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Keyforge is a two player card game with a unique twist... What sets this game apart from all the others that I have played (including Pokemo...

Keyforge - Mass Mutation by Fantasy Flight Games Keyforge - Mass Mutation by Fantasy Flight Games

Keyforge - Mass Mutation by Fantasy Flight Games

Keyforge - Mass Mutation by Fantasy Flight Games

Keyforge is a two player card game with a unique twist... What sets this game apart from all the others that I have played (including Pokemon TCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Android Netrunner LCG and Magic the Gathering CCG) is that you’ll never ‘build’ your deck. The decks are all pre-made and inviolable, you’ll never replace cards or alter your deck(s) in any way.  This is a fundamentally different from any other ‘deck-builder’ and in my opinion is a breath of fresh air.

In video-game parlance ‘loot-boxes’ have come under fire for giving kids an easy path into gambling; although their legal status is still under review (in the UK at least). Buying booster packs for MTG or whatever your crack CCG (or even LCG) of choice feels exactly the same and I find it bizarre that they are not considered the same as loot-boxes.  Keyforge avoids all of those issues by providing a unique deck in every box and an in-game ability to handicap a deck if it appears too strong.  According to FFG there are 104 Quadrillion possible decks. If my maths is correct, if you stacked all the possible Keyforge decks on top of each other they would reach to Pluto and back!
A Few Boxes

But the best thing about every deck being utterly unique is that you don’t have to take things too seriously (here’s looking at you Magic)…you can relax and have fun; and enjoy the game for what it is rather than how much money you’ve spent on it.  The deluxe box comes with two decks and all the counters and introductory rules to play the game.  Additional decks are a snip at about £7.  I have friends who own large boxes of Magic Cards that probably represent thousands of pounds…and they only run with 2 or three decks. Absolutely bonkers in my opinion.

However, this isn’t a Magic the Gathering bash, but a review of Keyforge so let’s get into it. Keyforge was designed by no other than Richard Garfield himself and so its pedigree couldn’t be better.  During a game both players are trying to forge three keys to win the game.  The keys are forged by collecting a resource called Aember through playing and activating your cards.

Aember Keys Completed

Gameplay

In the universe of Keyforge there are 9 different houses and each deck will be comprised of cards from three of those houses. The players take on the role of an Archon that is trying to unlock a crucible of hidden knowledge…This theme is probably the worst thing in this game, in that there is no readily accessible Intellectual Property or generic setting that I am familiar with, which would help me to understand this concept and get immersed in the story. Although, you could argue this is also a feature; let me explain...

The cards, their powers and text and even deck composition is all generated by an algorithm.  This leads to some quite ridiculous named cards. The cards do have a consistent art design amongst the houses but other than that they don’t appear to link to one another or tell any coherent story.  This randomness is echoed in the overall concept and I got to the point where I just didn’t care why I was playing but I was just having a blast playing the cards and seeing how I could best use the cards I had.
A Small Selection of Cards From One Deck

There are many familiar mechanisms, tapping cards, battle lines, upgrades etc. that enable any gamer to literally learn as they play their first game.  The rules are fairly succinct in the starter set, and you’ll likely have a few questions left unanswered by the rules. The living rules are kept online and is the definitive source for any rule questions. But even though I have had a few questions, I’ve never felt the need to stop a game and look up a rule. It’s just not that type of game and it doesn’t create the super competitive atmosphere other card games can.

On your turn, before you start playing cards you have to choose which of the three house will be active for that turn.  You’ll then be limited to playing, activating or discarding cards from that house for the rest of your turn. Although this is a simple concept it allows for a good deal of strategising with your hand of cards and it helps to keep the game moving quickly as you’ll rarely be in a position to play more than 4 cards from your hand on any turn.  And if your opponent is doing their job you will not have too many creatures on your battle line to activate either.
Playing My Son...I lost this one.

There are four different types of cards: Creatures are played into the battle line and have lots of different passive and active abilities; Upgrades are attached to creatures to enhance them in some way, Artifacts are played behind the battle line and provide additional abilities and actions that could be used, and the last type of card are Action cards which are played to the discard pile and have an immediate effect.  Every other card enters play exhausted and so you’ll have to wait until your next turn in to use it’s abilities…(unless it has a Play ability - did I say there was a lot of variety in this game?)

When a creature is activated (belonging to the active house) you can Reap or Fight with it but not both. Reap collects Aember from the common supply and places it on the creature. You have to work out how you can collect the Aember from the creature back into your pool before your opponent kills the creature and collects it for their pool.  Fighting is very simply a simultaneous creature power number of hits applied modified by creature defence.

Snarette has 4 Power and no Shield.  Thero Centurion (did I say this was generated by an Algortihm) has 6 Power and 1 Shield.  If they were to Fight, instead of Reap the results are as follows:

Snarette takes 6 damage from Thero, killing it (its Power is only 4). Thero takes 3 damage from Snarette as Snarette applies 4 hits and Thero has 1 shield. Combat is resolved simultaneously and is simple as that.
 
All the mechanisms in this game are easy to understand and also easy to forget about.  After four or five rounds you’ll have a tableau of cards with many different actions and abilities to try to follow. I guarantee you’ll forget some of them, but you know what, in this game it really doesn’t bother me that I may have forgotten a rule when for example a creature has a Destroyed ability because this game is all about have a fun and exploring how the cards interact within the deck and how they manage against a different deck. The entry point is so low that I can’t help but recommend picking up a few decks to try it out.

Components

The components are all typical FFG quality but unlike most FFG games you’re not tracking dozens and dozens across an expansive board.  You’ll normally have less than ten or twenty in play at anyone time and I’ve even seen some people (online) improvise all of the components with common items / other board game pieces.
The components you get in a Deluxe box

Criticisms

The artwork is a bit cartoony for my tastes but it fits the overall nature of the game perfectly, it stays light and humorous. Unfortunately for me I prefer the more serious and dark art you get in Lord of the Rings LCG and MTG.

I don’t really have any criticisms of a game that is so accessible, cheap and easy to learn, doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet still provides a similar depth of play as the more serious card games.  A huge bonus of this game, if you are or you play with a sore loser (or a child still learning how to lose gracefully), is that there is no personal affront for losing, you can excuse any poor play by blaming the inferior deck and trying a new deck, or swapping decks for the next game.  This non-confrontational meta-game will unfortunately be its downfall.  As a species, we enjoy seeing winners and losers after a fair contest.  A game of Keyforge isn’t really a fair contest (who knows how equal 2 decks out of 104 Quadrillion are) and even when I lose, I consider the deck to have lost not me. 
What was I saying about loot boxes being addictive!

Conclusion

After several weeks playing this game solidly with my son, I can say that I am honestly surprised at how much more strategy and depth there is in this game than I thought at first glance. It’s well worth picking up to try at its RRP.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is in stock in many stores and you can use this link to find your FLGS

Designer: Richard Garfield
Play time: 30 minutes.
Players: 2

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