Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight reveal KeyForge: Call of the Archons

This is my deck.  There aren’t any like it, and this one is mine.

I have spoken a few times about my relationship with Android: Netrunner.  Asymmetrical two-player card games are something I enjoy playing, but there is almost always two major obstacles.

The first is buying boosters looking for ‘the card’.  This is something that the LCG or Living Card Game format largely fixed though.  Knowing that every few weeks you would be spending $X on a new expansion made budgeting simple.  There was also no frustration in buying 100 boosters and not finding one card you need to make a combo happen.

The second is almost contradictory – deckbuilding.  Most people play trading card games as deck builders – literally, putting your own unique deck into play and seeing how it holds up against others.  This takes a lot of time, and that is not something all players have at their disposal.

There are two key aspects that take time with deckbuilding (three depending on how you look at it).

The first is the study of the cards and rules to learn the interactions.  This learning curve is similar to all gaming, but in a trading card game with literally hundreds if not thousands of cards this can become a full-time job.

The second is the playtesting of said decks.  Building the deck and understanding interactions is fine, but the playing of the deck to fully understand your creation is a labour of love.  And it is here that a culture of gamers emerges – the ‘MinMaxers’.

If you think this looks daunting, you are obviously new to trading card games

Now MinMaxers get a pretty unfair go reputation wise.  I don’t mean the term to be derogatory in the least.  Really good MinMaxers are borderline mathematical geniuses that work out statistics on card efficiency and draw-chance for fun.  These players are in search of the ‘best’ deck – the one that is guaranteed to win every time.

There is nothing wrong with this – wanting to win with your deck is the point of playing after all.  I honestly respect these players and their abilities as they are well deserved.

There is a subset of these players though that give them a bad name.  These are the kinds of players that look at a beginner or casual player and don’t deem them ‘worthy’ to play because they don’t have deck X or card Y.  These types of people you just want to avoid in general and are a separate reason people don’t want to play socially altogether.

Now in trading card games, MinMaxers are where the money is.  These are the players that will buy every booster pack they can get their hands on to get that ultra rare card that will give them the edge.

Even if they don’t have that magical card, they are able to use the cards they do have with terrible effectiveness.  This is daunting to newer players yes, but learning a game and playing against a veteran player always feels like this.

Once you get to know a game, you start learning archetypes in games.  In Magic: The Gathering, you learn what a red aggro player means.  In Android: Netrunner, you know Jinteki means you have to protect yourself on a successful run.  The exact cards and effects may vary, but you learn a general theme and feel pretty quickly.

Once you get to know the game, you have a pretty good idea the overall strategy of the player when you see one of these IDs

Now in some ways, Richard Garfield is responsible for this type of play in Trading Card games.  One of the most successful TCG to date is Magic: The Gathering, and it became a template for many games that followed such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!.  Even Netrunner, the original design Android: Netrunner was based on, shared a lot of common themes that promote this kind of play.

So you can imagine my excitement when during Gen Con 2018 Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight Games announced a new type of trading card game that turned all of this on it’s head.

So what makes KeyForge interesting to me?  On the surface, it looks like any other trading card game.  Two players have control over unique decks, and try and outplay their opponent through a combination of luck and skill.

KeyForge is a resource and combat game.  The point of the game is to collect three keys, achieved by harvesting 18 pieces of Amber (or Æmber in the game).

Learn the core rules, identify the archetypes of the seven houses, throw your deck together job done – what’s the hubbub about.

Well, it’s the throw your deck together bit.  This doesn’t happen, ever.  With the exception of the starter pack decks, each deck will truly be unique.

KeyForge Starter Pack
KeyForge, where you don't buy cards to fit your deck - you just buy a whole new deck and play!

You see booster packs in KeyForge aren’t a random combination of cards you get to put into or leave out of your deck.  Each booster pack is a new deck, in its entirety, ready to play.  It’s actually illegal game wise to take cards from one deck and put them in another.

Imagine travelling around and you leave your deck at home – no card games for you this trip!  Well in KeyForge, assuming you can borrow some tokens or a pen and paper, this won’t be a problem.  Nip into your local game store, and buy a USD$10 booster pack.  You now have a new unique deck ready to play!

And the billions and billions of combinations?  This isn’t actually marketing hype.  It’s easier to explain with a normal deck of playing cards.  A standard poker deck has 52 cards, so the amount of combinations that deck order can be is 52 factorial or 52!.  This means 52x51x50x49x etc. etc. down to x1.

How many combinations can exist?

80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636, 856,403,766,975,289,505,440, 883,277,824,000,000,000,000.

That is why they say when you shuffle a deck of cards, that exact deck order most likely has never existed.  The number is just too huge.  And that is with a pool of 52 cards.

Imagine the number of combinations in KeyForge with its 7 factions!  Even if each faction had only 52 cards in it, the number of possible combinations is mind-blowing.  Hence the random decks in each booster are statistically unique, and no one else will have a deck like yours.

Now the MinMaxers still have their place in KeyForge.  Learning the available card pool and hoping for a booster with the ‘magic’ combination is still possible.

But imagine the organised play opportunities?  The deck comes into it, but you can have one class with your well practised deck, and another with blind decks that you open at the start of the event and just start playing!

The chances of anticipating the contents of your opponents deck are amazingly small when you do the maths

Fantasy Flight has confirmed that KeyForge: Call of the Archons will be supported by their organised play, and it will be out fourth quarter this year.

Quietly, I am hoping it will be out early October for purely selfish reasons.  While this would potentially take the shine off last round ‘official’ Android: Netrunner play, jumping straight into a new card game would be amazing!

And if it is released in the States early October, there is the chance it will be at PAX Aus come October 26th.  Where I will be.  With my wallet ready 🙂

You didn’t think that countdown was just for show, did you?

What do you think about KeyForge?  Is the idea of a trading card game you just need to learn to play appeal?  Let me know!

For more information, the official Fantasy Flight announcement can be found here, and the Board Game Geek page here.

Until next time,

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