Although I have yet to see a single disk in person, I do have a copy of the Legend of the Five Rings:Rules of Play, thanks to Earl Lindsay --and two Origins Promo Disks too :-). So I decided to post a write-up about the new disk types (Item Disks...), new game mechanics (Dueling and Spell Ring...) in addition to pointing out some of the immediate issues that will be raised once this game makes it to the mass market. These are the areas where I think the newbies (those who have not played FFG's DiskWars before) will have a difficult time understanding the L5R:RoP much less the DiskWars genre game itself.
I would like to reconfirm that L5R DiskWars and Fantasy Flight's DiskWars are completely compatible. So we can all get ready for some epic Eastern Army Stacks vs. Western Army Stacks Scenarios, major ethnic feuds and massive, culturally different battles...
First thing first, the L5R:RoP is exactly like the DW:RoP in its lay-out (just as the Red Alert!:RoP is designed, where as RangeWars:RoP booklet is much better 'cause you've got page numbers to refer to when making a judgment/rule call). Perhaps the first thing you'll notice is the script looking typography in the place of the DiskWars sans-serif fonts for section headers. It sort of has a bamboo look to it, as most games that are based on Asiatic/Samurai settings do these days. Some of the imagery and examples are very similar to the ones found in DW:RoP (exact copies in some cases), although some of them are a little misleading. It is very interesting to note that Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) is not mentioned anywhere on the L5R:RoP besides being an authorized user of Wizards of the Coast's Legend of the Five Rings and Fantasy Flight Games' DiskWars. As a matter of fact, www.diskwars.com is the only contact info to be found on the entire L5R:RoP sheet. In hind-sight, this is probably a good thing so newbies will know exactly where to go for rules questions, disk trading groups and where to find other DiskWarriors/Garrisons in their immediate area.
Item Disk. It loos like there will be both Unique and non-Unique Item Disks (?). These disks are the same size as Spell Disks and are attached (no, not with super glue... but hypothetically) to disks at the start of the game. In general, Item Disks give special abilities to the attached Unit (same as Creature) Disks and may modify the AT, D and or T of the Unit Disk. Similar to the Wastelands Terrain, the Item Disk is two sided with graphics and stats on one side and a text description of the ability the item confers on the other. (Side note: Both FFG's RangeWars and LUG's Red Alert! made this wise modification to their Deeds/Scenarios terrain.) This is a great idea for any game that intends to have all the info you need right on the playing pieces themselves. Of course Items Disks have their ups and downs. It is not explained if the Item Disks have an Army Cost, but there does appear to be a blank-space for an AC number on the graphic side. Similar to a "Treasure Hunt Scenario" (read: transportation of tokens), I do believe that Item Disks could be picked up and used by your opponent after your Item carrying Unit Disk is destroyed. Regrettably, IMHO, the RoP says they may not be moved after the start of the game attachment. Although some Item Disks are designed for (even restricted to) specific factions only, a sword ... is a sword ... is a sword. If Items Disks cold be transferred during the game, they could become a major Scenario enhancement where plain old Doom Hill (which is called "Massacre at Funeral Mound" in the L5R:RoP) evolves into a Camelot/Excalibur variant of King of the Hill.
Dueling. Perhaps the most interesting new game mechanic/term to be added to the DiskWars genre in some time, Dueling is a means to engage in an honorable one-on-one battle with your opponent. Sadly, it is not explained very well how this affects the survival of the disks themselves once the Duel is over. As for the initiation of the Duel, there is a Level II Spell, "Call of the Nemesis (Ring of Fire)" that causes two disks within 12" of the Shugenja (Spelcaster) to enter a duel with each other. In addition to the spell, there should be some disks with a Dueling Special Ability. Once the Duel is initiated, both disks are placed side-by-side (proxies can be placed to the side of play) and special two-sided Dueling Counters (Focus, 2 damage or Strike, 4 damage, depending on which side the counter lands on) are dropped by each player. Then number of counters dropped --in a fashion exactly like standard missile fire, but where friendly fire is not deadly-- is based on the Dueling disks individual Toughness. It is presumed that your opponent's disk is destroyed if the cumulative Focus/Strike damage of your Dueling Counters that hit are equal to or greater than Toughness, but the exact end result is not spelled out in the L5R:RoP. Personally, I like this mechanic as a means to add honor, intrigue, and variation into the very deterministic world of DiskWars, but I do have lots of questions as to how it works... Can two disks Duel inside of a battle stack, or do they have to be unengaged from any combat? Can either of these two spell targets be pinning/pinned? Activated? And after the Duel, if they survive, are they then Activated from the previous Duel if they were not Activated beforehand?
