KeyForge by Richard Garfield: Welcome to the Crucible

Good Richard Garfield returns to the charge

In case you don't know who I'm talking about it means you've never heard of Magic: The Gathering. The father of the best-selling trading card game in the world offers us his new creature: KeyForge: Call of the Archons.
It is a new concept game where the original aspect consists in the total absence of deckbuilding. In all CCG that have occurred over the years, one of the mechanics that could not miss was the customization of the game decks. We have always been able to choose which cards from our collection to include in our decks in order to adapt to the metagame of the moment. In Keyforge instead you buy random, pre-built decks, impossible to modify, therefore it is not a question of a GCC, nor of a LCG, but of a new genre:  UDG aka Unique Deck Game.


The setting, as often happens in these cases, is little more than an excuse to make sense of the game mechanics. At the center of the universe is a planet, the Crucible, where seven distinct and characterized races live:

  1. Brobnar: big and bad warriors little inclined to diplomacy, in short, the Klingons of the situation;
  2. Logos: scientists who use knowledge and technology as a winning weapon;
  3. Shadows: dark elves specializing in theft and killing techniques;
  4. Dis: Ugly and evil demons who love destruction;
  5. Mars: the aliens in their classic “little green men” version;
  6. Sanctum: could they miss the paladins armored to the teeth? Of course not;
  7. Savages: a nice mix of animals and the like, how to say…. a bunch of savages in fact;

The players are called upon to impersonate the Archons, powerful entities that will exploit the races present on the planet to get hold of the mineral known as Amber, necessary for the construction of the keys capable of opening the Crypts of the Crucible, ancient places of knowledge and power.

Unique elements

Each deck includes 3 random factions of the seven available, divided into 12 cards for each of the houses present plus a summary card that shows us the name of each of the 36 cards present, the unique name of the deck, a QR code and an alphanumeric code both unique . Every deck in the world is only and numerically it would be possible to reach the paradoxical number of 104 quadrillion different decks for this first release which consists of 370 cards.

All the magic of Keyforge resides in the algorithm responsible for generating the decks: not only must it take care of giving a unique name to the deck and create an equally unique back for the cards, but also of building the deck so that it is playable by creating a sort of synergy between the cards . It goes without saying that unlike the classic card games we are used to, there will be no buying and selling of single cards, but of entire decks. Obviously, given the random nature of the decks, it is obvious to think that a portion of the printed decks will be much stronger than the others, but the good Richard has also thought of this by introducing another new mechanic, namely the Chain. If a deck wins too much during competitive events, it will be given penalties, namely the Chain (in the European Constraints version). For each level of Chain assigned to the deck, the owner player will draw fewer than normal cards than his opponent at the end of his turn. After having drawn, at the end of the turn, the number of Chain it will progressively decrease until it returns (if the game does not end sooner) to zero.

Considering how important it is to have a large number of cards in hand, certainly the Chain they play a fundamental role in the balance of the game.
Last unique aspect of the game lies in declaring each turn which house we will use of the three available in our deck. Once the house has been declared we will be able to play, discard, activate only cards related to our choice. All other cards will not be used that turn (there are some cards that bypass this rule, however).

Basics of the game

The goal of the game is to forge 3 keys before the opponent.
To bring home the victory you need to collect the game currency ie Amber.
The Round is obviously divided into phases:

  1. Forge a key: If a player has enough Amber, by default 6 units, they MUST forge a key. If he forges his third key he wins the game;
  2. Declare a House: The player declares one of the three houses present in his deck and can only use / play / discard cards belonging to that house;
  3. Draw from your Archive: The player can decide to take his entire Archive in hand (not just a part). The mechanic of the Archive allows during the game to create a reserve of cards detached from the rest of the board, and only some cards give access to this ability;
  4. Play, use or discard cards belonging to the chosen House: In this phase we can play from our hand all the cards we want belonging to the chosen house (there are still cards that allow us to bypass this limit), activate creatures or artifacts already played in previous turns , always belonging to the chosen house, or discard cards from the hand of the same house.
    If one of the cards played has one or more symbols Amber the player immediately gets that number of Ambers in his supply;
  5. Making the cards ready ("Uncork" if you want): You proceed to make your cards active on the board;
  6. Replenish your hand up to the current maximum limit (normally six, but can change): You reset your hand until you have 6 in your hand (standard value without Chain or other effects);

For now there are 4 types of cards in Keyforge:

  • Artifacts
  • Improvements
  • Actions
  • Creature

Artifacts and Creatures suffer from the classic "summoning sickness" and come into play exhausted. The creatures that enter the table (excluding the first) must be placed next to one already present, it is not possible to insert a creature between two other creatures already placed. Many cards can have bold effects, here are some examples:

