There are seven Houses in KeyForge, the first-ever unique card game from Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight Games. 12 cards from three of these houses make up each semi-randomly generated unique deck. Understanding what each house is generally trying to do is the key to being able to pick up a new deck quickly and to understand what your opponent’s deck might be doing.
Each house represents a different culture living on the Crucible, an artificial world created by mysterious architects from pieces of civilisations from across the multiverse. The theme and flavour of each house ties very closely with their mechanics, which means that the story behind each one isn’t just a nice addition, but a helpful tool in learning the game.
The Brobnar are a collection of giants and goblins mashed together over centuries of life on the Crucible. Their culture is one that values strength in combat and the appearance of strength over all else. The artefacts and the machinery that they use reflect this value, tending to be both very loud and very destructive.
Most Brobnar lists are all about fighting with big creatures. The creatures themselves are often in the five or six power range, with many of their abilities triggering in fights, allowing you to gain Aember or making opponents lose it. Other abilities from creatures, actions and artefacts support this strategy, helping you to fight more frequently and more effectively. There is not a lot of subtlety in Brobnar, but sequencing your turns to get the most out of your fights is an important skill.
The denizens of Dis are either monstrous inter-dimensional demons or a race of parasitic beings dwelling in the superstructure of the Crucible, depending on who you listen to. Either way, they have a nasty habit of kidnapping the creatures of the surface and harvest their negative emotions. Everything they do is about cultivating and stealing fear, greed and suffering.
Playing against a strong Dis list can feel very oppressive. Their mixture of tough creatures, disruptive spells and powerful artefacts can keep an opponent locked down. Dis effects will often cause opponents to lose board presence, lose cards from their hand and even lose Aember. No other faction is quite so good at messing with its opponent’s stuff. The trick with most Dis lists is to balance disruption with your own Aember production, as it can be tough to progress your own game while you’re slowing your opponent down.
The Logotarian scientists are devoted to studying life on the Crucible. Their technological development is second to none, and there isn’t a race on the Crucible that has escaped their insatiable thirst for knowledge. Within Logos there are both theorists and mechanists, with the first group pursuing theoretical knowledge and the second practical application.
Logos have more card draw than any other House and make heavy use of the Archive mechanic. Many powerful artefacts and spells help to keep cards moving through your hand, giving you a lot to do on any one turn. Their creatures tend to be smaller, though they can certainly have powerful effects, but their lack in size is balanced by a number of ways to deal damage and disrupt your opponent’s board. With Logos lists being so action-heavy, players need to be careful that they’re not allowing their opponents to build up an unassailable battle line.
Transported to the Crucible from our solar system, the Martian empire has remained more or less isolated since its arrival. Mars is a very insular society, slow to trust outsiders and quick to aggression. Their main interaction with the rest of the Crucible comes in the form of bio-engineering experiments and brutal skirmishes in which their flying saucers play a central role.
Of all the houses, Mars is the one that relies most heavily on in-faction combos. Mars cards are often stronger the more you have in play or in your hand. Others interact with the Martians on your battlefield or gain benefits when Martians come into play. Mars is also the other faction with heavy archiving, allowing you to build a squadron of creatures ready to invade the field, or even to capture your opponent’s creatures and place them in your archives for further study.
To play Mars well, you have to be able to pick the moment for your big turns. Go too soon and your cards will be weak; you need to time your turns to get the most out of those combo abilities.
The floating paradise of the Sanctum is populated by powerful human knights and radiant spirits. Their order is sworn to protect the innocent and the just of the Crucible, though their interpretation of these qualities can be somewhat...idiosyncratic. Their faith is centred on the mysterious and powerful archons, but only the Sanctum’s scholars and Grey Monks know the origins of their unique culture.
Anyone looking at a Sanctum list will immediately see an abundance of armour, more so than any other faction. The knights of the Sanctum are tough to break down, with defensive points that refresh every turn. Along with bulky creatures, powerful artefacts make Sanctum sing. These can heal the creatures, bring others into battle, prevent damage and more. Sanctum really helps you to build up your battle line. The trick is knowing when to stop building up your board and to start fighting and reaping to push you on to victory.
The Svarr elves form a loose collection of similar thieving guilds that make up the Shadows. They claim they were once denizens of a land of peace and plenty, but their current state of life on the Crucible is very much one of thievery and darkness. Whatever their origins, they’re very good at what they do. None can match the Svarr in stealth, trickery and cunning.
It doesn’t take long for someone playing against a Shadows deck to realise just how annoying they can be. Shadows doesn’t produce much of its own Aember, but it steals a lot. Creatures, actions and artefacts all lead to Aember theft and can feel quite oppressive in some games. Their weakness is a lack of creature strength. One and two power creatures are common, though many are Elusive, which allows them to stay on the field a bit longer.
Using Shadows well is about knowing when to hit your opponent the hardest and when to play your weaker creatures to make them stick. If they do stick, you can cause your opponent a host of problems.
Mechanical fairies tend to the diverse wildlife that makes up the Untamed wildlands of the Crucible. The mishmash of alien life brought together by the Crucible’s architects is full of energy, colour and danger. What's more, the ranks of the Untamed are swollen by members of other races that have rejected their civilisations in favour of a less complicated way of life.
Two things mark most Untamed lists: creatures and Aember. It’s a solid combination. Many Untamed cards care about how many creatures you have or improve the creatures on your battlefield. Many others are excellent at producing Aember, either reaping more powerfully than normal or just generating a lot of Aember when they’re played. When playing Untamed it’s tempting to throw everything onto the field, but you have to be careful that you don’t overextend and get caught without any tricks in hand.
What has your experience of the different KeyForge Houses been so far? Which ones do you find the most fun to play with? Which ones make you groan when you see them played against you? Tell us what your experience has been on Twitter at @Ben_Garry and @ZatuGames.