Spell Rings. Another interesting mechanic is the use of five Spell Rings. This simple and very effective term has the much need benefit of decreased the cost of Level II and Level III spells in certain circumstances. Thereby, IMHO, increasing the use of spells through out the game. The five Spell Rings are based on the four elements (Fire & Water and Air & Earth) plus the Void. Each Shugenja (who are also associated with one of the above Rings) is NOT allowed to cast spells from the opposing Ring, but they can cast form the other elements and the Void. They can also take advantage of the discounted spell cost (2 points less for Level II spells and 3 points less for Level III spells) if you have a Shugenja of the same Ring in your Army. Obviously, some factions will be designed to use one Ring above the others based on the Shugenja available to that faction. As for the opposition Rings, Void has no opposites, other wise is the standard and logical Fire vs. Water and Air vs. Earth. This is a nice attribute, based on the games name sake, Legend of the Five Rings, that should work very well within the game mechanics of DiskWars. It will also further individualize each faction as a power to be dealt with, thereby making it fun to play each faction, instead of always playing the most powerful.
It was not very hard to read the L5R:RoP one time through with a highlighter and mark over 25 typos and very misleading verbiage along with lousy graphic examples that are sure to confuse the newbie. This begins with the unlabeled Wound Value (the blood red tear) on the Unite Disk graphic and the misnomer throughout the L5R:RoP of "terrible monsters" vs. "Unite Disks" vs. "Creatures" and "Creature Disks." Who's on first... What's on second...?
As stated earlier, both the Item Disk and Dueling have incomplete descriptions that will leave many a newbie and old-hat DiskWarriors alike scratching there heads in bewilderment. Hopefully this will be cleared up shortly with the first L5R:RoP FAQ. If not for the poorly graphed Movement example (see below) the complete confusion of the First Blow term and the Instant Blow term would have been the greatest injustice. Both of these terms are clearly described in the DW:RoP and are completely different from each other, whereas in the L5R:RoP they attempt to use the two titles interchangeably. As a quick fix, all occurrences of "Instant Blow" throughout the L5R:RoP (there are 4 of them, including one under the "Other Important Rules" heading) should be replaced with First Blow. Hopefully there are not any disks in the set that call for the real Instant Blow, 'cause its not in the L5R:RoP.
The majority of these editorial infractions (and easy targets...) are to be found in the Master Spellbook that contains 42 spells with 1/5 of them being original to L5R. As a DiskWars player for sometime now, it is very easy to read that spells were simply renamed for the L5R:RoP and yet the DiskWars text was quoted verbatim, sometimes even including the old spell name... doha. Again, its a nice touch with the 5 Spell Rings, but questions will arise because of it, i.e. the benefactor of Light of the Moon (Ring Of Air) becomes a Level III Shugenja for the remainder of the turn. What Ring is this benefactor associated with, that of the caster or Air like the spell? Conversely, cheaper Level II and Level III spells will greatly benefit the "fantasy" feel of the game.
The "Example of Movement" graphic is a lousy example of the most basic game mechanic of DiskWars. Movement is absolutely dependent on the flipping a disk end-over-end to calculate distance, which dependent on the disks diameter and movement rating. There are specific rules that must be followed and the graphic in question blatantly breaks the cardinal rule; the disk flips end-over-end with out any skipping, jumping or adding/subtracting of distance from one flip to the next. This example alone will give the newbie a terrible time trying to figure out the correct movement of disks.
I can really say much more until I get some of the disks to game with. Hopefully its obvious that I am very impressed with the new disks and mechanics. Whereas I'm down right disappointed in the poor workmanship and editing of the L5R:RoP. This "verbiage issue" has plagued the DiskWars game since inception. Because one of the goals of the game (albeit a lofty goal) is to imprint the majority of rules need right on the disks themselves. A tactic that has made the custom/trading card game industry a boon or bust, it is the nature of the beast that must be tamed and implemented with success to become successful. I have heard that copying is one of the greatest forms of flattery, but erroneous plagiarism is down right misleading for the end gamer. Legend of the Five Rings DiskWars will certainly bring some new players into the disk-game genre, but I am afraid they will have lots of questions and be somewhat unable to game without an old-hat DiskWarriors to show them the way... still it is just the beginning.
PS: Thanks again Earl, I owe you two GenCon Promos in return and thanks for the copy of the Red Alert!:RoP too.