Obviously the game just got a huge shake-up with the special card packs. While the Temple card pack builds on our already established themes and abilities while offering new options, the generic pack gives a lot of new... madness to try out!
I'm not writing a full review here, just going to go through a few of the cards I think stand out in both packs.
Kenko, the North Tree
This is a massive improvement over the old Kenko and I have been using Kenko from the release of the starter set right up to this years Grand Masters! Kenko is a Temple staple with his option for damage output and good defense.
New Kenko retains the exact same offense with +1 Str and Fists of Iron but also gained a lot of good Defensive tech, far outweighing his old feat. Toughness 1 is comparable to Armour 3 anyway and a heal on top of that makes The North Tree very durable.
Toughness should also be favoured over armour due to the Earth Kami. Kenko can now enjoy Toughness 1 and Armour 2, which is significant.
I would be happy just with those new options, but when using peasants, Kenko does double duty. Leadership (As well as cancelling some models Cowardly trait) is going to help those 1 Ki pesants but Inspiration is one of the best feats in the game. We can apply this to at least 2 models to get Melle Skill 5 or to toughen up the "Combat pesants" like Kintaru and Kaito. Kaito in particular looks good with 4 melee dice and powerful attack.
As a side note, I really like how this doesn't totally replace the old Kenko. We now have a choice between the two and you can customise your list with which one you take.
Kami of the Suiden
A lot of people glossed over this model when reading it, look at what happens when it does a melee exchange...
Put all your dice in attack:
They hit you for 1 (Durable) the opponent is now slow
You hit them with immobilise attack, they are now immobilised and your attack causes them to be held!
If you can't beat them up with something else after that, something is very wrong!
Hotai's Coin / Hotei's Blessing
These are much better for Temple than for most other factions as we have very few native re-rolls.
All those factions blessed with Martial Prowess, or SMS with its re-rolls galore don't really need this but for Temple, re-rolls are going to be a nice addition.
This could even stop Akari from dying every single game! In fact, since three out of four of our Master Monks are a bit fragile to say the least, Hotai's Coin could be a nice addition to make them a bit more survivable.
Ouch! This is going to hurt Temple of Ro-Kan, its almost specifically tailored to be Temple-hate!
If your opponent has trouble with Temple, this may start to show up, be prepared to play a turn without Ki!
This is an awesome card. Combined with the existing Pungi Pit Trap you now have options for which trap will work best. Use them early, use them often!
This is interesting. Im still on the fence but if you use Ekusa, you likely want this. Ekusa and Aiko often have nothing to do with their spare action (Ekusa often does a complex action or CoE, then has no use for his second, Aiko has enough Ki to give 1 blessing then nothing to do) so this could be awesome for them, especially Ekusa, he can CoE and gain Ki for channeling every turn!
Needs more play I think to see its potential.
Patient Mantis Stance
This on a tireless model is pretty cool. Combo it with Elixir of Vigor to wait then move into melee and be tireless with unblockable all day long...
Even without tireless though, having a model get one melee action with unblockable is going to help sometimes.
I may end up using this even if it doesn't quite fit the list I use because, like Thousand Winds Kick (Which is a cool flying kick), I really like the imagery behind it.
Also both of these abilities dn't cost Ki to activate, which I really appreciate.
The "Monk" Theme. This is actually really close to the list I was playing anyway.
You lose out on a large component of support with the Rice Farmers Faith ability not being allowed but you gain a lot of channel and leech so you can still optimise Ki spending.
A free Kami is a nice touch and also makes up for some loss of Peasants with a bit of support.
The main thing here though is the +1 Iron Mind. With Cult sitting at the top of the games tree right now, Ki feats are a thing. Since they all have Force of Will, getting a few Monks to Iron Mind 2 and all to Iron Mind 1 at least is a huge bonus against that faction.
This is likely what my competitive list will become, in fact my first try is:
Kenko, The North Tree
I have some left for some special cards. This theme also gives access to Hotaru, Flames Fury which may well be worth considering. Dodge is a nice trait.
Bastions of the Mountain
The "Peasant" theme. This one is the more interesting of the two, it is not something we have really been able to do before but this is quite a powerful theme overall. If you play this you will want to buy two of the same trap cards. that way you will have either kind of trap available most times you need them. For example I buy 2 Rope Traps, I don't have a Pit trap available so gain one for free on turn 1, I will use one (Because its silly not to!) and get one next turn too. I always have the option of either trap for most of the game.
This theme also gives access to the second bull, Mura no Musuko. This is an excelent addition but buy a Kawa no Rojin first. I would have both though at 50 Rice. If nothing else they add to your melee ability with both having brutal, armour piercing and +1 Melee Strength but the buffs offered by both of these are essential in making the pesants able to stand up to the other factions best models.
I think for the same reason Hisao will be essential and I think Ashinaga Tenaga should also help.
The Fishermen of the Shiromizu may even make an appearance, for 3 ricean inspirational ranged attack and some protection for your other mdels is reasonable.
Note you can also take Kami, this can make Kaito a monster! Its easy for him to gain Toughness (2) and Armour (2), then on top of this he can have inspiration and whatever other buffs he needs.
Combine all these buffs with the control aspect of the traps, Quagmire and the net from Ashinaga Tenaga and Kaito's tilled field this seems like an interesting, but challenging list to play. I think it will be hard to get the combos right to buff the models who will need it during the turn, if you give inspiration or extra Ki to the wrong model for example, you will be wasting multiple models special abilities and be woefully unable to compete with other factions combat models.
However remember you can still use Yokai so Kyuubi for example may be a good buy as an independant model who needs considerably less support.
My first thought:
2x Fisherman of Shiromizu
Kawa no Rojin
Mura no Musuko
Possibly drop 1 Fisherwoman for some special cards.
So these are some of my thoughts, this doesn't even include my favourite card and on top of this we got the Oki-Shisa which I look forward to seeing Grand Master Chris use soon.
Please add more thoughts, this is a big realease and we need to pool some experiences together to see all of its potential.