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KeyForge: Call of the Archons

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The new game from legendary designer Richard Garfield. KeyForge is a two-player card game with a difference. Each deck 37 card deck is completely unique. You will be the only person who plays KeyForge with your Archon’s combination of cards. You also have a unique name and cardback on each deck. Squarely aimed at casual gamers who want a deep and strategic card game without the de…
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  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • No extra work outside games to stay competitive.
  • No direct confrontation between players.
  • A great mix of luck and strategy.

Might Not Like

  • This if deck-building is your favourite thing about card games.
  • The game if you only intend on buying one deck.
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The new game from legendary designer Richard Garfield. KeyForge is a two-player card game with a difference. Each deck 37 card deck is completely unique. You will be the only person who plays KeyForge with your Archon’s combination of cards. You also have a unique name and cardback on each deck.

Squarely aimed at casual gamers who want a deep and strategic card game without the deck-building, Keyforge is a decision-heavy but fun infused experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is plenty of enjoyment to be had in the art, card names and flavour text.

Players are competing for Aember, and will be using the Aember they collect to forge keys. The first player to forge three keys is the winner.

There are seven houses in the game, each with their own identity. From the barbarian hordes of House Brobnar to the sneaky rogues of House Shadows. A KeyForge Archon Deck will contain 12 cards from three different houses plus an identity card which shows the decklist. Each cardback shows the name and image of your unique Archon.

During a game you will play cards representing creatures, artefacts and upgrades onto the board. Fighting and using other powerful effects to maintain control of the fight. There are also plenty of actions which have a big impact on the game. The overarching rule of "Do As Much As You Can" makes cards easy to interpret and gives a fast flow to an enjoyable game.

There are no restrictions to how many cards you can play or use each turn. At the start of your turn you call a House and play or use all the cards you are able to. At the end of your turn you always draw back up to six cards.

This means each turn in KeyForge is spent determining how to get the most out of the hand and board that you have. The decision to use the creatures and artefacts you have on the board or play a different house from hand is a difficult one.

Fantasy Flight Games have also made a KeyForge App that will track wins, losses and power level. When you play in a local tournament your deck page will update on the app. You can earn points on the app that can eventually be traded for KeyForge merchandise. 

This Starter Set contains all the tokens you need to play KeyForge. There are two starter decks that will teach you the game mechanics as you play with them. The teaching decks should only be used against each other. The set also contains two completely unique Archon Decks. Allowing you to play in tournaments or casually against other players.

KeyForge is a great purchase for anyone who enjoys strategic card games but lacks the knowledge or time to deep dive into one of the established games.

Player Count: 2
Time: 15-45 Minutes
Age: 14+

KeyForge is the latest two-player card game from legendary designer Richard Garfield. Attempting to innovate within the genre having already changed the hobby by creating Magic: The Gathering and Android: Netrunner. Keyforge is a Unique Deck Game, meaning that every single deck has a different combination of cards to every other deck.

With a procedurally generated name and card back you cannot swap cards between decks. This means, no boosters, no deck-building, no netdecks and no meta. If you like the sound of that, or aren’t deep enough into card games to know what that means, this could be the game for you.

There are seven houses in KeyForge, each with 36 cards, making a total of 252 cards in the game. When you buy a 36 card deck it will contain 12 cards from three of the houses.

How to Play KeyForge

The aim of KeyForge is to collect Amber to forge keys, whoever forges their third key first wins. There is no mana cost to the cards and no playing outside of your turn. At the start of a turn the active player names a faction. Only cards belonging to that house can be played and used, but there is no other restriction.

These can be creatures, used to fight or generate amber. Upgrades, which attach to creatures to grant them extra abilities. Actions, which will often generate Amber as well as have a range of powerful effects. There are also Artefacts, which sit back form the battle line and add passive effects or actions.

