What’s Up with EE? Pt 1: Themes
Hey folks. I’ve promised Inzen-san that I’d do an article, it took a while but I’m bored enough at work now to do this, so here goes!
Torn Asunder coming up and we’ve come to the second half of the Age of Conquest arc i.e. Emperor Edition.
Emperor Edition started out with a hiccup then a bang but for some seems to be trailing off to a whimper. Is this opinion justified? My tl;dr answer is NO, but that would be paying scant regard to a host of very real issues to do with the state of the game right now- issues that have led to several moans and rants that don’t go the way of L5R tradition, which had always been about clan balance for the most part.
You’ve seen all the forum threads and blog posts, I’m just going to tackle the issues one by one in no particular order. I’ll start with a fairly safe topic, if not exactly an easy one to tackle: EE Themes
Overview of themes…
This was one of the first things announced about EE. Never before in L5R has the game been this much focused on the idea of “Themes”. You had them before, but they were never this solidly put together. EE placed a whopping 37 + 1 themes (and maybe one more coming up?) which is a huge undertaking.
When you have 37 themes, all of which ask for attention every expansion, it’s not unexpected to see some get more love than others. It was surely not designed that way, but it is inevitable. Nevertheless, it pointed to a very methodical design process that would allow the design team to address each theme’s issues individually.
Sometimes, themes transcend the stronghold that were designed for them- Lion Ancestral Reverence could be run out of two different boxes, perhaps even three. This was not particularly a bad thing. The reverse, where almost every theme for a clan would be played out of a particular box, pointed to a different issue of card balance which I’ll address later.
Sometimes, themes would just merge into each other. Paragons + Ancestors. Artisans + Courtiers (what theme was Artisan anyway?). This is also not a particularly bad thing. It adds more diversity, if anything, although the decompartmentalisation (big word, sorry) probably gives Design some problems with trying to manage card interactions.
Addressing balance issues…
Overall with the game design with themes in mind, it was hoped that even if some themes weren’t great, there would at least be one good theme per clan.
A lot of themes are competitive. The game has never been so diverse as it is right now. The problem? Some of the clans get more than a few competitive themes, while some have almost none. Crab have Zerkers, Yasuki and Scouts, with only Siege Warfare struggling. Spider, on the other hand effectively had only one viable deck, Spider Ninja, which touched but never quite grasped top tier play.
Like many, I was skeptical at first that a theme could be improved with every expansion if Design had to focus on them all at a time. For the most part I was proven wrong, as Design saw it fit to focus on some more than others. Law of Darkness Dojo (LoDD), for example, was turned around in almost in single set by the printing of Bayushi Ryoken, Cowed and Defeated (C&D) and Scorn the Weak, with C&D very obviously designed with the stronghold in mind. Yasuki, too, only became truly viable at the highest level after a few powerful personalities were printed reinforcing their strategy.
So, it can be shown that with new cards the balance of the themes could be put straight. You never know, one or two expansions later, Spider could be the power-house faction with multiple good themes.
So it’s all good, right? Nope.
This is a diverse environment with some weaker themes that will eventually come good. The key word here is eventually. Sure, Spider may get great cards in the very next set, but wow, they been hurting for a long while. By focusing on a few themes at a time Design can make them competitive, but then some themes will lose their sting, as Dragon Kensai clearly have, and that great bugbear of L5R design, clan balance, will rear its ugly head again. While waiting for some themes to come good, some Spider players might have already given up.
Perhaps having 37+1 themes is a few too many for design to keep track of. And another thing…
What are themes, exactly?
Are they decktypes? One of the cool things about L5R is that because of the multiple win conditions, there are multiple goals and multiple ways of going about achieving those goals. So you have the attrition of Parajimbos, the frantic single-mindedness of Crane turbo-honor, the lock-down control of Aramasu’s Legacy… but there I just mentioned two kinds of decks and one theme. Parajimbos is a theme with a characteristic- attrition through sheer number of personalities in the deck. This character did not seem designed into the theme, but was an outcome of player innovation- a good thing. Crane turbo-honor is not actually one of those themes announced for Crane, and kind of transcends two themes. Legacy is a decktype for the Mantis economic warfare theme as an alternative to Kalani’s Landing. The two do not play anywhere alike. But they belong under one “Theme”. So were the themes ever a design constraint to begin with?
Are themes flavour? I have no idea what particular part of Parajimbos referred to their flavour. Yes, all the Paragons are loyal yojimbos, but exactly about them made them paragons?
EE Themes in a nutshell…
There probably are too many themes in EE. This did lead to some very interesting decktypes. Yasuki and Pokemon, for example. But it also led to loss of focus and confusion as to what constituted a theme. It meant that each theme could only be addressed in a drip-drip fashion, but with some clans having issues if they had several weak themes.
I’d like to see I’d love it if decktypes did connect with flavour more readily. I like that the Steel Soul Dojo decks make out Spider Paragons as resourceful individuals. However, I recognise that this would be difficult to do, with decktypes very much subject to player creativity.
In Part Two, I’ll write about Border Keep, Bamboo Harvester and the Speed of the Game. Till then, looking forward to your comments.