Children’s Card Games – Part Two
Legend of the Five Rings. The best collectible card game ever made as far as I’m concerned. While I get that the game isn’t as popular as Magic, since that game had a few years head start and covers a subject matter that appeals to a wider audience (generic fantasy), I never quite grasped why L5R hasn’t caught on with anime fans (Other than lacking the knowledge of its existence, that is.). With all of the CCGs that have been popular with anime fans (Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh mainly, although the DBZ one was popular for a while.), I’m surprised at what little fan carryover I’ve seen to L5R.
I say this because L5R has something that all of these card games don’t have: a storyline.
Yeah, all of those anime CCGs are based on series with some semblance of a story, and Magic and a few other card games have had novels written about them well after the fact, but Legend of the Five Rings was deliberately constructed to integrate the ever-changing storyline into its mechanics and into what cards get made.
Where Magic has the different colors of magic, Pokemon has the different types, and so on, L5R has (at the moment) nine samurai clans that act as the “types.” While the other games use their “types” as a rough way to bind together themes (Red magic in M:tG is highly offensive at the lack of defense. Grass Pokemon tend to have poison attacks and other “denial” tricks.), there’s an actual story basis for the divisions in L5R. Each samurai clan has a different task assigned to them by the Emperor, and this task helps define that clan’s personality. The Crab Clan, for instance, mans a giant wall that’s been constructed to help keep out marauding oni and other monsters, and because of this their game mechanics are tailored towards peeps with a lot of raw attack power and ways to keep their guys alive after they’ve been killed, but they’re lacking in other areas of the game (They tend to be somewhat weak against “political” type actions and the like.). This is also reflected in the ongoing story, where the Crab Clan is seen as somewhat uncouth and “barbaric” in comparison to the more refined clans, which causes the Crabs to resent these “softer” clans, and this sometimes erupts into conflict with other clans.
Essentially, the mechanics of the game have helped define aspects of the storyline that accompanies the card game. The “color” that grew to be about brute force became brutish samurai who value raw strength over all, while the “colors” that emphasize “control” tactics in the card game, such as the Scorpion and Crane clans, became political types within the storyline. At the same time, tournament results help shape the storyline as well. During the last huge series of tournaments, the clan that garnered the most wins won the right to the then-vacant throne of the Emperor. Since the Dragon Clan, a clan made of mostly monk-like martial artists and contemplative, philosophical swordsmen, garnered the most wins then their nominated champion became the new Empress.
This makes L5R fairly unique in that the storyline is central to the game rather than being an afterthought. This mirrors the perception that many anime fans have about their chosen hobby. Many anime fans, especially those in “the west” love anime because of the storytelling present in many series. Plot is king, and a series with a rich and well-executed plotline will catch on with this core group of fans. Every week, L5R has a new story posted on the game’s website, and these stories often react upon trends in tournament play and other fan interaction. For instance, if a particular Personality card from a clan is seen as popular, that character may see more face time when his clan is featured in a weekly story. It’s not unlike fans writing into a manga artist about how they loved so and so minor character, resulting in the manga artist throwing those fans a bone and having that character appear again later in the series. The difference is that the fans often have direct control over certain aspects of the storyline since there are many instances that essentially boil down to “Do and/or win X and you get to have Y character do something cool.”
With L5R, people play the game not just because it’s a cool game with good mechanics. Most people play it because they become engaged with its storyline much in the same way anime fans get engaged with a popular series. They grow attached to certain characters, they write fan fiction about said characters, and they more or less do a lot of the same stuff anime fans do when it comes to anime. The way fans of the card game and the way fans of anime interact with their fandoms is pretty much the same, and considering that L5R’s subject matter is pretty much your standard anime plotline (Samurai fighting amongst each other over love, politics, and so on.), I’m surprised the game hasn’t caught on in the anime community. I never see L5R tournaments at anime conventions, and even the dudes in the dealer room that sell games rarely carry the game. Given the fact that the game is longest running CCG next to Magic, even if it isn’t super-popular, I’d figure there’d be some small contingent of anime fans who were really into the game.
Yeah, if you dig CCGs and are willing to get into that money sink, give L5R a try. There’s a lot for anime fans to dig on. Hell, there’s an entire clan of Bishounen for the fangirls to go gaga over (Cranes), while all the moe-haters can latch onto one of the clans that’s all about crushing stuff in the most violent manner possible (Crabs and Unicorns). If you’re an angsty Sasuke-from-Naruto lover, go check out the game’s mopey, angsty, “dark” dudes (Spiders), or if you’re a hikkikomori who never likes to leave his apartment, check out the guys that never come down from their mountain (Dragons). There’s something for everyone.