It seems like no matter what Richard Garfield does, he can’t escape his penchant for creating card games. The man who invented Magic: The Gathering has gone on to invent Netrunner, a cyberpunk card game with a rather rabid fanbase, and now has partnered with Fantasy Flight Games again to create Keyforge, a very unique card game.
The last section of that paragraph should be taken literally, by the way. Keyforge is literally a unique game, but not in the same sense as Discover was. Firstly, it’s a card game that is completely devoid of deck-building, and secondly, it’s a card game where each deck is completely unique and distinct from every other deck in the game.
The lack of deck-building in Keyforge might come as a shock to some people, especially die-hard card game players. Instead of building your own deck, you buy a deck with a unique name and list of cards, pre-made. Each deck uses the same pool of cards and features 3 of 7 houses, each with their own themes and mechanics.
Obviously, while the name and exact makeup of each Keyforge deck is unique, the cards used are taken from the same pool of 370 cards. The chances are that if you get your hands on a few different decks, then you’re going to become familiar with many of the cards used in each deck, so it is possible to at least get a handle on how the game works.
The lack of deck-building might be seen as a negative by a lot of players, but in our experience, it ended up being a positive aspect. One of the huge problems that a lot of trading and collectable card games have is that they end up becoming insanely expensive. As more and more people play, cards become harder and harder to source, and cards become sought after for their power and, therefore, command higher and higher prices.
On top of these issues, there are also numerous problems to do with accessibility for newer players and an inability to just set down and play a few games. Keyforge manages to dispense with all of these issues in a single move. Since all players are playing with pre-constructed decks, there is little issue with balance and no-one can pay for better cards, meaning that richer players gain no particular advantage.
Despite the deck-building removing a huge barrier of entry for new players, the mechanics can take a little getting used to, especially for people not used to card games. Your field basically functions like a battlefield, with a frontline for your creatures and a back row for items. On each turn you choose one of your 3 houses and can play any number of cards in your hand that belong to the same house, as well as using any cards on the field from the same house.
The use of houses to limit which cards can be played or used makes for a nice change from the way most card games balance their gameplay. Instead of limiting available slots on the board or the number of resources available on each turn, your limitations are defined by your own choices. At the start of each turn, you have to weigh up the board state and the cards you have available and choose which house will currently serve you the best.
The houses element of Keyforge makes the game feel much more tactical. You have to really think about which house is your best option. Maybe you have a killer creature on the board that will help you approach a victory quicker, but you have a great card in your hand that you need to get onto the field. You really have to weigh up the options between getting new cards onto the field and using the cards you already have in play to further your goals.
Speaking of which, your goal is pretty simple: You have to try and construct 3 keys using amber tokens (amber isn’t spelled this way, but let’s face it, it’s not worth trying to insert the weird symbol when you pronounce the word ‘amber’ anyway.). At the beginning of each turn, if you have the right number of these tokens, you automatically create a key, and the first player to get all 3 is the winner.
This means that you don’t technically need to engage in combat at all to win, but often times combat will help you either by giving you tokens or by preventing your opponent from doing the same. That said, Keyforge isn’t without its flaws. There are no different game formats or rules variants to keep things interesting with repeated play, and hardcore card game players will probably find the experience too shallow to keep them interested with no deck-building or extra styles of play.
Designer: Richard Garfield
Publisher: Asmodee, Asterion Press, Fantasy Flight Games, Rebel
Release Date: 2018