Turns can be enormous, with big swings happening due to well planned and executed combos. The game feels a lot like a scene in a film where two characters are trying to reach something before the other. The point isn’t to fight, it’s to get there first. Anything you can do that slows the opponent down or speeds you up is a good move. It’s easy to get lost in the board and slap down big creatures that ultimately do nothing for you. It feels very different to other card game sin this genre as a result.

KeyForge Review – Game Layout (Credit: Fantasy Flight Games)

Master Vault

A lot of the fanfare before release focused on the Master Vault, which is a website and app that supports the game. Currently, all it allows you to do is register the decks you buy. There are a lot of features followed by the words coming soon. I hope they get this extra functionality up and running soon.

It makes sense that it would launch with basic functionality. It’s not crucial to enjoying the game and a complex and untested app could have caused problems at launch. It would be good for the tournament scene if the extra stuff could go live within the next few weeks.

What’s the Story

I managed to infect a few friends with my enthusiasm for this game. I’ve also entered a couple of tournaments at my Friendly Local Game Store. Meaning I’ve played against a good number of players. I have never had a conversation with any of these people about the theme behind the game. It doesn’t come up or doesn’t interest people.

The unique name and image on your deck is your Archon. The Archons are fighting for the right to open vaults in the crucible. Once you have forged three keys you open a vault.

It surprises me that I’m enjoying the game so much despite this. One of my favourite things about board games is the narrative you can force on games as you play them. KeyForge is providing me with so much enjoyment that I don’t need anything else. I’m sure there are people out there devouring the fiction behind the game, but my guess is it’s a small number.

The Art of the Cards

I love the tone they have gone for with the art in this game, supported by some great flavour text. One of my favourite qualities about anything is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The art you choose for a game needs to personify the feeling you want to get across to players and they’ve nailed it. This game is a blast to play and the art gets you in the mind-set that you’re there to have fun.

The mechanics are supportive of the playing for fun angle. The game is a race to three keys, so feels less confrontational than games with health totals. Fighting each other is only the correct play if doing so will allow you to win the race. Board control definitely still exists in this game but it’s used in a different way. It can be the best play to not play creatures, or not fight with the ones you have.

The less confrontational aspect should make the game less stressful and tilt inducing. One of the reasons I ended up moving away from Hearthstone was how frustrating losing could be. Either I’ve done a lot of personal growth since then or they’ve designed it out of the game. None of my losses have been difficult and negatively influenced my decisions in future games. I haven’t seen rants about losses son any of the social media groups as you’d expect with a game like this.

KeyForge Review – Card Designs (Credit: Fantasy Flight Games)

Don’t Get Me Started!

The starter sets for KeyForge have confused me since I first learned about them. As well as tracking tokens and cards you also get two unique decks and two standard ‘learning’ decks. The two learning decks are the same in every starter set and are invalid for tournament play. The learning decks are a clever idea, they have text on the cards to teach the keywords and showcase a lot of the rules. But once you’ve learnt the game they don’t serve a purpose. The included tokens for damage and amber are good but then there are cards to represent stun and power. The cards are fiddly to use. I went to a pre-release event so had to cannibalise the rest of my game collection for suitable proxies.

It all seems like a series of strange decisions. I like the idea of the learning decks but not the waste they represent. I like the damage and amber tokens in the box but can’t understand why it’s cards for power and stun. The stock levels have been low everywhere and being hard to get hold of has added to the confusion.

It would have made a lot more sense to provide the learning decks to game stores to run teaching games. Then as a free print and play for those who wanted them. Official token packs would have been great as well. The game is near impossible to play without all the proper keys and tokens. The silver lining is seeing small companies do well selling third party token sets.


The scepticism attached to discussion about KeyForge is always cantered around balance. Can decks produced by an algorithm create a balanced game? The game comes with a balancing mechanic; chains. A chain forces you to draw one less card at the end of your turn. They will officially be applied to decks that have won tournaments. You can also use them casually, if your deck beats mine three times in a row we can add chains to your deck for future games.

In a game of KeyForge there are three factors that will decide a game:

1) Ability of the players

2) Strength of the Deck

3) The order the cards are drawn.

