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Superior Tactics #26: Shipping Lanes

A child once helped a CEO design an operating system. At first, the child refused a reward, but the CEO insisted. The child asked that the CEO set out a chess board. On the first day, he was to put a single penny on the first square. On the second day, he was to place two pennies on the second square. Four pennies would be placed on the third square, and so on. "What a small reward!" said the king, but ordered it to be so. After a week, the board held barely enough money to buy two cans of soda. After two weeks, the kid had enough money to buy a box and a half of L5R. After three weeks, the CEO was investigated for embezzling $2 million. Had the board filled, it would've held 100 quadrillion dollars. However, he would've had trouble moving the half-trillion ton pile of pennies. The child later grew up to be a computer scientist.

Oliver Volland (a.k.a. Kaiu Atrovent) penned this week's Superior Tactics. He's German, so some of the grammar may sound unusual, but none of the math was lost in the translation.

Shipping Lanes - Common Holding (F&S) - 4G
Reaction: Once per turn, immediately before you bow another Holding to produce Gold, bow Shipping Lanes to double the Holding's Gold Production until the turn ends.

First of all, how do we build a merchant empire and get Shipping Lanes into play? Besides doing it the usual way by just paying for them (gasp!), you may make use of them being Ports and use Island of Silk. But be careful with this: most holdings cannot be brought into play from a province with Islands of Silk in it. Another way is Shipyard, which can be bowed for 4 Gold when buying the Shipping Lanes.

Okay, now you have them in play. What can you do with them? First of all, you can get rich. Pearl Divers can get more Gold out of it, and in a team with Ningyo the Shipping Lanes can be used to quadruple a holding's gold production. [It can, but you have to straighten the holding and double it a second time with the Shipping Lanes reaction. -- ed.] Three Shipping Lanes, three Ningyo [and three Yasuki Taka -- ed.] can make a Small Farm rock. Bow the first SL (2G), the second (4G), the Third (8G), then all Ningyos to straighten the SL. [Bow Taka to straighten the Farm. -- ed.] Bow the first SL (16G), the second (32G) and the third again: 64 gold out of a Small Farm! Now take the Diamond Mine (5G) and do some mathematics: 320 Gold! We are rich! We'll buy.... one card with it. [Increased Production can join this crowd, but Blessing Upon the Lands can't. And as long as we're having fun with the power function, don't forget Mujina Miners. Buy that 480C Geisha Assassin! -- ed.]

And here's the first problem: you can't split the money. So what? I'll double my Large Farm and buy a Jade Works with it. Sure, you can do this. But you're bowing 5 Gold worth of Holdings (1 for LF, 4 for SL) to buy 3 Gold worth of Holdings. Large Farm and Small Farm could have done better with 1 gold cost. On the other hand, doubling cumulative holdings, like Blacksmith, can give you just the money to pay for those Annexations [with The Time is Now -- ed.], big Clan Champions, or whatever other double-digit gold cost nail you want for your enemy's coffin. Doubling a House of Contracts can pay for Kolat Master or Kolat Assassin. [And doubling an Artificer pays for a Clan Sword. -- ed.]

The second problem: Shipping Lanes (and Ningyo, by that way), can't even buy a Large Farm by itself. And before you ask: Strongholds are not Holdings. You can't double them. Restoring the Doji Treasury won't work on Shipping Lanes since they produce no gold for themselves. The Doji Plains doesn't work on Shipping Lanes, doubling zero. The same principle can work to your advantage: Kisada's Blockade can be broken by playing Shipping Lanes, but the Shipping Lanes can't be blocked by Kisada. [Sailors can't increase the gold production of Shipping Lanes because they don't produce gold. -- ed.]

Besides getting me filthy rich, what else can those Shipping Lanes do for me? Why, soldiers tend to get great knowledge overseas. Mantis Marine Troops can get more force, Hyobe can keep your troops alert, Takuni has a base force equal to the number of Ports you have in play and the Kobune Crew knows a bit of Superior Tactics on home turf. Yoritomo Nodoteki can even use burning Shipping Lanes to some avail. Note that all those abilities work with lonely Shipping Lanes, so they aren't as useless as mentioned before. Note also, that those tricks work exactly like this with the much less expensive Island Wharves.

Finally there are the two double-edged swords for Ports, which will work most of the times in your favor but can hurt you on the other side of the table. Yasuki Kojiro is Cavalry if you have one or more Ports in play and may give the Cavalry trait. Additionally, he can blockade any Port in play. This last part can be useful or working against you from the other side of the table. His friend is Mr. Sneak Attack Daikua: bow him and a port to be able to play an action before the defender's first action in this battle. Now the double-edged part: you may do this as the defender only if the attacker has a Port or Sailor in play. Ramash can assign during the cavalry assignment phase if the Defender has a Port in play. He gains a 1F bonus while attacking for each Port that the Defender has in play. That's good for you if you defend with him, that's bad if he's attacking you. The already mentioned Sailors belong in the same ship, they can also bow to bow any Port in play.

Ports are great, aren't they? Sadly, there are some bad parts on Ports: Black Market are immune to Iris Festival and therefore in most corrupted decks, not only Yogo Junzo's Army. Bandit Hideout can be nasty, and Tsunami will hopefully hit a less expensive port of yours. [Anyone who loses sleep worrying about Bandit Hideout needs to speak to the Monk Psychiatrist. -- ed.] Some personalities also don't like ports: Orochi can destroy any one Port that is controlled by the defender. This doesn't even bow him. Kumo (Experienced) will halt all travel from the Shipping Lanes while it's unbowed.

Kaiu Atrovent
Crab on the seaward end of the Wall

[Additional: Shipping Lanes doesn't really cut it as a good holding in a competitive two-player game. It can't be used effectively (Merchant Caravans aside) until the third turn. Unless it's used in a deck with Silk Works, Shipping Lanes won't be much more than a co-dependent Jade Works. Sure, two of them can crank out a lot of gold, but duel decks that frequently need to spend 12G on single cards tend to perform poorly. Thus, for most serious duel decks, I strongly recommend real gold over Shipping Lanes.

Multiplayer games, however, provide the perfect opportunity for Shipping Lanes to prove itself. When games aren't decided in a handful of turns, decks can include more expensive cards and can afford to wait a few turns before getting their core cards into play. In multiplayer, chain gold is a more reliable resource strategy, so bust out the Pearl Divers and your Heroes of Rokugan set!

So now that you've found a use for your Backgammon doubling die, what's worth spending hundreds of gold on? Geisha Assassin's the first card that springs to mind, and provides a dramatic way to get rid of threats when you've run out of dynasty cards. Out of the Shadows and Levy Troops can provide a hefty amount of force. And if you've gone through the trouble to give a personality an infinite force, why not give her a chunky Ashigaru Levies? For those interested in absurd overkill, try A Gift of Honor or Honor's Cost. And Shipping Lanes is one of few ways to get a Maho-Tsukai into play after an Undead deck's been at work. -- ed.]

Card text copyright FRPG, 1995-2000.
Article text copyright Oliver Volland, 2000, edited by Trevor Stone.

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