KeyForge Review and Gameplay Part 1

Do you remember playing Magic: The Gathering? Do you still play it? Do you wish you still played it? Well, there’s a new card game in town and it feels just as satisfying to play as magic and a little fresher too. Created by MTG’s creator, Richard Garfield, and produced by Fantasy Flight Games, KeyForge: Call of the Archons has naturally received a lot of hype in the gaming world.

KeyForge has been out since mid-November, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to the game by a coworker the week it came out. Since I played Magic quite a bit as a teen, this game immediately sucked me in. Check out this short introductory video below and read on to learn more!

So, what is KeyForge?

It’s a two-player card game where each is completely unique from any other. Each deck is created using an algorithm that takes cards from the core set and put them together in unique combinations to form a unique deck with a unique deck name. KeyForge is similar to magic in that there are creatures, actions, and artifacts, but different in that there are no actual mana costs to playing cards. Instead, each deck is comprised of three houses and on your turn, you must call one house and only play cards from that house. In the world of KeyForge, there are six possible houses: Brobnar, Dis, Logos, Mars, Shadows, and Untamed. Each game takes about 45 minutes.

How do you win?

The goal of the game is to forge three keys before your opponent. You forge a key by collecting six Æmber, which is like the currency of the game. There are several ways to obtain æmber; creatures can collect it by “reaping,” some cards allow you to gain æmber just by playing them, and others are actions that require certain conditions to be met to gain æmber. Of course, the game is about a lot more than just collecting your own æmber and forging keys, it’s also about stopping your opponent from beating you to it!

Just like there are several ways you can gain æmber, there are also several ways that you can prevent your opponent from forging keys. For example, some creatures have abilities that make your opponents keys cost more æmber to forge, while other creatures and action cards allow you to capture or steal æmber from your opponent.

What makes this game fun?

For me, one of the best parts about this game is that you can go out with a buddy, buy a few decks, and get started. Of course, there are others who really enjoy the deck building aspect of MTG, but KeyForge allows you to jump right into learning how to play the game. You can even register your deck through a QR code in the KeyForge app and play opponents online using the same physical decks you bought.

In theory, each deck is supposed to be balanced, which makes each game close and exciting. I can say from first-hand experience that most of my games are close; many times my opponent or I have won by a single turn! There are some decks that seem to work better than others, but I have also seen decks that I didn’t expect to be good blow other decks out of the water.

I was able to pick up the game relatively quick. After the first game with my coworker, I had a good handle on the basics, but it took a couple games more for everything to gel. I liked that as I played more with a certain deck I began to better understand how the cards in it worked together. Some houses and strategies became more appealing to me over time.

The last thing that makes Keyforge really fun is that it attempts to mitigate any one player’s ability to have the most powerful deck. KeyForge’s unique decks guard against one form of netdecking, which is when people who can afford it go out and buy cards to replicate a strong deck they found online. While people can still buy and sell full KeyForge decks online and manually enter decks into online deck analyzers to see if they will be competitive, there’s no real guarantee that the deck they buy on eBay will be more powerful than others for long. KeyForge has an answer for decks that become too powerful. Each deck can be registered in an app and tracked so decks that play in tournaments and win too much can be handicapped. This occurs through a system called “chains.” When a player has a certain number of chains they are not allowed to draw as many cards each turn as their opponents. At the moment, this system is still a work in progress, and right now you can play online with decks you don’t actually own, but I like the direction KeyForge is moving.

I like to think of KeyForge as a more socialist approach to Magic. In reality, people with more money are going to buy more KeyForge decks to get good ones. They are still going to win more. But the creators of KeyForge have tried very hard to create a system of balance, which in the end makes for more competitive, riveting, and fun games for everyone.

If you’re interested and you want to learn more about what makes for a good KeyForge deck check out Part 2 of my review. In the article, I’ll share tools for assessing the strength of your decks and show you common card synergies in a couple videos!

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