It’s easy enough to nullify the effects of the shuffle as this will even out over repeated plays. Swapping decks and piloting each other’s will show you if player skill that is the deciding fact. If one deck is still consistently winning then you know that it is a better deck and o add chains to the stronger deck.

Do as Much as You Can

There are a few touches and clever design decisions in this game that elevate it to a great game. A good example of this is the Do As Much As You Can (DAMAYC) rule. Whenever you play a card you resolve as much of the text as possible.

In practice this means you have to resolve the bits of the card that you can resolve and ignore the bits you can’t. This makes the cards behave differently at different times. Each card has a sliding scale of effects and effectiveness. Judging current effect against possible future effect to decide the best play is where a lot of the interesting decisions come from.

KeyForge Review – Character Cards (Credit: Fantasy Flight Games)

KeyForge Rules

A game with so many variables in will always end up with problems that weren’t exposed during testing. The promise with KeyForge was an online rules clarification request and frequent updates. So far this has been the most disappointing aspect for me. The rules clarifications and rulebook updates have been slow. With some of the rulings going against the intent of the card.

Without official rulings discussions are circular and more likely to turn nasty. Unofficial rulings appear on Facebook threads sporadically. There is, of course, a lot behind the scenes we don’t know about but to be able to interact on Facebook but not release an official ruling is disappointing.

Final Thoughts on KeyForge

I’ve been playing KeyForge for several weeks now. I’m still arranging games almost every lunchtime and getting excited about them. That makes the game an astonishing success for me. It not been as cheap a buy-in as I was hoping. But then I shouldn’t have got carried away buying a playmat on top of the tokens, sleeves and deckboxes I needed. Not to mention the six decks.

In theory you can buy one deck and play but in practice only a tiny percentage of players will do that. Most people I know have more than five decks. The game is not immune to impulse buying decks. If you have a problem with self-control and booster packs, KeyForge will do nothing to fix that.

If you’re interested because it takes away the between game admin of deck-building then I’d call this a must buy. Repeated plays against friends are rewarding because they can’t change their decks. Learning each other’s cards increases the information behind decisions, improving the games in every way.

How to Play Keyforge

Keyforge is a “Unique Deck Game.” That means that every deck you buy is completely different from every other deck. You don’t need to worry about deck building or keeping track of a meta. You won’t come up against someone who’s spent a lot of money on powerful cards. Decks have gone for a lot of money on Ebay, but buying a good deck won’t make you a good player.

So, theoretically, this game is perfect for casual players who don’t have the time or money to play Magic the Gathering to a high level.

How to Win in KeyForge

The winner in KeyForge is the first person to forge three keys. You collect Amber by playing and using cards. The standard cost to forge a key is six Amber. The game will end before the third key is forged as a player will realise they can’t prevent the third key and concede.


Before you play KeyForge, you need tokans to represent armour, damage, stun, power and, of course, keys. Other game pieces make good stand-ins, the starter set does come with almost everything you will need, but is hard to get hold of at the moment. Each player will need a unique deck.

Starting the Game

Each player shuffles their deck. The first player is randomly decided and draws seven cards. The player going second draws six cards. Both players can mulligan; shuffle their hand into their deck and draw one less card. The first player to take their turn may only play one card, all later turns take place as normal.

How to Play KeyForge - Deck of Cards

Turn Structure

  • If you can forge a key, you must forge a key at current cost.
  • Declare a house. You can only play and use cards from that house this turn.
  • Declare if you’re going to return your achieved cards to hand. You must return all or nothing.
  • Play/Use your cards.
  • Discard any cards of the active house.
  • Ready all your exhausted cards.
  • Draw cards back up to your current hand size.

