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[First Impressions] KeyForge: Call of the Archons

It's one of the most talked about games coming into GenCon 2018 and sitting well within the top 10 of Board Game Geeks 'The Hotness' list. KeyForge: Call of the Archons is the brainchild of Magic: The Gathering designer Richard Garfield and it is a new Collectable Card Game with no deck-building and a quadrillion possible deck combinations. Now GenCon is in the United States and living in Sydney, Australia you may be wondering how I could have played the game to bring you this first impressions piece. Well, thanks to the Tabletop Simulator community I have been able to play a couple of trial games before the official release later this year.

How does the Game Play?

In KeyForge, each players deck is made up of 36 cards. These cards contain an even distribution of 12 cards from 3 of the 7 in-game factions factions (or houses). Each deck has been randomised using a special algorithm that provides not only a one of a kind deck, but a cards that have a base synergy as well.

Players will decide who goes first, and the first player may only play one card.

The following is a list of steps in a given turn:

Step 1: Forge a Key.
You need 6 Æmber to forge a key, and 3 keys to win. If you have enough Æmber during the Forge a Key step, you must do so, but only once per turn.

Step 2: Choose a Faction.
You will announce one house during this step. This will dictate the cards you can play from your hand and use on the play area. For instance, if you pick the house Logos, you can play Logos cards, use logos creatures and artifacts, and discard any remaining Logos cards in your hand.

Step 3: Play, Discard, and Use cards of the Chosen Faction.
Now that you have chosen a house, you can play and use cards of that house. There are 4 types of cards in the game:

Action - May be played from hand for a one-time effect.
Artifact - May be used once per turn for a given effect.
Upgrades - Upgrades are cards that can be attached to your creatures to give them a benefit.
Creatures - Creatures are the primary cards you will be adding to the play area. They have a "power" value with doubles as health and attack power, and an armour value. To activate a creature, you will exhaust it, i.e., turn it sideways.

All creatures of your chosen house can be activated to do the following:

- Fight: You may activate any creatures to fight an enemy creature. You simply add damage to the both creatures using the power value stat. Power is how much damage a creature can do and the creature's health points.

- Reap: The other main creature action, you may activate your creature to gain one Æmber.

- Action: There are a lot of other actions that may be printed on a creature's card, and those will dictate other actions they may do.

Like most card games there are several keywords that creatures may have such as elusive, or skirmish. These dictate special characteristics of the creature, usually for fight purposes. I will not go into detail on all of these keyword abilities in this review.

Step 4: Ready Cards
All cards that you play from your hand come into play exhausted unless otherwise dictated. During this step you un-exhaust all of your creatures and artifacts.

Step 5: Draw Cards
During this step your draw up to your default hand size which is 6. Note that this can be modified by card effects. It's especially noteworthy that if you somehow go above this hand size, you do not discard down. For example, if for some reason you were able to draw a lot of cards during a turn, you could end a turn with 8 cards in your hand.

Playing cards and using your creatures to gain Æmber to forge 3 keys is the goal of the game. The first player to forge 3 keys is declared the winner of the game.

What did I think?

My experience when it comes to collectable card games is quite limited. I have been a casual Magic: The Gathering player for about 3 years attending the occasional Friday night magic sessions so if you are a hardcore player this may not relatable to you but to a pleb like myself...

The first impressions of this game make we want to jump in and play this at a higher level. Firstly I love that nothing has mana costs and that it encourages you to play the biggest combos your deck can play. Once I got going I felt unstoppable even though my opponent was playing the same sort of crazy combos against me, but whilst I could swing for the face ultimately the objective of have to gain Æmber meant that I was always changing my approach to my next move. Do I want to control? Do I want to get an advantage now and put the pressure on? Not only having to think about how much damage I could do but was it the appropriate time to attack was anew and interesting puzzle for myself  that I look forward to diving deeper into.

Next, not having to deck build. As a father of a 16 month old baby girl, a collector of board games, a player of video games and general person with a life outside of the gaming table my time is stretch thin as it is. Not having to worry about studying the meta and buying individual cards is a very enticing prospect for myself. It also makes it easier for me to gift decks to my gamer friends. This is something that whilst I know will be polarising is something, that for me makes me want to go and get my own unique deck and start playing immediately.

The final positive that I like is the implementation of a companion app that is going to allow you to rank you deck against others around the world. This is an exciting time as you will be able to do things like link your deck to your account and take it with you and keep track of you win/lose ratio. If the app is set up with scope in mind I think that KeyForge has great potential to be a household name.

Of course with the good there is always some bad and like I said, the lack of deck building is going to be bad for some people. Using an algorithm is going to mean that somewhere, someone is going to have the most powerful deck and everyone else will be playing catch up. Except, the only way that can be done is by chancing a new deck or by the in game system of chains. Players love putting in the effort and being rewarded when there deck is winning matches or even championships so to take that away means that a large percentage of hardcore CCG players will not find this enjoyable. Hopefully the team have not cut too much of the pie away.

Also as an aside the lore at the moment feels, jumbled to together. I am sure that I am probably missing something but as a first impressions I feel like it is not cohesive as something like Android: NetRunner.

This is a game that has intrigued me like no other collectable card game has done before and I can't really put my finger on why. All I know that this is something I look forward to playing at my game store, on my home table and online against other enthusiasts like myself. Bring it on. Lets play some games.


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IT Goon by Day. Gamer, Nerd and Father by Night. Anthony (Neeber) Glynn is the founder, owner, IT guy, designer, engineer, cook, baker and everything else of NeeberTV. He loves to create online content and share his experiences with other people. There is rarely a time you won't see him chasing new and wondrous experiences whether in the real life or online.