So Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight Games are releasing a card game called Keyforge, colon no one ever gives a damn what happens after the colon.
It’s your standard, proto-Magic: the Gathering game. I guess when you invent the Customizable Card Game genre, people will care about what comes after the colon.
You play creatures and artifacts, tap them to attack and work to get enough points to win the game. It’s not a knock-off and I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it is. Creatures tap for points(amber) and they attack one another to stop your opponents from getting points. The rock/paper/scissors interaction of Magic removal is one of my complaints with it and I like this system. In the Battletech CCG, anything could be attacked—even ‘event’ cards.
Here’s all the tokens and accessories. Man, I hope that’s all of them.
You use amber to forge up to three keys—hence the name—and the third one wins you the game. It’s similar to Magic’s life system, but it’s probably a bit more interactive; the rules extensively cover creatures temporarily stealing amber and some cards’ effects depend on which of your keys have been forged. I prefer the card-based progress systems of Pokemon and Duel Masters, but that interactivity is good.
The chains system is interesting, if widgety. Every six, or fraction of six, chains you have reduces your hand size by one. You gain them from some cards and through an optional handicap system. You lose one a turn. It mirrors Magic’s ability to pay life for effects and also other metagame mechanics like poison and energy. Keyforge’s chains are more interactive and more compelling.
There’s a battle line, where new creatures are added to the left or right of your current creatures. Splash, swap, and taunt abilities make use of this by affecting, moving, or protecting creatures depending on where they are in the battle line and which creatures are adjacent to them. A fascinating twist.
Cards caring about where they physically are on the table is an untapped design space.
The second-most curious thing about Keyforge is the casting system. Magic uses a system of 5 different lands, with a limit of one land per turn to limit the power of spells a player can cast at once, available strategies, and flexibility. White Wizard Games’ Epic, which feels a lot like Magic, uses spells that are either free or cost a single coin that each player gets at the start of their turn. Either one spell with a cost or any number of free spells.
Keyforge lets you play any number of spells as long as they belong to the same house.
And that leads us to Keyforge’s most bold and curious thing. Keyforge, like Epic, is not a customizable card game. It’s in the CCG family, but it’s not a CCG. Every deck of Keyforge is procedurally generated from the cards of three different houses. Each deck has a unique pattern on the back of the cards to prevent card trading and customization. Each deck is randomly created.
And you can’t improve it.
And you don’t buy cards individually.
There’s no meta, just good decks and bad decks.
It’s so wild.
Look at this shit.
It’s supposed to restore the “good old days” of Magic, when players didn’t know rare cards from common ones, they didn’t know trending decks, and they couldn’t buy top-tier cards and pay to win.
Richard Garfield MADE Magic, so I’m dubious about his grasp of an average player’s perspective from those days. But I support the idea.
No one’s more tired than me of a complete stranger putting down a commander deck, naming a legendary creature, and letting the whole table know what their deck does.
Where’s the experimentation? Where’s the exploration? The variety? Is there personal accomplishment in pulling from EDHREC? Net decking? Is it a masterbatory exercise for nerds with disposable income, a deep-seated NEED to win a kid’s game, and basic literacy skills?
Keyforge is headed in the right direction, but it won’t work. Your random—it’s procedurally generated, but I’ll say ‘random’—decks makes your whole deck as good as the rare you would have pulled from a Magic booster.
Maybe no one cares what comes before the colon either.
The ‘strategy’ is buying decks ‘til you get a good one. The less-good decks…are useless I guess. Maybe there’s a rock/paper/scissors strategy to it, like with Magic’s aggro/midrange/control archetypes. Perhaps one of Keyforge’s shitty control decks can still overcome a good midgame deck? So then players would have a good aggro deck, a meh midrange deck, and…a garbage control deck that can’t beat other control decks. Fuck, you could still buy two good aggro decks and then the less-good one is a waste.
All the handicap rules in the world won’t help if your tournament players have to buy decks like Veruca Salt to find the one good one. I mean, casual players can just say “fuck it,” sleeve up and customize decks after day-trading power cards on eBay, even if the “play everything from one house” rule is going to cut that off at the knees.
Naturally, single-house decks will be OP as each player plays out their hand, draws up to six (each player draws up to six at the end of their turn), then does the same thing next turn. That’s not necessarily degenerate, but once a player wants to play with more than one house, the need for universal casual rules, rules which contravene the stated intent of the game, would become like the Holy Grail; as perfect as they are unattainable.
I’m intrigued, but honestly, I’ll probably pick up a few decks on eBay after it comes out.