Keyforge – Review
Keyforge is the second of Fantasy Flight’s Unique Games to be released, the first being an exploration game called Discover: Lands Unknown. From the mind of Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, comes this fascinating take on the competitive card game where every single deck contains a unique combination of cards. The almighty algorithm churns out decks, giving each one a unique name and card back that make sure it stands out from the rest.
What was the first deck I cracked open? Glad you asked.
The core of the game revolves around the three houses on your card. The 3 icons on the back indicate which of the 7 houses are represented in my deck, split evenly between the 36 cards present. Each turn you will choose a house, locking you in to only playing and acting with cards of that house. Since there is no card cost you can play all the cards of the house you choose at once, simplifying your decisions whilst expanding your choices.
The game is effectively a race to forge 3 keys – who knew – and the only way to do that is to gain Aember. Some cards will give you this by just being played but creatures in play can also Reap in order to get you a single Aember.
It’s all in the game
Keyforge is an impressive logistical achievement and the random names are pretty amusing, if sometimes a little risque, but that matters not a jot if the game is for naught. I’ve played 3 different decks over several games, and faced off against a wide variety of opponents.
I love the immediacy of being able to crack open a deck, shuffle and play. The barrier for entry to the game is super low and it is very easy to teach: The complexity coming from the cards not the rules. For the tournament I went to I just opened, shuffled and dealt my starting hand -not even bothering to look through the cards before I set out on my first match. Discovering your deck organically like this reminded me of the thrill of opening booster packs, but without the disappointment of getting your 13th copy of a card. Every card in your deck is a tool for you to use, even if you don’t realise it at first, and learning how to use your deck as well as you can is part of the joy of playing Keyforge.
The unique nature of each deck means they feel like they have their own personalities, and like making a new friend you are going to have to get to know them. Each game I’ve played has been exciting with lots of twists and turns as we dance around each other and try to figure out who should take the lead. It’s a really fun part of the game to learn how to use a deck to the best of your ability.
Unlike a more traditional competitive card game, I can’t go home and change cards out. Your mileage will vary a lot depending on the kind of deck you get, and some decks will be more complicated than others. The first deck I bought is definitely my favourite of the three I have, though that may just because it was my first contact with this unusual game.
This is one of the unfortunate elements of the game your only way out of a “bad deck” is to buy another, and that new deck may not suit you either. The good thing is that you can just stick with the deck you have and try and play your way around any obstacles, feeling a great sense of triumph when you rise to the challenge.
I’ve seen a lot of people posting decklists online and asking ‘is this good?’. The answer is no-one really knows and the only way to find out is to play it. Although there will be some cards that emerge as ‘good’, as with any card game, the deck surrounding that card may not be the best for exploiting it.
Despite my enthusiasm for the game I have no massive desire to buy loads of decks. I bought a couple more recently to have a little variety, and it has been good to play different mixes of factions and see new aspects of the game. When it comes to competitive card games I am a much more casual player than I used to be, so I’ll get a lot of mileage out of a single deck, which makes it a great investment financially. Saying that, this game has me excited for tournament play again as there is no need for me to study the meta, so I can just turn up and play.
I think this may be the best thing about Keyforge. While some will get into it heavily, it does not feel like a ‘lifestyle’ game. By this I mean a game like X-wing 2.0, Warhammer or, my previous obsession, Netrunner. These are all excellent games in their own right, but to get the most out of them you really need to invest a large chunk of your life, chronologically and financially. With Keyforge I can attend a tournament and then put the deck away until the next opportunity. It will always be there waiting for me. I can go to sealed events with nothing but a bunch of tokens and just play whatever I get, and that really excites me.
Of course you are going to have more competitive players and we will see ‘serious’ Keyforge players, but that is not where the strength of this game lies.
The low barrier to entry, the thrill of discovering what you deck can do and the joy of being surprised by cards you haven’t seen before has been captured and bottled. Keyforge is a really fun game and I look forward to playing more, and showing it to friends. Will this unlock the future of competitive card games or will we be throwing away the key before long? I don’t know, but I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and I think you should as well.