A Glance at Keyforge: Call of the Archons…

Base Game Review

Player/s: 2

Play Time (Box): 45mins

Play Time (Goof): 45-60mins

Producer: Fantasy Flight Games

Designer: Richard Garfield



On Thursday night I went to a launch event for Keyforge: Call of the Archons. I’ll admit, when I first heard of Keyforge, I wasn’t particularly interested. A friend of mine (the guy behind the awesome graphics for TGR) first explained the idea to me and I felt it was missing something.

The concept behind Keyforge is to be a unique deck game. Random decks made out of 3 of 7 factions come in a box and you’re not able to deck build in any way shape or form. Pick up and play. As a long time MtG and Netrunner fan who has also dabbled heavily into Arkham Horror LCG and L5R – I felt this concept was going to die on its arse. I mean I’ve played some of those “intro” and “duel” decks made by companies. They’re often poorly constructed with an intentional attempt to make sure the decks are weak enough to encourage you to build your own. I get bored of them really quickly. I want the cool combos, the synergy between cards, and the choice of plays.

Keyforge is a really new style of game. Any preconceptions you have about this being MTG For Babies needs to be tossed right out of the window. It’s also the sort of scale I won’t be able to do a full review of for a while in order to give it any kind of justice. So instead today I’m going to give you a glance at why Keyforge is my latest obsession.



The Good

I think what really turned me around on the concept of this unique deck idea is the ability to not even have to bring a deck with me to a games store in order to get involved. I don’t know how many thousands of dollars I’ve spent constructing decks over the years but it’s probably a number close to shameful. I make these decks I like and within a couple weeks they’re basically unplayable due to the new Meta (the cards most played and most used strategies and counters you need to be prepared to deal with). It can be all consuming and really frustrating. I honestly do love it. But there’s so many good games out there and I don’t have time to dedicate to one let alone the multiple I already want to play… Oh okay. I see why this unique deck thing is actually awesome.

See, those other deck construction games still exist. This doesn’t detract from them at all. What this does is offer me a chance to enjoy a game, collect unique and fun decks, and not be stressed about ensuring I’m still competitive. I can go to any Keyforge event, buy a deck, and sit down and play. Or I can take my favourite of the few I own and get some good games in.

So is there a skill to Keyforge? Absolutely. But the way this plays out in my view is super different and interesting. Sure you’ve got the general “what do I do now” skill which is inherent in basically every game ever made. But with Keyforge you’ve actually got your own little puzzle to solve. How does my deck work? You don’t need to discover this in a single game, you can learn it over multiple sessions as you learn new ways your cards interact. I love this idea. It actually takes me back to my childhood in such a 90s nostalgia kinda way. When you watched those early morning or Saturday cartoons on CheeseTV or The Big Cheese, Ash Ketchum spent time battling with his Pokemon to see what they could do; Tyson Granger didn’t look up wikis on how to use his Bit-Beast in Beyblade. He used it and practiced with it and came to understand its workings. For me this is almost a real world equivalent (without the thunder shocks and blue spirit dragons). And the fact my deck is so unique means there’s nowhere to go online to find the best strategy for it. It’s totally up to me to figure out (I’m sure someone’s going to ruin this at some point but I’m not even game enough to Google and find out. I’m enjoying my immersive experience too much).

I mentioned in the introduction that I was worried about the deck construction. So how do I feel about them now I’ve had a few games? Great actually.

One of the things I’m big on with deckbuilding is ensuring I’ve got the right amount of cards in a deck to ensure I see them come up – more copies increases the chance I’ll see it early. Less copies decreases the chance (I reckon I could teach mathematics). Having said this the one thing I’m not keen on is one-offs. Every pre-constructed deck I’ve ever picked up in a game has included one-offs. The likelihood of drawing this card at a time when you need it is so low I honestly never bother. But Keyforge kind of solves this one of me. Each deck has 36 cards. And when you inevitably run through this deck you reshuffle and go through it again. What I’m finding is you basically get rid of cards as quickly as possible in order to go through the deck and get what you need. For example I’ve Archived all my Mars Creatures over the course of the game (primarily with the Incubation Chamber which has the amazingly powerful Omni keyword) and then used Invasion Portal in order to deplete the rest of my deck and shuffle up when I know the cards I need are in the discard pile. If I feel it’s time for an all-out offensive, I can pull the Mars creatures back into my hand and deploy them – invasion style.



The Bad

When I think about the issues in collectible/living/unique card games (ColLiUn Games? Nope. That’s not going to stick), I always come back to symbology and wording. Netrunner had a huge issue with this due to its free form wording. And I actually kind of expected better from Keyforge. Richard Garfield made MtG, which for as massive as it is actually dealt with the whole complex interactions situation way better than any of the others. I know, it’s probably a lot to do with the publishers etc, but Fantasy Flight has Legend of the Five Rings, Lord of the Rings, Arkham Horror TCG, Game of Thrones TCG – not to mention the others which have come and gone and it’s really not good enough for us to keep running into this shit. Take Bait and Switch – do you keep doing this until the Amber levels are equal? Does it only trigger an additional time? And don’t get me started on “Ready and Fight” effects and the confusion around this.


I’ve got three unique decks on top of the two introduction ones and I’m encountering two areas I’d like to see expanded upon  – chains and discards.

The chain system is basically a handicap applied to really powerful cards or in competitive settings under certain conditions. At most I’ve had one chain. A friend has had at most two, but this card goes up to twenty-four! We’ve not really felt a huge impact (it’s mattered, but not enough to not ever make the play). I’d love to see more chain effects. Or even the ability to chuck an extra chain or two to your opponent (maybe those cards are out there, haven’t seen them all yet). But as it stands the chain system feels like nothing. We’ll see as competitive play picks up, but it doesn’t feel like this is going to have an impact for quite a while.

Since you draw up to six at the end of each turn, discarding is a great way to control the flow of your deck. But you’re only allowed to discard cards from the house you’ve chosen to be active this turn. It’s almost never used because if you can play a card and benefit from it, it still leaves your hand. I’d have liked to have seen something else for discarding – an Amber cost or the ability to discard any one or two cards a turn. I know the idea is to keep the game quick and moving, but it’s presented as equal to the other two options which is almost disappointing when you first get your head around the game.




There’s so much more I want to get into with Keyforge – the effectiveness of mulligans, the flanking system, the objective in the game being a sort of conflictual race, the ever changing board state, the Amber generation on cards making the game faster and smoother, the unique artwork which is procedurally generated and not shared by any other deck, the wacky and fascinating theme, and even the complexity of deciding which house to activate each turn. But I want to get in a few solid games, give Fantasy Flight an opportunity to show what their idea is with the companion app, and review the game from a place of solid understanding.

I have issues with certain aspects sure, but Keyforge is very much in its teething phase. It’s a brand new concept and they’ve managed to make something incredibly fun. Can’t wait to see what comes next from this design.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe the Archons are on the phone.


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