Theory: Q’s without A’s

Fantasy Flight Games’ reboot of the classic CCG Legend of the Five Rings raises a number of intriguing issues. In fact, I’d say there’s almost nothing about it that isn’t interesting:

The license itself. The received wisdom is that licensing a fictional world is only worthwhile when the world is a major draw; otherwise, one might as well start from scratch, and forego the expense. Was Legend of the Five Rings worth the cost?

On the positive side of the ledger, it’s a long-standing name in the tabletop market, albeit not perhaps as strong a brand as it was in the past. FFG also received at least some existing art assets–we can see them in the cards displayed on the new website–which avoids the cost of recreating card art.

On the other hand, a game two decades old comes with a lot of baggage. There’s an existing base to be placated, if you’re not simply going to accept their ire. Old data floating around the internet might confuse customers. Your product has expectations out of the gate that otherwise wouldn’t burden it.

I’m not certain whether it will be possible to determine from the outside how the license works out, but it will be interesting to consider.

The gameplay. For all its mechanical warts, old Legend of the Five Rings did one thing right: it was a game about acquisition. Over the course of a winning game you got more honor, more cards, more stats, more abilities, more of just about everything. That acquisition felt good.

New Legend of the Five Rings is, in some sense, a game about losing your resources. Honor and cards are both naturally given away during a game. I can see how those negative feedback loops resolve a runaway-leader problem that bedeviled old Legend of the Five Rings, and can also imagine that they lead to interesting decisions. Yet, the fun of a game isn’t solely in whether it’s mechanically balanced. Will players see the game as punishing them for engaging with it, and move on to something else?

The theme. In the 1990s Legend of the Five Rings’s mashup of dynastic China and Shogunate Japan was seen as forward-thinking and progressive. Today, it might be seen in a different light. Will the theme and fictional history be a help, or a lightning rod for criticism? How will Fantasy Flight handle issues of portrayal going forward?

. . . and so on. Legend of the Five Rings is a venerable brand, and that throws the changes it’s undergoing into especially sharp relief. I’ll be extremely interested to see how the new release plays out.

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