To The Table: Keyforge – Call of The Archons

From the amazing mind of Richard Garfield who created such games as King of Tokyo and Magic the Gathering, comes a new kind of card game, one that aims to be as unique as it is familiar. Keyforge: Call of The Archons!

 The goal of the game, as the name suggests is to forge keys, 3 to be specific before your opponent does. But standing in the way is a whole host of spells and creatures from within your opponents 37 card deck (37 seems a weird number but I’m guessing they did a lot of playtesting and realised it worked). So far it doesn’t sound that different from your usual trading card game (TCG) apart from the forging keys mechanic, does it? Well, this is where the games ‘unique’ selling point comes in.

Random decks!

Yep, you heard me correctly… well sort of. Each deck in the game is different. They each have a different name and a different selection of 37 cards from the overall pool of 350ish cards. There is no customisation or trading of cards to tweak the decks. What you get in the blind box is your deck. Each has a computer generated name which is printed onto each card stopping people mixing and matching. These names can be pretty much anything and part of the charm of each deck is the weird name some computer algorithm has created.

In theory, the idea of a random deck is brilliant and stops people all using the exact same decks (like in Magic the Gathering or Pokemon) but in practice, it can feel very unbalanced with one person having a strong deck and another having something that can’t seem to beat it. All trading card games have this and with most, you can swap out cards to improve your deck. Here you don’t have that luxury. Don’t like your deck, you’ll either need to keep persevering and hope it wins you over or will need to get a new one (not that they are expensive brand new usually being around £8). In effect, it’s more like a trading deck game.

The strongest decks (or at least believed strongest) are already selling for big money on the secondary market (with a few breaking the £1000 mark) which is a bit of a shame and really takes away the random uniqueness the game holds. The idea of being the only one with a certain deck and trying to learn it and make it work is part of the game’s charm, but knowing you could buy a deck that has proved strong is a bit sad.

It’ll be interesting to see if the secondary market stays as expensive as it currently is or if it’s just the new game hype that’s pushing prices up. Its way to early to tell but I do hope that the makers do something about it to stop the game falling into the pay to win trap.

The game itself is both familiar yet fresh as the way you do each thing almost seems the reverse of the likes of Magic The Gathering, with you drawing and untapping (readying) at the end of your turn instead of the start. It’s slightly jarring if used to the aforementioned game but it works well. The turns tend to move at a fast pace but the overall games can go on for a long time.

A turn consists of choosing one of the 3 houses your deck is made up of (there are 7 houses in total but the computer that created your deck would have chosen only 3). During your turn, you can only play and use cards from that house (there are a couple of exceptions but for the most part this is true). You aim to gather Æmber which is the power that allows you to forge the 3 keys to win the game. At your disposal are creatures and spells allowing you to gather, steal and create this currency. 6 is the usual number you need to forge and at the end of your turn if you have enough to forge you have to warn your opponent you will be forging the beginning of your next turn (you can only forge once per turn unless you have cards that assist you). Once either player has a 3 forged they win.

Although what could be quite simple does seem to have a lot of depth with most games being an interesting back and forth game of dominance. It can feel very one-sided at times with certain decks being able to essentially lock the other player out from being able to play anything. These games are few and far between and I’m sure the more the game is played, the more counters to certain cards will appear but for the moment the balance issues do sit on the side waiting to rear their ugly heads.

I do feel that during your opponents turn there can be a lot of downtime where you just sit and watch them play their hand without being able to react or do anything about the threats. It slows the game down dramatically and can sometimes feel a chore.

But I feel I might be approaching the game from the wrong angle. I’m used to playing Magic the Gathering having played for countless years and there is so much that’s similar here just with different names. In Magic if a card doesn’t work in your deck, you swap it out, you time it to make it stronger. Here we are stuck with cards that are sometimes pointless. Such as a deck with cards that give you bonuses for playing artefacts, yet you have no artefacts in your deck or a card that lets you search for a certain creature but the computer didn’t assign this creature to your deck. Its something I can learn to adapt to and once I get my head around the fact that this isn’t Magic, I think it will work even better for me.

The components for the game are great and the artwork is phenomenal. Each card has it’s own style and charm that makes them stand apart from other card games. Especially the cards in the mars house which pay a lot of homages to War of the Worlds. The starter set gives you tokens which are of the usual high standard from Fantasy Flight Games (Although at the moment there are no ways to get the official tokens separately.

The fact that you can play the game essentially with just a deck makes it a cheap game to get into, but I do see that it could easily become expensive if you want to play the competitive circuit. Its all about finding a deck you like playing and I reckon it’ll take most people a couple of decks before they find one they are happy with. None of this really matters if you are just playing for fun with friends as you could just throw all the decks into a pool in the middle and each person plays with a random randomised deck.

I think the game has it’s heart and imagination in the right place and when it works (which is a lot more than not) it is brilliant and really is up there with the longstanding TCGs. This is an impressive feat and it’s rare for a game to get so much right from the outset. Sure there will be some hurdles especially with the randomised decks but all of that can be tuned and fixed.

All in all Keyforge: Call of the Archons is a fantastic game that does enough to stand out from the crowd and feels like it’s here to stay for the long term. It’s easy to learn but is a game that will take a lot of learning to move into the truly competitive side.

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