Spheres of Influence: Influence on neutral cards? A short discussion.

An interesting topic came up in December that I think warrants expanding upon regarding the influence cost of cards. The discussion started when Tides of War was shown as one of the print and play rewards for 2020. Originally intended to be won by the clan with the most Tides of War points in the 2020 Kotei season, due to coronavirus it was decided that it was to be offered as a neutral card instead.

The story is simply that, back in spring, we realized that the Tides of War season wasn't going to happen—some people (outside Asmodee) were still optimistic back then that events might be able to resume but, well, it was pretty clear how it would go to those who pay attention  so we immediately started looking at what to do about the prize cards. I pretty quickly settled on neutral: the cards are good, but none of them are problematic if they can be played by any clan (they were, in fact, playtested that way), and I'd rather encourage player agency rather than discourage it. We eventually settled on play-and-share since they would be made as promos before being in a product anyway, and this way they could at least get out sooner rather than later. ~ Tyler Parrott.

The version of the card initially released had 3 influence cost, which is new for a neutral card and was eventually removed due to it being an error in quality control; but this got me thinking how neutral influence cost cards could be used as a balancing mechanic in the game, especially for those core set cards that have been widely criticised as being too strong when compared to their in-clan equivalents.

This is the card that started the idea. Later being changed back to it's intended form not having an influence cost.

We should all be familiar with influence cost on conflict cards allowing them to be used out of clan but for those newer to the game, The Legend of the Five Rings rules reference puts it quite succinctly; Influence is a deckbuilding resource that is indicated by the value on the chosen stronghold for your deck. Many conflict deck cards have an influence cost, which makes them eligible for selection as an out-of-clan card. A player may spend influence up to the amount indicated by his or her stronghold to include out-of-clan cards from a single additional clan in his or her conflict deck. Each copy of a card that is chosen reduces the amount of influence a player has at his or her disposal to use in selecting other cards for the deck. A clan-affiliated card that has no influence cost cannot be selected using influence for inclusion in a deck.

The idea is that it puts a hard limit on the amount of out of clan cards you an play and prevents taking all of the best conflict cards of one clan whilst playing the best dynasty of another. Being an advocate of influence cost errata as a way to balance certain combos of clan/splash, especially when the original influence costs may have been too low to begin with (a common criticism is Crab's Reprieve which has a printed influence cost of 1), the idea of having an influence cost on neutral cards seems very appealing. This would involve a slight change to the influence rules to refer to 'neutral and out of clan' cards and also to make them more attractive, an update to the 'Support of' roles to either include neutral cards also or just to have one generic Support card which only gives 8 bonus influence to spend as mechanically it works in the same way as the existing wording.

To keep things focused I'll primarily be looking at the main 'value' cards from core; Banzai, Court Games, Fine Katana, Ornate Fan, and Charge! (just for fun) to see what their impact on the game might be if they had an associated influence cost;

Fine Katana and Ornate Fan

The ubiquitous 'free stat' attachments; both Fan and Katana outperform their in-clan counterparts in terms of value for stats and have been staples in many decks that use raw numbers to break your opponent's provinces or to simply provide a free edge in conflicts. With a 1 influence cost attached to both Katana and Fan it would encourage players to use their in-clan equivalents or dip into the attachments of whatever clan they are splashing but also leaves the option open for those decks with a couple of influence free to include some cheap stat gain if they really want to.

In-Clan options might include Pragmatism, the respective clan seals for some additional keyword synergy (for everyone who isn't Lion), and stat boosting events such as Spreading the Darkness and A Perfect Cut for Bushi.

Court Games and Banzai!

Court Games has two of the most powerful effects in the game attached to it for no cost and features in pretty much every player's deck. Similarly Banzai offers a boost of 4 military skill for 0 fate and the minimal cost of 1 honour which more often then not requires two or more cards to match from your opponent. Aside from Assassinate, they are rightly ranked as the strongest events in the Core set and rank highly against most of their inclan equivalents so should naturally have some sort of restriction. 

Putting a 2 influence cost on the both of these (or 1 if we want to be more forgiving) would stop them from being an auto-include and again encourage players to look at their in-clan equivalents. More importantly I think, it would require clans to spec into different splashes for similar effects (reducing the availability of 'free' stat gain/honour/dishonour in the general card pool) whilst still allowing decks to play either at a price. Given that generic cards are always supposed to be weaker then their counterparts I can imagine a situation where you would want to take these over some of the other splashed cards for their influence cost.


Charge! was banned very early on in the restricted list cycle and for very good reason; It's ability to cheat out several fate worth of characters for 1 on a neutral event made it usable in any deck and was pretty much a three-of for everyone. Considering that FFG have released similar cards to charge, but in a more restricted setting (Join the Fray from Unicorn as an example) and that there still remains ways to cheat characters into play in other clans, I could imagine that Charge with a 3-4 influence cost might be acceptable given that it's still  a very strong card but unlikely to be used as widely as it was previously due to the restrictions.

Closing Thoughts

Overall I think that updates such as these might push players into the Keeper and possibly even the rarely used Support roles due to the increased influence availability but it does allow for some cards to come off the restricted list and the choice to use one or more of these without them being in every deck. In the case of Banzai, Court Games, Fine Katana and Ornate Fan, taking one or more of these cards becomes a real choice in deckbuilding as the clan you choose to splash into with your available influence is generally an integral part in your playstyle and strategy so there might not be much space left over for the strongest neutral cards. Finally, with the cheap stat-increases of Banzai! and the attachments effectively limited, province breaks should in theory be slower but it would encourage the use of some of the more high-risk cards such as Spreading the Darkness and Unleash the Djinn.

This article was mainly written to be a conversation starter and there is as much argument to just set all these cards to 1 influence (aside from charge) and just call it a day but overall I do think that using the influence mechanic to limit certain cards without having to resort to a ban or restricted list would be very healthy for the game and would go a long way to resolving a large number of card issues that we currently have.

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