KeyForge Call of the Archons could be the next big thing in Collectible Card Games (CCGs) / Trading Card Games (TCGs). It's an incredibly unique concept by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) and the game's creator Richard Garfield. Richard Garfield created Magic the Gathering, the CCG that has inspired every modern CCG since. KeyForge is different from regular CCGs/TCGs where you buy cards through starter decks (generally fixed contents packs to get players started in the game) and booster packs (randomised card contents to build collections) and more recently Living Card Games (LCGs - also produced by FFG where all packs contains fixed cards containing all required copies of the cards, like the Legend of the Five Rings LCG). KeyForge breaks this mold and is part of FFGs new Unique Game line.
The Unique Game line is a selection of titles that contain products with unique contents, which means that the pack that you open will be one of a kind and no one will have the same copy as you. For KeyForge, that means that each deck is completely unique and while other decks may be similar, there will always be a few cards different. KeyForge decks contain 36 cards from three of the seven Houses. Each House has its own abilities and playstyle, so each combination of houses will play slightly different. The decks are completely set and can't be altered (each deck comes with an Identity Card, which lists all the cards contained), so if you want a particular deck, you're going to have to search for it.
Games of KeyForge itself require players to gather AEmber, which can be done by using your creatures in play, stealing from your opponent's pool or as rewards from cards and actions. At the start of your turn, if you have six AEmber, then you forge a key and when a player forges their third key, they automictically win.
Game turns follow an interesting order, by readying (untapping or straightening) their cards at the end of their turn and then drawing up to six cards (the default hand size). It is very different in than in other games, especially Magic the Gathering where you draw and ready your cards at the start of your turn. This is because all of the actions that you take are in your own turn, so exhausting your opponent's cards so they can use them in their turn, must be done in your turn, which would be redundant if they readied their cards at the start of their turn.
Card playing is also a very interesting concept in KeyForge, there is no casting cost for anything, each turn you select which of the three houses that are available for your deck will be your active house for the turn. For the remainder of your turn, you can only play cards and use cards in play from that house. There's no limit for the amount of cards you can play, as long as they all belong to that house (unless a card specifically lets you use a card from another house). This gives some incredible options and combos with some deep card synergies.
We will cover the rules in more details in a complete article later, this is just to give you a basic understanding before we talk about our first impressions.
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We received a KeyForge Call of the Archons Starter Set. The set contains a quickstart rule sheet, two pre-made and set Starter Decks (for learning the game, these two decks are the same in every Starter Set), 2 Unique KeyForge decks (boxed inside the Starter Set exactly as if you would buy them individually) and a set of cards and tokens that are used throughout the game.
We played several games with the two set starter packs, Miss Oynx Censorius (Brobnar, Dis, Shadows) and Radiant Argus the Supreme (Logos, Sanctum, Untamed). Both decks are designed with some great synergies between the houses and both decks play very differently. Argus is able to smash loads of creatures down with Untamed, and Logos gives the deck amazing card drawing abilities. Sanctum are there as the muscle, to protect the weaker, but valuable creatures from the other houses. For Onyx, both Shadows and Dis are able to steal AEmber from your opponent, which they do very well, they both also have some great control cards to stop your opponent's creatures getting out of hand. Brobnar are there as the muscle, for the larger creatures Shadows and Dis might not be able to deal with.
Both starter decks are very different in play style, and highlight incredibly well two different approaches to play in KeyForge. Argus wants to spam Untamed creatures on the board, whilst using Logos' great drawing mechanics to have some very active turns. Onyx wants you to build up large stores of AEmber, so she can steal them with Shadows and Dis and rarely wants to actually gather AEmber with her own creatures.
Our favorite card combination from the starter decks are Library Access and Wild Wormhole. Library Access allows you to draw a card each time you play a card for one turn, Wile Wormhole allows you to play the top card of your deck. Playing these cards one after the other, means that you're drawing two cards, plus playing the top card of your deck (drawing one for Wild Wormhole, plus another for the card it plays). As you would have had to select Logos as your active house that turn, any Logos cards you draw can then also be played, along with any other Logos cards already in your hand (which will result in your drawing more cards if played).
The two Unique Decks that we received are a different story though. We opened Warboss Typhoon (Brobnar, Mars and Untamed) and Augustus, Alarmed Labs Archivist. Both decks are very slow and have minimal synergies. Augustus' deck feels like it really struggles to get going, it has some great combo cards in Library Access and Wild Wormhole as above, but the rest of the deck doesn't play well into that speed. The Brobnar cards require a lot of fighting to earn AEmber with them. Mars gives the deck some very nice control cards and Brobnar also brings in their own fiery wrath, but it never feels like it's quite working together.
Warboss Typhoon's Brobnar cards can be devastating though, it contains two copies of Gauntlet of Command that lets you ready and fight with a creature, which means you can use it to Reap (gather AEmber) or Fight and then ready it and fight again. Combined with a few card synergies that let you return creatures to hand, you can effectively fight, return the creature to you hand, which removes the damage from them, play the creature again and ready it with the Gauntlet of Command to fight again. Like Augustus above though, the deck never feels like it gets going compared to the two pre-made starter decks.
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We've had a blast exploring the four decks we've started with and even though we aren't feeling the two Unique decks, it's been very interesting playing and learning the decks, seeing what synergies work and which don't. There are a few plays that we haven't covered and we'll cover in more details in future articles, but we wanted this to just be a brief insight into our experiences so far.
I know what type of deck I want to play, and which houses to look out for when I open future packs and that's what's going to be most interesting about KeyForge, tracking down the decks that suit my playstyle. All the cards are numbered, so eventually we'll know what all the cards will do, and even though we won't be able to construct our own decks officially, the sweet perfect deck will be out there, if only we can find it.
FFG have a full program of preview events and organised play planned for KeyForge and we will be covering it a lot more with more decks, a full KeyForge introduction and tactics breakdowns. If there is any content you would like to see, please let us know in the comments below.
**Writers note - We have since opened more Unique Decks and drawn some pretty great decks with some great synergies and combos; it appears we were unlucky with our draws straight out of the Starter Set. We will give a breakdown of our next four decks, along with what makes them good decks and what to look out for when opening your own decks in future articles.
This copy of KeyForge Call of the Archons Starter Set was provided by FFG / Asmodee UK.
What do you think of the KeyForge Unique Deck idea? Have you tried KeyForge yet? What did you think? How well do you think the market will react to the unique deck concept? What is your ideal three house team? Let us know in the comments below.