your path to victory if you so choose.
If you aren’t familiar with the L5R CCG, I will point out that you might want to start playing War of Honor with only two players. There’s quite a bit to digest – even with the simplified system. Having four players around the table, all trying to figure out the rules as well as the various cards, is a daunting task the first few times out. You shouldn’t plan on your first games completing in less than two or two and a half hours with a full brace of clans. Once the rules are under your belt I certainly can see a ninety minute playtime being very attainable.
I believe that AEG was looking at achieving two goals when they planned War of Honor. The first was to create an entry point to L5R for new players without shackling them with learning every single nuance of the established CCG system. The second goal was to establish a way for veteran L5R players to engage in multiplayer games that wouldn’t take hours upon hours to run their course. I can’t honestly say how well the gang at Alderac pulled off the second goal simply because it has been years and years since I played L5R so I couldn’t tell you if or how a multiplayer game was played.
War of Honor is loads of fun once you get the hang of it. So I feel AEG has smashingly pulled off what I think was the main intent of the design – easily introduce a form of L5R to new players. I got a good feel of what the core CCG is all about and I’d love to sit down with a veteran L5R player to introduce me to the full experience. For other gamers it’s nice to see that they now have the opportunity to enjoy a self-contained Legend of the Five Rings card game experience without ever having to purchase another single card.
War of Honor brings with it the makings of what defines every great deck building, collectible, card game – that extra something that makes you want to tinker with your deck in order to surprise and defeat your opponent. Going head to head against veteran L5R players no doubt will result in plenty of defeats but I’m sure you’ll want to come back for more. I’ll be the first to ask what those intimately familiar with the CCG think of the new design since I’m not sure how they’ll take to it.