KeyForge - No deck-building, just deck-collecting

I think this deserves its own thread.

It’s voodoo! $10 per deck. $40 for a starter kit.

KeyForge Call of the Archons is the world’s first Unique Deck Game. Every single Archon Deck that you’ll use to play is truly unique and one-of-a kind, with its own Archon and its own mixture of cards in the deck. If you pick up an Archon Deck , you know that you’re the only person in existence with access to this exact deck and its distinct combination of cards. In fact, in just the first set of KeyForge, Call of the Archons, there are more than 104,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible decks!

Sounds like gimmicky nonsense. Harrumph!

I really want to see some logistical information about this. The decks must be procedurally generated, right? So how do they ensure you aren’t just getting a shitty pile of cards for ten bucks?

I’m almost positive that the unfathomable number of decks is only technically correct. My gut tells me that there is a much smaller number of distinct decks (ten, twenty, a hundred), with tons and tons of variations on each one.

So, to borrow Magic terms, you’ve got “the blue deck,” with seven slots allotted for countermagic. Variation 1 uses 4 Spell Pierce and 3 Counterspell, varation 2 uses 3 Spell Pierce and 4 Counterspell, variation 3 uses 3 Spell Pierce, 3 Counterspell, and 1 Essence Scatter, and so on.

That’s my guess, but I’m curious to see how it actually works.

I mean, that is the quintessential CCG experience.

I agree with your guess, and your sentiment.

I’m personally incredibly excited about this. I love the idea of random decks you have to learn to play with and no deck-building. I love the idea of going into a store, buying a deck with a friend and learning how to play the deck right there.

In an interview, Richard Garfield said a design goal was making decks feel like they had built-in side-boards. Basically, due to how quickly you can churn through your deck and that getting to the bottom just reshuffles the deck, decks can theoretically contain a variety of effective playstyles. This makes me hope learning to play a new deck effectively will take quite a bit of practice.

I also think the core mechanic of choosing which third of your deck is active each turn sounds really interesting. I can imagine getting a bunch of similar cards out on the table from one third of your deck but having an excellent hand for another third. Choosing which to make active sounds like a neat decision.

My biggest complaint is I’m not really digging the art style or the card layout. It looks sort of random and over-saturated. Maybe it looks better in person?

I’m pretty excited too. The idea that I might be able to spend $10, then stick with that deck for a while is very appealing.

Can’t help but feel like that KeyForge trailer is channelling the delivery of Dot Dot Dot, at least at the end.

Could be I’m being triggered and reliving bad SolForge memories too.

I’m sure I’ll be trying this, because my gaming group has played everything we can find with Richard Garfield’s name on it at some time or another. I see no reason that’s gonna change now. From what I’ve read, each of the “unique” decks is basically generated by some algorithm to a minimal level of coherence, so you won’t ever end up with 40 copies of one card or whatever. What you probably will see is some “gee this deck looks really familiar, just slightly different from that one I played last time” moments since the algorithm is likely to end up producing a finite number of “archetypes” that meet that coherence level.

I’m really looking forward to this. The idea of a game that’s built to be sealed-deck definitely appeals to me, but allows you to find your best deck for a semi-constructed format really appeals. And then skipping the deck-building step (which I’m usually only barely competent at) makes it even better.

As mentioned above, not really feeling the art style, though. It doesn’t look good on the web…hoping the printed cards are better.

I really like this idea in theory, because to me the #1 problem in TCGs since Internet deckbuilding became widely accessible is that 99% of the people you meet are running some minor variation of a Standard Meta Deck. It’s dull and half the reason I stopped playing them.

I’m skeptical it will actually work out but I’ll definitely keep an eye on it.

Ok, but if you aren’t nuts about it, you can’t tweak it to your liking. Or you get a great idea inspired by the deck…that you can’t use. The whole idea seems very strange to me.

I don’t like tweaking or building decks. But I do really like learning how to work around limitations. Experimenting with how to make the parts of my deck I don’t like work sounds more fun to me than making them exactly what I want. It’s an open question whether the game is good enough to encourage that exploration, or if the algorithm is good enough to build decks that deserve it, but that’s what I’m hoping for.

