The thrilling surprise that is Race for the Galaxy led me to look into other games that feature a multitude of cards. One of those was the Game of Thrones card game. Another is the Legend of the Five Rings card game.
The Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) franchise began is the mid 1990's and has spawned both collectible card and role playing games. It is set in the fictional land of Rokugan, a fantastic land that resembles medieval Japan. Over the last decade or so the setting has evolved. Various families and groups in the land have had their fortunes rise and fall. Fictional characters have appeared and risen to power or fallen into ignominy. One of L5R's allures is that unlike Tolkien's Middle Earth or Howard's Hyborea the background world is dynamic and changeable.
The L5R card game is collectible and much of the play resembles that of other similar games. Players begin the game with a starter deck of cards. They can buy "boosters" which give them new, randomly determined cards. The basic strategy of the game revolves around which cards to include in your deck when you play.
The rules for the L5R card game are available online. I printed them and they come out to a healthy thirty seven pages. Now some of this is the result of some great illustrations and some the result of a rules glossary, but clearly L5R requires a bit of reading in advance to play. In comparison to Game of Thrones the cards have more information and rules to pay attention to. I did my reading and then dragged an innocent bystander into a few games.
Our experience in game play was positive but not riveting. Players take turns drawing cards and then placing them on the table. Certain cards can represent locations, events, or specific characters. At some point players will choose to attack their opponents with one or more characters and the opponent must then choose character cards of their own to defend with. The characters have varying degrees of deadliness on the battlefield and certain events can make battles go one way or the other. Players can accumulate "honor" points and certain powerful characters will only be playable with higher levels of honor.
In a general sense a person is either going to love or hate this sort of game. My goodhearted wife tolerated it. I enjoyed the variety and color of the cards. Oddly enough, not knowing the full mythology of the L5R universe didn't seem to diminish the enjoyment of the game. I think that may be because the characters are portrayed so very very broadly. A noble appearing general in armor is probably heroic, a sneaky looking man in a black body suit is probably a spy, and a sexy woman in a one piece body suit is probably some sort of seductive personality. In contrast the characters in the Game of Thrones game were harder to get a grip on- in the latter's case the illustrations just depicted stressed out people holding swords. You could argue that this is because Game of Thrones has more complex characterization and I'm sure that's true, but it makes the game fiction harder to grasp without reading the background information.
My wife also found the basic idea of L5R irritating- that to have a good deck you'd better be prepared to spend money on boosters. I agree that this is a troubling concept and yet buying booster packs is fun and exciting. Who knows what will be inside?! I suppose I'll have to wear my "sucker" tattoo but building a deck seems like good fun.
In summary I didn't find the L5R card game to be another Race for the Galaxy but I think for people inclined to try a collectible card game it's a good product to consider. The rules are longer than Game of Thrones and the game may be more expensive in the long run but the ease of entering into the world is a nice selling point. One key issue with either game is that a single player with a deck is not going to have much fun. I would make sure you have a local community of players or a goodhearted spouse before investing in either of these games for a child.
I got my L5R cards at Your Move Games in Davis Square and at Pandemonium Books in Central Square.
Pros: fun cards, easy to get into the world concept
Cons: potential bottomless money pit, lengthy rules
Beyond the Basics: lots of replay value but beware the Beanie Baby phenomenon, any collectible item can become tomorrow's trash in a blink of an eye.