The Houses

There are seven houses, or factions, in KeyForge. Each deck will have three houses and each house in a deck will have 12 cards inside. Each house has a theme and can have a play style. As you will have 12 cards from a house in your deck, you may get cards that;

  • Brobnar – The barbarian hordes, made up of violent high-powered giants. Artefacts and actions cards that generally deal damage or stun.
  • Dis – Demons, punishing effects. Can cause opponents to discard, be able to play less or be able to draw less. Also, can have access to archiving.
  • Logos – Scientists with hi-tech gadgets. The main house with draw and archive effects. My favourite house with card like Crazy Killing Machine and Neutron Shark.
  • Mars – Little aliens and big robots. Very war of the worlds. Lots of reap effects that can add up to a real problem. The house where timing of plays is the most important. They also have some access to forging keys out of the forge key step.
  • Sanctum – Big knights. A lot of armour, a lot of taunt, and some very nice action cards and artefacts. This house features the The Four Horsemen, who are causing decks to go for silly money online.
  • Shadows – Rogues, prepare for your amber to be stolen, constantly. Great effect on cards like Bait and Switch, and fun cards like Bad Penny. You will have a hard time saving up Amber to forge a key and once you’ve got a enough, they’ll make you skip your forge key step. You can never relax against them.
  • Untamed – Lots of animals, high Amber gain and great combo interactions. With of the Eye can get any card back from discard when you reap and will create a nightmare.

The Cards

There are four type of cards. Any card with an Amber symbol gains Amber when played. Then, resolve the effect of the card.

  • Creatures – You put them in your battle line, always adding them to one flank. On your turn you can fight with them, reap to gain Amber, or do an action that’s on the card. Each creayure has power, which is both the amount it hits for and the health it has. As the creature takes damage its health decreases but the amount of damage it causes remains the same. Creatures can have armour, this needs to be dealt with before causing damage and repairs at the end of each turn.
  • Upgrades – These attach to creatures and add a variety of abilities.
  • Artefacts – Played back from your battle line, providing a passive ability or an action.
  • Actions – These cover a wide, wide, variety of effects. All are fun to play and can create enjoyable combos. They can be very situational and often be played only for the Amber they provide.

How to Play KeyForge - Creature Cards

KeyForge Rules

KeyForge has overarching rules. These are very useful for deciding card interactions;

Do as much as you can

Whatever the card or ability says, you resolve as much of it as possible. This allows for neat manipulation of some effects. For example, if a creature is exhausted and an affect that says; “Ready and fight with a friendly creature,” you would firstly ready a creature, then check to see if there were any targets to fight. If there is an enemy creature to fight, then you must fight. If there are no enemy creatures then the effect is resolved but the creature remains readied.

It could then us an action, or it could reap. This makes a lot of the cards more versatile and allows you to order your plays in more interesting ways.

Action Player decides order of Simultaneous Events

This is a simple way to resolve simultaneous effects. It rewards big plays and players who order events more advantageously.

Card Text takes Precedence over Game Rules

If a card tells you that you can do something that the game says you can’t, e.g forge a key not in the Forge Key step of your turn, then the card takes precedence.

Negative Effects beat Positive Effects

If I play a card that says you can only play two cards on your turn and you play a card that tells you that you can play more cards, my negative effect beats your positive one. This makes it easier to set harder puzzles for your opponent.

Rules as a Living Document 

The rules are not supplied with the game, there is only a Quick Start guide in the starter set. This is because they are a living document and will be changing as different judgements are made. You can also submit questions to Fantasy Flight Games and regular rule updated will be published. These FAQs should help the community all play to the same rules and have the same interpretations of cards.

Buy KeyForge Call of the Archons

Buy KeyForge Archon Deck

The Houses of KeyForge

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.

Houses of KeyForge - Brobnar

Houses of KeyForge – Brobnar Cards


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.

Houses of KeyForge - Logos

Houses of KeyForge – Logos Cards


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.

Houses of KeyForge - Sanctum

Houses of KeyForge – Sanctum Cards


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.

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • No extra work outside games to stay competitive.
  • No direct confrontation between players.
  • A great mix of luck and strategy.

Might not like

  • This if deck-building is your favourite thing about card games.
  • The game if you only intend on buying one deck.