I can certainly understand that. But I question whether there is enough of an audience to build a thriving community around the concept. CCGs are (at least traditionally) very expensive to make. Sort of like an mmo, you need to hit a certain size player base for it to work. So when I said the concept seems strange, I didn’t mean that it couldn’t be fun or even great, but more:

  1. part of ccg communities centers around trading cards. How will communities be different without that aspect? Maybe players will trade whole decks? Will the community, and therefore the game, suffer without that?

  2. related to that, how is the game going to make money without booster sales? Are they counting on people buying multiple decks? Will players want to do that without the ability to mix and match? Have they found a new economic model that will help make this work?

Tom Vasel did a preview. He likes it. His final thoughts are at about 11:00.

And the art does look somewhat better on the actual cards.

The lack of community via trading isn’t the only concern - like most games of this sort, it’s hard to get a community to spring up around a new game, period. I’ve watched games like Dice Masters and Force of Will die as quickly as the LGS could start setting up consistent game nights for them, because it’s basically impossible to get people to buy into, learn, and make time for another game when they’re already hooked by Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Warhammer 40K, or even just D&D. That just gets worse without incentives like chase cards to sell packs or give out as promos, and unless the expectation is that everyone will play a new deck every week (at which point the price per event is closer to a Magic draft), it’ll get stale fast if everyone is just using their same deck week after week.

Well, yes, that was my point…that’s it difficult, and how successful will they be without the trading aspect? You bring up something else I hadn’t considered, though. They can do promo DECKS, but not promo cards. That sounds pricey.

One thing that might be very, very cool is if they let you design your own archon by choosing the houses and graphic, etc. and maybe one rare card or something (if that), then they send you the deck. Tom Vasel would be first in line.

Aren’t those concerns all identical with an LCG? Netrunner seemed to do fine in spite of that.

I think the incentives to buy new decks are that they’re only $10, which is impulse purchase territory for me, and that they’ve hinted they’re rolling out cards in stages. Not much info on how they’re doing that, but presumably when the next “season” of Keyforge hits, you can get decks that feature a whole new set of cards. Which is a pretty big incentive for me at least.

He touched on it a little bit in the video, but I think this game is the closest realization of Garfield’s quest to create a collectible game without a metagame.

Garfield’s original vision for Magic assumed that 1) no one would spend a ton of money on the booster packs and 2) you’d mostly be playing with your friends. Rare cards were considered balanced because there would only be one or two within your playgroup. When Magic caught on, people wanted to play to win, so they started secondary markets for people to buy and sell cards. Suddenly, it was pretty easy to put decks together with nothing but the best cards, and the competitive scene started developing.

More importantly, Wizards needed to start developing their cards assuming that a competitive scene existed, which meant all of the cool ideas that Garfield was so good at coming up with didn’t really have a place anymore. You can’t play Shaharazad in tournaments because it takes too long. You can’t play Chaos Orb because it’s too swingy. You can’t play for ante because no one wants to lose cards that now have monetary value.

Magic also lost some of its collectible “uniqueness.” Again, Garfield’s vision was that cards wouldn’t be readily available, so everyone you ran into would probably have a deck you hadn’t seen before. You would have pride in your deck because you knew it was fairly unique. Or maybe you’d collect and curate a few decks that you liked playing. The idea was that “ownership” of your deck was something special. Now, competitive decks have archetypes and names, so you rarely come across “Bradley’s deck” at FNM – instead, you see “Bradley’s Eldrazi deck” which is functionally identical to anyone else’s Eldrazi deck.

I think Garfield is trying to recapture his original vision for Magic. Once you have a deck, that’s your deck. It might be similar to other decks that have those factions, but your combination is always going to be different from the person sitting across from you, and everyone you play is going to have something pretty unique. Because there’s no curation, and the power level seems relatively flat, a deck is only ever going to be worth what it’s worth to you, and that will depend entirely on how much you like the way the deck plays.

If a secondary market even emerges, it’s going to be more along the lines of deck-for-deck trades (with accompanying descriptions) instead of any kind of monetary value. Like “I’ve got a Mars-Shadow-Sanctum deck that steals amber. I want a deck that’s similar but has this specific card in it.” (Actually, does anyone want to register I bet we’d make a bit of money).

I have no idea what this means for a competitive scene. If it winds up feeling like you win as a result of your skill, it’s got a future. If it feels like you’re flipping a coin every time, I’m not optimistic about its chances.