In the last five years, we've seen a massive growth in the popularity of of tabletop gaming. The globalisation of shows like Game of Thrones turned people toward the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, while Wil Wheaton's Tabletop introduced gaming to a whole new generation.
Gone are the days of game-shame-suffering nerds, and geek culture is more mainstream now than it ever has been.
While this has resulted in a growing market of a wide variety of products and gaming lines for tabletop, no company is more ambitious than Fantasy Flight- as proven with their new game, KeyForge.
Announced at the Fantasy Flight Games In-Flight report on the eve of GenCon, KeyForge is a new card game designed by the now-legendary Richard Garfield (creator of tabletop monolith Magic: The Gathering).
While the mechanics of the game are especially fluid, some aspects will not sound especially ground-breaking. Players use creatures, artefacts and upgrades to build their board and compete to accumulate the resource 'aember' in a faster and more efficient way than their opponent in order to be the first player to forge three keys.
What really sets KeyForge apart is it's distribution method, the likes of which have never been seen in any game. Ever.
Most card games are distributed in full decks of a fixed list of cards, or booster packs of random cards. The 'Living Card Game' (LCG), method pioneered by Fantasy Flight some years ago saw players purchase small packs of fixed cards, devoid of any rarity, to expand their collection.
The LCG model has proven popular, especially by players who dislike random distribution of cards that inflate the secondary market, drastically increasing the cost of individual cards, and thus, the overall cost of playing the game.
KeyForge instead employs the freshly coined 'Unique Game' model. Players will purchase decks which are fully playable right out of the pack- But no two decks will be identical.
What does that mean, exactly?
When you purchase a deck for KeyForge, the combination of cards in that pack will be 100% unique to that deck. Each deck comes with a printed deck list, and it will be impossible to open two decks with the exact same cards in them.
The backs of the cards in every KeyForge deck also have the name of that deck (a completely unique name), printed on the back, along with a different colour and unique pattern, as well as the symbols of the three 'houses' (the game's faction or 'colour' mechanic), that make up that deck.
It can be a lot to get your head around- the game truly is a Unique one.
Unlike almost every other popular tabletop card game on the market, KeyForge features absolutely no deck building. You buy a deck, and that deck is unique to every other deck in the world, and that's the deck you play with.
With KeyForge, Garfield has designed a limited card pool game that feels like a spiritual successor to Magic: The Gathering sealed. The advantage to a game being focussed on a limited card pool is two-fold.
Firstly, it eliminates the possibility of net-decking, which is the act of sharing and replicating the most powerful constructed decks over the internet. Net-decking drives the prices of single cards on the secondary market.
Secondly, it keeps the game accessible and affordable. The price of a KeyForge deck is $9,99USD, and while arguments can be made that players will buy dozens or hundred of decks to find one they like, or think is powerful, ultimately, the 'cost' to play KeyForge is negligible.
Unlike games where purchasing a pre-constructed starter deck sees you quickly realise that you'll need to spend a significant amount of money to make a more powerful deck, KeyForge keeps all players on a constantly even keel- After all, it's entirely possible that the first deck a new player purchases could be stronger than the one used by the best KeyForge player in your region.
Gamers the world over have already expressed several concerns about KeyForge- a natural reaction to such an ambitious and innovative design. Chief among them is; “How many decks will I have to buy before I get a good one?”
When looking at some of the best limited players in the world, you'll find the skill set actually comes from learning the card pool, and how certain cards interact with one another in your deck. I fully expect a time will come where the best KeyForge players need only read the deck list that comes with each pack to determine the power level of any given deck.
Additionally, a player with a strong knowledge of the card pool will always have an advantage over someone who doesn't understand the best interactions of the cards in their own decks. Thus, a good player will still best a newbie, even if that newbie happens to have the most optimal combination of cards in their deck.
KeyForge is due to hist stores in Q4 of this year, and while there are still many more announcements to come (such as the full spoiler of the card pool, organised play structure, and how the cards will interact with the companion app), the majority of people are very excited.
Regardless of whether you think KeyForge will pave the way for a whole new generation of card games, or if its ambitious model will be an exercise in flying too close to the sun, it has to be said that Fantasy Flight is taking risks and pushing the design space within tabletop to see just how far things can go.
And if we want tabletop to continue to grow into the future, we need game developers to do exactly that.
Ask your local Good Games store about pre-ordering KeyForge today.
To get in on the discussion of all things KeyForge, join the KeyForge Australia Facebook group.