I came here initially to read up on the game, and cannot think of a better place (other than FFGs website) to post some common mistakes that I see in my games, in the hopes that new players may read them here and avoid them.
Feel free to add to the list.
Not passing early enough on the first turn.
Spending all of your seven fate on the first turn is a great way to lose in L5R, since you are likely playing characters that cost 4 or 5 in your list, and you want to play those with about 3 fate ideally. Spending all fate means that a large portion of your conflict deck is turned off, and diminishes your bluffing potential. Try to pass early in the hope to get the fate from passing first, so that your buys on the second turn will stick around for several turns.
Bidding 1 on the draw phase on turn 1.
Doing this while your opponent draws 5 will mean that you are playing with your 5 cards versus their 9 cards. The issue here is that the player on 9 cards can easily dominate the first couple of conflicts, and if they win earth against you, you are falling behind in a big way. I don’t recommend this for dishonor or honor rocket either. Those decks still need resources to win the game. The one exception might be Crab, as they can play so much incidental draw that bidding one *might* work out, but that’s still not something I’d recommend to a starting player.
Sending too few characters into a conflict as the attacker.
The game of L5R often lasts about 4 turns. This means that you have 8 conflicts in order to break or be broken on your stronghold. So, a common pitfall is to send a small disposable character to scout your opponent’s province and attempt to break it on a later conflict. This costs one of your 8 conflicts to do, and most opposing provinces that you will face will earn your opponent a card, fate or honor. You should only do this in exceptional situations.
Not playing for the imperial favor early on.
The imperial favor enables powerful cards, but it also gives you the attacker’s advantage when you are defending in the chosen conflict type. This is vastly underrated by newer players. Think of this effect this way: Your opponent will have to spend an additional card to get over your favor’s bonus. Of course, this is also exploitable when you are on the offense.
Not knowing the key cards of your opponent’s faction.
This is the largest hurdle for new players getting into this game. There are cards you need to have in your mind if you do not want to throw away the game by running into one of those clan’s traps. There are enough to warrant a list all of their own. Here is a start.
Assassinate: Every character that costs 2 or less can be killed through assassinate, so do not buy your smaller characters with multiple fate early on when fate is at a premium. Be wary of putting lots of attachments on them because you are setting yourself up a for a massive blow-out. Trading a card and 3 honor for your opponent’s 3 fate spent on a 2 coster is devastating.
Court Games: This is a very common card, and the way to play around it is to send an escort with your character that has high honor. It’s always the affected player that chooses who becomes dishonored, in which case you can choose your low glory character.
Banzai: This card is worded in such a way that you can give up to two characters a +2 bonus, or the same character a +4 bonus. Don’t forget that you can do this. Also of note: You get two opportunities to pay honor, as it is part of the effect of the card.
The provinces: You should make a good effort to learn each of the neutral provinces, in particular Shameful display, Feast or Famine, Pilgrimage and Meditation on the tao. Each of these provinces are very common, and can set up a nasty blow-out for you if you initiate conflicts carelessly. Even more so, learn their element, so that you know which provinces you can rule out.
Way of the crab: Do not play a singular large character against Crab. Try to play multiple small characters. Be aware that this card can be played at any phase in the turn, including dynasty and fate phases, so if you want to be safe, you need to ensure that you have an expendable character around in each phase at each action window. Be wary of the combination of this card with assassinate.
Display of Power: If you thought scouting with a weak character was a bad idea… It could always be worse. The phoenix could have display of power and resolve the ring that you just tried to gain.
Against the Waves: The other signature phoenix card. Any shugenja can be bowed by the phoenix.
Captive Audience: Unicorn, despite having a good set of courtiers, can always turn a political conflict into a military conflict.
Cavalry Reserves: The big event in unicorn that puts 6 cost worth of cavalry characters in play from the discard during a conflict.
Endless plains: Attacking with a singular character is dangerous due to this province’s existence. Try to bring expendable bodies with you.
Way of the scorpion: Their signature card is a good example of what is in store for you. Scorpion can dishonor you pretty much at any time that you get into a fight with them.
I can swim: This is one of the good reasons why you should bid 5 versus scorpion. Any dishonored character can be discarded by I can swim as long as they have the 2 fate, the dishonored character is in a conflict and they have a higher bid on their honor dial.
Forged Edict: Scorpion is one of the factions with an event cancel. It can only be played by dishonoring a friendly courtier. Use this to your advantage, and dishonor their courtiers when the opportunity presents itself.
A fate worse than death: Scorpion’s other tool against big characters. Don’t risk you characters in conflict with them unless if you are fine with getting your best character dishonored, blanked, voided, bowed and removed from the conflict. If you aren’t fine with this, you may try some protection like your own event cancellation, discarding their cards or draining their fate pool.
Calling in favors: For the cost of a fate and a dishonor, Scorpion can steal attachments. Don’t play any that you don’t mind getting stolen.
Restoration of balance: The worst province to attack into in the game. While I’d advise you to bid high against all clans, you may want to modify your bid against dragon because eventually you will get to discard to 4 cards.
Let go: The most common splash in the game. Cheap point-and-click attachment removal with no strings or conditions attached.
Noble Sacrifice: A cheap and effective way to trade an honored crane character (aka pretty much any of them) for a dishonored character of yours.
Magistrate station: The province that lets crane ready any honored character. This is why you don’t do scout attacks against crane. This province should not be allowed to stay unbroken. Attack with the knowledge that you could be enabling them to re-use their characters.
Voice of honor: Cancels any event as long as crane has more honored characters than you do. You can play around this by bringing their characters down to your level, or by honoring your own characters.
Admit defeat: Defending with just one character against crane is how you lose provinces. You should try to include a second character when able.
Nothing for lion. Their tricks are mostly neutral cards like charge and strength boosts. No cards that will blow you out unexpectedly. Lion’s tricks are generally just on the board.