To collect

Cards with the Play ability must immediately resolve the text after they are played. Creatures can be used for several purposes:

  • Any creature can become depleted to get an amber (harvest);
  • Any creature can become exhausted to fight;

On each creature card 2 values ​​are printed, on the left we find the Power, which indicates both the damage the card produces in combat and its life total, and to the right the Armor that's the number of damage the creature can nullify that turn. Armor is a value that is reset at the end of each turn, while life points are not recovered except through the use of special cards or effects. Once the target creature is chosen, damage is dealt to both of them simultaneously, based on their Strength value, in the form of damage counters. If the damage is enough to kill a creature, it leaves the game and goes into the discard pile. Any creature can become exhausted to perform aAction if present in the text of the card.

Artifacts work the same way but cannot be used either to collect or to fight but to activate powerful effects or gain bonuses (e.g. increase the cost of building your opponent's keys).

Composition of the bouquets

On average each deck should have 24 common, 9 uncommon and 3 rare cards, it is not unusual to see completely different compositions. There is a fourth category of cards called Special which if present in the deck is necessarily paired with other cards. This is because they are elements that go into combos with other cards and the algorithm makes sure that the various combos work. The last type is perhaps the nicest invention of the good Richard or cards Maverick. A letter Maverick it is nothing more than a card with the house of belonging different from the original one. These types of cards can surprise the opponent because over time players will learn all the effects that a house can play, but a Maverick  can catch you unprepared.

Game formats

The competitive game currently has 2 formats:

  1. Archon:
    You bring your own deck from home and play with it;
  2. Sealed:
    All players open a sealed deck and play with it;

There are 5 really intriguing variants of which you can read the description on the FFG site dedicated to KeyForge

App to register decks and site

Together with the game, the official apps have been launched for all mobile systems (Android and iOS) plus a website. Through these tools (after creating an FFG account) you will have to register your decks. With the mobile apps it will be sufficient to frame the QR code of your unique deck to register it in your profile (the QR code is placed on the summary card of each deck), while on the site you will have to enter the unique alphanumeric code of your deck (always present on the card summary). Every time your deck will participate in an official event, the data will be updated and you will always know how many games you have won or lost with that deck. Tracking your wins if your deck wins too much could suffer a penalty Chain for future events.

What to buy

The game, published by FFG and distributed by Asmodee, came out on November 15 with one Starter Set, already sold out almost everywhere (reissue is expected in January), and single decks. Inside the Starter you will find a short game manual, game tokens (Amber, Damage etc.), special cards to take into account the Chain, status cards for creatures (eg Stunned), 2 non-unique decks present in all Starter, useful to follow the game tutorial and 2 unique decks that you can use in competitive play, all at a cost of € 39.90. Single decks are sold for 10 euros.
But rest assured: you can also just buy single decks, bypassing it Starter Set, and use any other marker in your possession to play, the important thing is to download the rules from the site Asmodee and read it thoroughly before playing your first game.

Game considerations

Clearly Keyforge it is still to be discovered, just a week after its launch it is impossible to understand all the subtleties and synergies present between the various houses. However, we can tell you something from our gaming experience. It's damn fun!

You want it for the originality, or for the fact that there is no real concept of destination (even if over time the hunt for the "Triptych of the most relieved houses" will certainly begin), it is still a kind of Heartstone played in the dark ... and yet ... the "certainty" of not knowing what the opponent will play makes it very enjoyable. The fact of starting an event Sealed in a flash, compared to other games, it is a remarkable feature, you buy a deck and start the tournament, without many frills. The real added value of this game lies in learning to use your deck to the fullest, trying to grasp every nuance, game after game. Equally true is that it remains a game made to earn, so if you want to be part of the competitive circuit, you will always be in search of the strongest deck and if you are lucky enough to find it sooner or later you will run into the fateful Chain which will make the deck unplayable in the long run, forcing you to search for a new deck to continue your career.
As we have seen so far, the deck generation algorithm seems to behave fairly well but we have noticed some really weak decks, with lower chances of winning than the basic decks present in the Starter Set.
Since there is no meta, the knowledge of all the cards present in this first set is a much more important requirement than in the old concept games; normally the competitive environment of the "old" CCG tends to focus only on the most effective cards leaving us with a handful of elements to keep an eye on, in KeyForge each card can be part of a deck and knowing them all is the only way to be prepared for what your opponent can do. On balance it is a game that all card game lovers should try at least once, should you end up in the vortex of Crucible you too, as happened to us, will have nothing to regret.

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