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Keyforge: What we know so far

Keyforge: Call of the Archons is the first iteration of the new 'Unique Deck' gameplay as envisioned by Richard Garfield. Because there is so much to talk about this new form of play we thought we'd consolidate all our knowledge of Keyforge in one article.


Keyforge is a 2-player game where the goal is to craft three keys from the Aember-resource (which you either get automatically by playing cards or through 'reaping') before your opponent does. Once you craft your third key you win the game. If you want to know WHY you're doing this we need to take a look at the lore of Keyforge. Or you can skip ahead to our LORE, GAMEPLAY and WAYS TO PLAY sections.





The entirety of Keyforge takes place on a weird planet called 'The Crucible', which is supposed to be in the centre of our Galaxy. Although resembling an ordinary planet from a distance it is anything but. The planet is in fact entirely artificial and created by mysterious entities known as 'The Architects'. These beings regularly obduct populations and even entire sections from other planets in the universe and bring them to the Crucible.


Every civilisation adapts differently on the Crucible. Some seclude themselves and try to keep their species 'pure', like the Martians. While others go mad and rampage through the diverse biomes you find on the planet. And there is a lot of diversity, you can find every climate or landscape imaginable on the Crucible, including sprawling metropolises.


Although none of the alien species is capable of directly conversing with the others, they are capable of speaking with the original inhabitants of the Crucible. These are ethereal, powerful beings known as Archons (aka: you, the player!) who have the ability to speak any language they want. This puts Archons directly in positions of power over large communities of people and this is how each Archon gets his or her army (or deck of cards) comprised from 3 of the many many factions (or houses) scattered around the world.


The Archons however, even though they are powerful and the original inhabitants of the planet, have no clue either on why the Architects bring all these Outsiders to their world, or why anybody is prevented to leave. What they do know is where to find the answers. There are vaults scattered around the world containing knowledge of the Architects and their plans. With the help of their houses each individual Archon attempts to harvest the mysterious Aember-resource to forge keys from (hence the name of the game) so they can access the power within. When two Archons vie for the same vault; that's when a game of Keyforge happens!




When playing a game of Keyforge you go through 5 steps:


1.) Forge a Key: If you have the Aember at the start of your turn this is what you do. You can only do it once per turn though!
2.) Choose a House: There are three houses in your deck, but during each turn you can only play with the cards and creatures of the house you choose to champion that turn. More on this later!
3.) Play, Discard, Use: This is where you play cards from your chosen House (let's say: Logos) or use those Logos creatures that are already in the field. You may also choose to discard any cards from the Logos House that clutter up your hand.
4.) Ready: You ready your exhausted cards.
5.) Draw: Draw back up to a full hand of cards.


Two things become highly apparent when going through these phases.


The first is that there is no 'mana' or 'lands' or whatever other resource that lets you play cards. In fact you can play as many cards as you are able, but ...


You can only play one House/faction at the time. This is the second hurdle and it provides much of the tactical power behind a game of Keyforge. Imagine that you have many 'House Dis'-cards in your hand, but on the field you have mostly 'Martian'-cards. What do you do, since you can only play or use one of these? Or what if you urgently need to empty your hand of certain House, but you really want to play a specific card from another?


The tactical depth that comes from this system goes very deep and will be the first indicator that differentiates a master from an apprentice.


Lastly: an important aspect about Keyforge is that it's not really about the battle between Archons. It is about gaining Aember quickly and getting to the vault fast (just like in the lore). Creatures you've put on the field can be tapped to 'Reap' Aember and that is the prime reason why you would attack your opponent: to stop him/her from reaping.


Furthermore simply playing cards can give you Aember or will allow you to deny or steal Aember from your opponent. In short: it's pretty much all about the Aember. And a good player never loses sight of that.




Keyforge is the very first game that uses the 'Unique deck'-system which is what most people will have questions about, including myself when I first encountered the game.


What it means is that each deck you buy in a store is different from every other deck. You will always get a deck with a random name, color, random three houses, and random cards.


So how do we know these cards synergise at all? Well firstly, the game was designed with this in mind. Most importantly however a special computer algorithm determines which cards belong together based on various metrics such as rarity and synergy.


If this sounds like it would be a massive rip-off where players need to buy tons and tons of decks to get all the cards to build a decent deck with: it's not. There is NO deckbuilding. Every cardback of the same deck has a specific color, but also a randomized and totally unique name of the Archon in charge. Because of this it's super easy to tell whether players are cheating and not playing cards that originate from the same deck.


The algorythm goes so far as to check each deck it constructs against all the others it ever created. This ensures two players will never, ever have the same cards.




Naturally the 'Unique Deck' system brings with it several challenges and consequences. Fortunately these have been anticipated by its creator. His biggest worry is deck balance. It will invariably happen that either a deck is simply better than the other, or someone is incredibly proficiƫnt with a deck while someone else is not. This brings us to ...


Chains are handicaps you can put on a deck that limit how many cards that player can play when the game starts. You can remove these chains one by one throughout the game, but it still gives quite a tactical advantage to the other player depending on the number of chains. This can make an unbalanced game fair and opens up other avenues of play, such as bidding for a deck: if two players really want to play a certain deck they can bid for it using chains. One person could say he'll play the game with 3 chains, while the opponent says she'll play with 4. The bidding goes on until one player concedes and then the person with the highest number of chains gets to play the deck.


But there are other ways you can play Keyforge that may or may not include chains:


Best of the Worst

What if you have a totally crap deck that you think is garbage? Give it to your opponent of course! In 'best of the worst' both players bring their worst decks and hand them to their opponent.


The Hand of Fate

Getting familiar with a deck and learning its quirks is important. But what if you just buy two random decks and start playing blind? This is what happens in a 'Hand of Fate'-game. If you don't like being completely blind you can both look at the decklist and then start bidding chains on which deck you want to play. Which will be a test of your insight into deck construction.




Richard Garfield came up with the 'Unique deck' concept in the 90's, but only now do we see it implemented and we are incredibly excited as to how things will turn out. Furthermore having no mana-resource, but instead relying on the differences between the three factions in your deck adds a whole world of tactical thinking to your games.


Add to that the different gamemodes they invented to keep the game fair and balanced and we might have a winner here.


Only time will tell just how far Keyforge will soar, or if it will be nothing but a gimmick.






Keyforge has one starter pack which contains the only two decks in the entire game that have fixed cards and are balanced against one another (Miss "Onyx" Censorius and Radiant Argus the Supreme). Furthermore the Starter pack contains 2 Unique decks and a number of tokens with which to play. The set is designed to ease new players into the game and that is pretty much its only purpose.


When it comes to value the Starter Deck is simply too expensive. It costs a whopping 44.99 Euro while a regular Unique Deck costs 11.49 Euro. After you get the hang of the game (the rules can easily be found here in PDF format) you will be left with two standard decks everyone knows (and how to counter them), two Unique decks you can buy more cheaply seperately, and a set of tokens. You can't even split the costs and contents with a friend or you will be left with not enough tokens!


Considering these tokens are nothing special and easily replaced by coins/dice we don't really see the need for every player to HAVE to buy the Starter Pack first in order to play.