In case you haven’t heard, Fantasy Flight Games has released a new game that they appear to be making as part of their evolving tournament catalogue. I was recently able to take part in a KeyForge prerelease tournament. I’m going to talk about the game, the experience, and how well I think tournaments will work for KeyForge moving forward. These are all things I think can be important and I wanted to share my thoughts with you folks.
What is KeyForge
KeyForge is a new card game from Fantasy Flight Games that is a part of their Unique line of games. When they say unique they really mean it. Every deck of KeyForge is procedurally generated. It comes with thirty-seven cards, thirty-six playable cards and a deck list. The cards are chosen from three of the games seven factions. You get twelve cards for each represented faction. Each deck gets a name and its own card backs.
I’m not going to go into all of the mechanics here but I’ll give a brief overview. The goal of the game is to be the first player to forge three keys. You do this by building up Amber, an in game currency, when you start your turn with seven Amber you must forge a key.
The game is fast and the strategy is pretty interesting. Because of how the game is built there is no deck building. This is very much a game of playing with the tools you are given. I also like that, unlike most tournament card games, KeyForge has a very low barrier to entry. You only need one deck, and they cost $10.00. You have just as good a chance as everyone else when entering a tournament because you’re all playing with the same restriction. You can only use the deck you brought.
I played at Epic Loot Game Store in Centerville, Ohio. They ran several hours of demo’s leading up to the tournament and encouraged players who had little to no knowledge of the game to take part. The organizers were extremely polite, welcoming, and had a firm grasp of the game and its rules.
Before the tournament began we were given thirty minutes to familiarize ourselves with the decks we were given. Which was good because I had a moment of confusion over one of my cards. My deck was named Madame A. Nifflebelle. Her factions of choice were Logos, Brobnar, and the Untamed. In my deck the Logos cards we’re built around card draw and setting cards outside of the game that I can bring back in later. Brobnar were all about hitting the enemy hard and stunning their minions. The Untamed were built around the idea of building Amber quickly and overwhelming my opponent so they can’t remove enough Amber on their turn to stop me forging a key. The Untamed also had the card that was instrumental in every game I won. Key Charge allows me to forge a second key on my turn.
As I said, I did have some confusion about one of my cards. The Logos card, Help from Future Self, draws a Time Traveler into play. When I first went through my deck I couldn’t find any Time Travelers. This ended up being a misunderstanding on my part. I thought Time Traveler was a key word and it was actually a card name. I ended up being okay there.
The tournament was run as a learning event. We would play over three rounds with one game being played in each. The first round was seventy minutes, the second sixty, and fifty for the final round. This ended up being very important. There were a lot of rules questions from most of the tables. The judges were moving around constantly and helping everyone getting a handle on the game. We finished the first round a couple of minutes early because everyone had ended their games. The second round entered into overtime for about three tables, it might have been more. Unfortunately, I didn’t really pay attention to the overtime procedure I was talking to one of the organizers. The final round went very quickly, most of the games finishing early.
My first game had a lot of pauses in it. After one of us drew our cards the other player waited until they’d had a chance to read them. We hit some rules questions that we needed the judge for. The second game was much faster. We talked a bit about the game and were more familiar with our cards so there was less waiting. I was randomly chosen to be the streamed game for the tournament. There’s a link above and my match starts at the 1:33 mark. You can watch it and tell me where I screwed up. I’ll let you know if you’re right.
I asked one of the judges what was coming next. I can’t speak for everyone but Epic Loot is going to go with an alternating Sealed tournament one week and a Constructed, for lack of a better term. Rounds will be based on player count. The matches will be best of three in sixty minutes. I know that may seem unreasonable with the matches taking nearly an hour in the tournament we played but I feel that with experience games will start going much faster.
There is a question of balance. KeyForge faces the danger of having one deck that’s just better than another. They have talked about having a system in place that will handicapping a deck that is “better” than the other. The information on how this will be implemented hasn’t been completely explained and many of the people at the tournament had questions about how that would work. We were also concerned on how or if it could be abused. I’m cautiously optimistic and looking forward to how it works in the future.
Is the game sustainable? I don’t know. In the end I think this is going to be the really important question. I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen and how well KeyForge will do. I like the game and want to play more of it. However, unlike Magic the Gathering or other collectible games KeyForge only requires having one deck. I can spend $10 and never spend another dime on this game except for tournament fees. It’s unlikely that I’ll do that, but it is possible. With other games that use deck building there is a constant push to buy the latest cards and keep your library up to date. That doesn’t exist in KeyForge. I’m not a fool. I know there will be expansions, with new cards and possibly new factions that will push people to buy more decks. I hope that’s enough.
One final point. Part of the handicapping system lists that if a deck proves to be too powerful it will be retired. There is literally no explanation of what retired means. Over the course of the day I chatted with several people about this. I would like to offer this suggestion. If a deck is to be retired, I believe the tournament organizers should take the deck and at the end of the tournament, just before awarding prizes, it should be run through a shredder for all to see and cheer for. Afterwards the bits should be gathered and sent away to be mixed into a mold and turned into a paper weight, with a little plaque on the front with the decks name. Maybe keep the deck list and work it into the thing in some way. Personally, I’d be totally okay with watching my deck go that way. I know not everyone will dig it, but I can.