Review - Keyforge
Keyforge Review – Early Impressions
2 Players, 30 Min / Game, Unique Deck Card Game
Keyforge is what FFG calls a unique deck card game with the premise of having only unique, complete decks for sale that can’t be altered in anyway basically omitting any deckbuilding. But since every deck is unique from a staggering amount of possibilities of combinations the game promises to offer a unique experience every time you play.
While that premise is interesting, it’s not enough to make a good game if the mechanics aren’t fun and well designed. I approached the game without having read any reviews, nor knowing the rules and got into it very quick:
- The Goal is to forge 3 Keys before your opponent does.
- To forge a key, you have to spend 6 Ember (the game’s only currency) at the start of your turn.
- Ember is acquired simply by playing cards over the course of the game or by manipulating ember that is already in the game by stealing, capturing or making your opponent losing it.
This is all straightforward enough, but what really raised my eyebrows about the game itself was a couple core concepts:
- Cards have no cost whatsoever to play, you can play as many as you want.
- You will always draw up to 6 cards at the end of your turn and therefore are incentivized to actually play your cards if they change the boardstate in your favour as you will draw a new one.
- Your deck consists of 3 different factions and at the start of your turn you declare which faction you want to use for the turn. For the remainder of the turn you can only play, discard and interact with cards of that house on your side.
- Players can’t be attacked, only their creatures.
It’s hard to convey in a written review what this means when you’re actually playing - but you are facing new problems you never knew you had in a card game. Since you almost always start your turn with 6 or more cards they will be in an uneven ratio of houses. For instance 3 HELIOS, 2 LOGOS, and maybe 1 DIS - now your dis card reads like this:
“Destroy all Creatures”, a very powerful card that normally costs a lot of mana in other games, here it’s free. You can just play it, and wipe the board no strings attached but then my turn would be over because I have no other cards that are from the same house. Now you can hold on to the card and hope that you draw other DIS creatures, but in order to do that you have to play other houses because you can’t discard or interact with cards that are from a different house than the one you announced.
Or, I have a good hand of Logos creatures but I already have 3 Helios creatures out, if I play the logos creatures I can’t use my Helios creatures that are already out because they are not from the house that I just announced. This is problematic because creatures that are ready and could attack for instance also could just “reap”. Reaping generates an ember that is used for winning the game, and you simply tap any creature to do so. (6 per Key)
You’re constantly facing difficult decisions from turn to turn which these core concepts introduce, in all my games I never had a moment where I felt “there’s nothing my opponent can do now”.
Without going to much into details there is a ton of mechanics that Garfield fit into this game that just seem to work very well together. I’m glad to report that so far I think the game works extremely smooth, clocks in about 20-30 minutes between experienced card gamers and is a lot of fun to play.
The fact that you have randomized decks adds a bit to the organized chaos and I’m eager to see what the community does with it and wether it will be a liability rather than an exciting feature because there will be decks with stronger powerlevels than others. So far, it’s not the selling point for Keyforge for me. The mechanics of the game however are very exciting, especially for seasoned veterans that don’t shy away from a challenge. You can’t rely on a netlist from other players, no one can give you a manual for your deck since it’s unique. You cannot just buy your way into a specific deck.
This is the perfect recipe for an exciting tournament structure with lots and lots of replayability. Even random draft tournaments where everybody gets a random deck assigned seem to naturally just work here as the interactions between decks is so extreme.
In conclusion I’m a bit conflicted on who this appeals to, in it’s appearance it looks like a casual game but there is a very solid card game as expected in there that possibly rivals the big brothers in skill level even though it doesn’t look like it on first sight. On the other hand there is no deck building which for me is an essential part of playing card games, but you definitely have an advantage if you can spot combos and unusual card interactions on the go, a thing deck builders can do well.
Also the word "Meta" means something different than in any other game possibly. Knowing every card may help you but not nearly as much as in other games as you simply don't know wether your oponent is playing it. This is a huge plus to casual gamers that want to just sit down and play and not get roflstomped by cards everyone seems to play.
I'm pretty indifferent about the card art, it looks like the current run off the mill fortnite / hearthstone style that's everywhere. I’m also unsure HOW different that the decks will play if we have dozens of them without completely screwing with the power level of them. Balance is a big question mark here for me still, but I’m glad to report that the piloting skill of a deck still is by far and away the most important thing to win a game.
Keyforge is odd, new and refreshing, it will probably not replace my staple cardgames because it doesn’t fight for the spots they have taken, it is somewhere in a weird spot that feels just right. Stuff dies left and right constantly, hillarious combinations happen every other turn and i had many "wow" moments.
And hey, it’s a lot of fun to play for a very low entry cost. 1 Coreset (that includes randomized decks) and 13.50 for decks afterwards will drive a lot of people to it and I can’t wait to see what my hardcore cardgame buddies think of it. At the very least you have to try it for it’s unique mechanics if you are a serious card gamer, you have not played anything like it.
Keyforge is announced for Q4 / 2018 and you can test the game @ wellplayed already with proxy decks that are free to use in the store by Visitors.