Review: Keyforge

Keyforge has been a massive card playing game that hit the market late last year (2018). With the entry cost relatively low (~$10 for a deck), it’s an appealing competitive card playing game to play with friends and family. This is the second game from Fantasy Flight games using their randomized game creation logic, the first being Discover: Lands Unknown. Fantasy Flight has developed a system to create 100% unique decks, including the name of the deck. There is card reuse, but no 2 decks are ever the same. Pretty cool right?

Now I’m sure you’re thinking, this is just another play to get in the Magic the Gathering market and try to gain a foothold. I thought the same thing, but while it does share some similarities (Creatures, Events, Actions, etc.) the beauty of this game is that it takes out one of the things I dislike about Magic, the deck building. I don’t have the time, money, nor energy to research a deck and purchase cards to make a competitive deck for Magic. Don’t get me wrong, I like Magic, but to be good at it takes a commitment. Whereas with Keyforge, you buy a deck and you’re up and running.

The premise of the game is relatively simple, you are fighting against an opposing faction to gather Aember, with which you can use to forge keys. The first player to forge 3 keys wins. Sounds pretty easy right? Well that’s where the random deck generation comes into play. Some decks focus on field control (getting creatures into play to prevent Aember gathering through the reaping action), Aember control (Either generating Aember or stealing it), or general shenanigans (discarding, locking up Aember, etc.) Every deck plays different, and to be good, you need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your deck.

One of the questions I hear from people when I’m either playing with someone else or when introducing the game is how they balance the decks. What keeps a card to be OP and have a guaranteed winner? Fantasy Flight implemented a chains mechanism, a way of punishing the player who puts a powerful card into the field. This causes the player to draw fewer cards, and in a game where the cards in your hand can make or break you, it’s a pretty big punishment for a few rounds. And from what I’ve seen, it balances things out.

Now that I’ve run you through the essentials, there is one more area to cover, which I personally think it’s pretty cool, Houses. Each deck will have cards from 3 different factions or houses. On your turn, you can only choose one faction to play and use cards for that turn. This requires a whole set of strategic steps to get your hand and field of play ready to really have an effective turn. And while you’re waiting for your opponent to play, your plan can change quickly. You may be gearing up for a super effective turn, but your opponent may have wiped out most of the creatures from that house and probably stole the Aember you were planning to forge a key.

I know much of that can sound frustrating, but from my experience, much of the game will play out based on the draw, and no 2 games play out the same way. I’ve played against my son, my brother and a friend from work and every game is nail-biting to the end.

Sold on the game but want to know what’s next? Want to get into the action and start playing? Unfortunately, as of this writing, decks are hard to come by. I’ve hit up my usual shops as well as a few out of town shops while traveling and was unable to find a deck. You could turn to eBay, where the 4 Horsemen deck is selling for a decent amount ($45 at last check). But I would encourage you to find a Keyforge tournament night at your local shop. If they don’t have decks, more than likely someone will be happy to lend one to you to get a feel. Also, there is a starter set that can sometimes be tracked down with has markers, 2 unique decks and 2 starter learning decks. I had the pleasure to compete in a tournament in Arlington, TX a few weeks ago and it was a blast. The strangest thing I find with this game is whether you win or lose, it’s still a match. Which is a unique thing in table top gaming. There have been may matches against a coworker where we spend 15-20 minutes discussing thee game and the strength and weaknesses of a deck.

All in all. A great game, a familiar mechanic, but a truly unique experience.

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