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Superior Tactics #16: March of the Alliance

The Superior Tactics article queue is empty. If you send me an article today, you'll get quick turnaround! There's been a month and a half to explore Fire and Shadow, so let's see what people have discovered. There are a few big articles coming down the line, but there's plenty of time to feature your favorite card.

"The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain't marchin' anymore" -- Phil Ochs

March of the Alliance - Rare Event (HE5)
Until the beginning of your next turn, players may not perform actions, except actions on cards in play. Players may attach Fate cards from their hands.
Errata: actions on Strongholds are also allowed.

Before I start on the possible uses of this card, let's take a closer look at its wording.

"Until the beginning of your next turn," this is clear (more so than some events which last for "two turns from now"). I go, you go, everybody goes, and when it's my turn again, the effect ends.

"Players may not perform actions, except actions on cards in play." This is the juicy bit. No actions. No funny stuff, for those with a Doomtown background. Let's put our Fate hands face down on the table, add up Force, and count.

"Players may attach Fate cards from their hands." Since attaching, say, a Spell or Follower is a Limited action, and isn't printed on a card in play, the card needs this provision for such attachments to be legal.

Now, what is March of the Alliance? Very simply, it's an action denial Event. It restricts what people can do. The whole Empire stops its everyday business while the Alliance is on the move. It's in the vein of Deadly Ground, The Great Silence, [and] Winter Warfare. It doesn't last as long as Winter Warfare, but it works for a full turn.

Obviously, it will stop all Action cards. No more Battle terrains. No more Battle action cards. No more dueling. No more Kiho, either. Spells are OK, as are all actions printed on Personalities. Followers and their actions are fine, too. Since using the Tactician trait is not an action printed on the Tactician card, it cannot be done, either -- unless the Tactician has some special action printed on the card that counts as the use of the trait, like Ikoma Ken'O.

But it stops much more than just Action cards. Since most Personalities don't have "Bow to lobby for the Imperial Favor" printed on them, they cannot do so while March is in effect. For that matter, since the various uses of the Favor are not printed on cards in play, it cannot be used, either. (There are exceptions to both; it is perfectly legal, even during the March, to bow a Kakita Ichiro to lobby for the Favor, then use it to attach the Imperial Standard to another Ichiro - though I wouldn't advise the use of March in a typical Crane deck.)

Strongholds are not cards, but there is an erratum to March of the Alliance that allows Stronghold actions; so the event won't affect any of the Strongholds that have actions printed on them.

What kind of deck is this good for? Well, obviously, military Follower-heavy decks will love it. Since the opponent can have next to no tricks up his sleeves (or, at least, is required to keep them there), a military deck can easily count the total Force, look at what the other player has on the table, and sometimes, decide that _nothing_ can prevent him from destroying one, or two, or more Provinces. And what's more, you even get the first opportunity to attach more Followers before your attack. Of course, your best bet for this is a Toturi's Army military deck; the erratum (letting you use Stronghold-printed actions) even lets you use the cheap Follower option.

March will also prevent such battle reactions as Rallying Cry, so it may be dangerous if facing another military deck if you don't kill all of the defender's Provinces. But once again, it stops Counterattack, too, and the last person to be limited by its anti-Rallying Cry limitation will be the one just before you - in a two-player game, your opponent. This means that, if both of you are playing military, and no one is able to destroy all of the other's Provinces during the March, you have the first opportunity to straighten and attack a nearly defenseless opponent.

In this, March of the Alliance is quite similar to its older brother, Winter Warfare, a.k.a. Doom of the Shadow. Winter Warfare is, in a sense, even more powerful, because it lasts for two of your turns; and, as noted above, March of the Alliance actually doesn't affect the Dark Path of Shadow. There is, however, a nice side benefit to March of the Alliance that Winter Warfare doesn't provide (or, depending on what you are playing, an added restriction which makes Winter Warfare even more superior): under March of the Alliance, the amount of usable Personality Removal cards is, basically, reduced to spells. This means that, if your military deck is facing a defensive deck that tends to use non-spell Personality removal (Test of Honor, Kolats -- you'll know yourselves; I've been there), they'll even be crippled in their next turn. [Winter Warfare also doesn't stop things like Finding the Harmony, using the Favor to draw cards, duels, etc. Winter Warfare also isn't negated by Hiruma Sensei. Essentially, March of the Alliance has a wider scope, which could either hinder or promote your aims. -- ed.]

March of the Alliance is not the ultimate military card. First, as an Event, it is hard to control, and a badly timed (usually, this means early) March will not do you any good. Contrary to Winter Warfare, it won't do much (directly) to a Ninja opponent. But it can be absolutely devastating when well timed, and turn the mid game into, well, the last turn when you're getting ready to attack and your opponent is suddenly staring at a full hand of perfectly good, but useless, defensive actions. I first used March as an Extended Jade replacement for Winter Warfare, but now I believe both are worth their slot in the right Open deck.

[Additional: Not every military deck will use March of the Alliance effectively. Decks relying on force boosters won't like it, nor decks which prefer a more elegant and surprising battle strategy than "Oni Smash!" The Oni Smash strategy may even find the March inconvenient at times, like when the deck's procured the favor or is facing some nasty on-table actions that could be overcome with Sneak Attack/Deadly Ground. Of course, all the Deadly Grounds in the world won't stop Evil Portents, Kolats, Iaijutsu, or Finding the Harmony during a player's action phase. (Rings are no longer actions, and thus may be played and used freely.) Players interested in preventing such actions may benefit from The Great Silence.

The brute force/surprising battle action dichotomy in military decks warrants consideration. Given a particular game situation in which both deck types would destroy a province. The deck whose victory would come through hidden cards would be better suited to the situation, because it has a better chance to lure the defender into a loosing battle. A person defending against a brute force attack, however, knows the futility of defense as soon as units are assigned; he can thus hang back and Counterattack. However, rare is the time when we can come to a certain assessment of a situation like the above. To properly decide between the approaches, a deck builder must consider whether the increased force available at the expense of stealth will be enough to overcome whatever defense an opponent might muster. Will no surprises beyond Crushing Attack be enough to keep the swarm from defeat? The solution seems to lie in a combination of the two paradigms. Generate a sizeable force, but keep a few tricks up your sleeve. The defender will probably assume that you can stop a battle or keep a personality in battle. But will he anticipate the removal of one of his own units? A significant force bonus? Some terrain that doesn't end the battle?

Generally, a smart player only defends when she thinks she can win. March of the Alliance makes her victory calculations just as certain as yours. March of the Alliance prevents bluffs. But nobody bluffs in L5R. Or expects a bluff. -- ed.]

Card text copyright FRPG, 1995-2000.
Article text copyright Philippe Duchon, 2000, edited by Trevor Stone.

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