A Tale of Two Games
October 11, 2018 5:59 AM   Subscribe

With Magic: The Gathering turning 25 this year, it's creator Richard Garfield is not resting on his laurels. November sees the release of not one, but two brand new Garfield designed card games with very different philosophies - Keyforge on the tabletop and Artifact online.

Keyforge, from Fantasy Flight games, is a Unique Deck Game where every deck, and you can only buy decks, is comprised of a unique procedurally generated random set of cards chosen from three of the seven factions in the game. Each deck is given a unique name (examples seen so far: 'The Eminence that Heals Justice', 'The Woman who Often Battles Strength') printed on every card and card back with cards only allowed to be played in their original deck, removing the entire concept of deckbuilding from the game. Each deck comes with a QR Code allowing deck registration via mobile app for tournament and (rumoured) online play.

Will every procedurally generated deck be playable? Will there be a secondary market for winning decks? Will it turn into nothing more than a glorified lootbox opener?

Keyforge launches on the 15th November.

Watch: How to play | Demo Gameplay

Artifact, from Valve Software, is Garfield's first Digital Trading Card Game and is based on the popular Dota 2 MOBA. Like Dota 2 and it's three lane battlefield, players will deploy heroes and minions across three playfields simultaneously. Unlike most other DTCGs, Artifact will not be free-to-play, requiring an initial $20 starter set purchase and $2 boosters packs. However players will be able to sell and buy individual cards on the Steam marketplace.

Will casual players spend money to get started in a digital game? Despite best efforts will it turn into a pay-to-win game? Will it threaten Hearthstone's popularity?

Artifact launches on the 28th November.

Watch: How to play | Demo Gameplay
posted by PenDevil (40 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Keyforge kinda intrigues me, but I fear that it's immediately going to expand the card-collecting cash advantage of MTG into a deck-collecting cash advantage, whether that's because certain factions have (slight but consistent) advantages or just because players will sell off proven second-tier-but-better-than-most decks.

But I'm biased -- I noped out of MTG fairly early when it became obvious that people were playing like the New York Yankees in what should be a hobby. Sure, the best players are going to rise to the top, but in the non-professional ranks, it sucks to get ethered by someone who can just afford better cards. I prefer deckbuilders these days (hit me up on Ascension, I'm "Etrigan" there too) because everyone has a chance at the good cards every time.
posted by Etrigan at 6:15 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]

The KeyForge mechanic is fascinating, and I'm interested to see if it works. I like that it removes the need to meta-game the deck-building (because that's not something I have any enthusiasm for), although if the actual game is fun outside of the pre-built deck gimmick remains to be seen.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:17 AM on October 11

As well as Hearthstone and Artifact, MTG: Arena is in open beta now, with what looks like a very similar feel and setup to Hearthstone. It still needs a lot of polish (it currently leaks all kinds of metadata during play - the absence of presence of little pauses on your opponent's turn tells you if they have playable cards or not, due to it auto-skipping phases where you have no playable cards) but it looks promising.

Hadn't heard of Keyforge. It looks interesting, and like it'll be real easy to establish a small insular group where we don't spend shedloads of money, and just have a bunch of decks that are at a similar level.
posted by Dysk at 6:35 AM on October 11

I'm intrigued by Keyforge as well. After my son discovered Magic this spring, we've been playing again off and on. One thing that has been a huge help are the Battle Decks from Card Kingdom. They cost 10 bucks each are are made up of commons, uncommons, and junk rares, so they are not super powerful. Still, each expresses a clear theme/strategy and they are a good match against each other so we don't have to worry about his "I only have cards that have Rhinos or Elephants on them and also Akroma" deck never getting going against some dire blue/black control monstrosity I tend to run.

The idea that we can swing by the store and have a random yet functional deck is great.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:36 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of respect for Richard Garfield's design chops (I played M:tG for years, and I keep meaning to write an essay on why the design of King of Tokyo is brilliant in how it sidesteps a core problem in highly interactive games). However, Keyforge weirds me out big time. It feels like an attempt to take the loot box mechanic that's so awful for online games and port it into a physical game while also making the contents game-affecting vs. cosmetic.

It basically trades "people buying cards to netdeck an amazing deck" for "people buying random decks to try to find the best one", which feels if anything more susceptible to whales throwing money at it.
posted by tocts at 6:37 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]

I'm interested in seeing how Artifact will be met by the gaming market. Almost every PC gamer has Steam installed and so it's right there to play, built into the ecosystem, but will this be enough to get people away from Hearthstone, Gwent, and all the other Magic like card/deck-building games. Hmm...
posted by Fizz at 6:41 AM on October 11

In a recent front page post about Garfield and Magic: The Gathering, I was disappointed to learn that that game had been designed from the start as a money-making enterprise for the designers. Like, the first thing the publisher said to Garfield was something like 'wow, this will make a fortune'. So I'm less surprised by the way that his newer games are explicitly about paying money for cards / decks in various ways; it's almost like the method of card / deck acquisition and its monetization scheme are the point of the games. I mean, it's not like we're talking about the gameplay of Keyforge at all!
posted by dbx at 7:04 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]

his newer games are explicitly about paying money for cards / decks in various ways; it's almost like the method of card / deck acquisition and its monetization scheme are the point of the games

He did do Netrunner as well, in fairness, which seems like an explicit attempt to avoid the pay-to-win thing.
posted by Dysk at 7:09 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

dbx, while it's fair to note that they expected to make money on Magic, it was also clear that they vastly underestimated the degree to which people would spend stupid money on a game. They expected people would spend what they wanted and then more or less stop, waiting on the next expansion perhaps. Cards like Black Lotus wouldn't have been in the game had they anticipated that people would buy hundreds of boosters hoping to get a few. And, as someone playing on college campus twenty-five years ago, that is how it started. I started playing during beta and was able to stroll back down the the game store several times over the course of a month or two and still buy more cards, still beta. It wasn't until it started gaining traction and expansions came around that it really took off.

I've long since sold my cards (sorta wish I'd held onto a few of those high value beta rares, but $400 for a card seemed a great deal 20 years ago). But, I really respect that throughout the development of the game Richard Garfield and Wizards have worked to create formats and expansions which maintain some semblance of balance and accessibility. They were working uphill on that front since their day 0 miscalculation.

I'm definitely excited to try Keyforge. In the world of tabletop gaming it's a low cost investment to try something that looks pretty innovative - and the fact that there will likely be a secondary market only lessens the risk of trying it. And, if it makes Richard Garfield multiples of however rich he is now, I'll say he earned it.
posted by meinvt at 7:22 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

The important thing to remember about Richard Garfield is that he's a truly prolific creator of games. He made Magic, he made Netrunner, he also made board games like King of Tokyo and Roborally.

He was behind Solforge, which managed to succeed briefly before the behemoth that is Hearthstone dwarfed it.

I have no doubt that the *core* of Keyforge and Artifact will be strong, but whether the games actually thrive is up to other folks. Artifact's economy almost certainly isn't a Garfield design, but a business decision.

I wonder if the Keyforge community might decide at some point to ditch the "premade decks" theme via opaque-backed sleeves, and just play custom decks anyway? How do you integrate expansions into this game/business model?

By the time any of these matters are solved, I'm sure Garfield will be on to another game. He's come back to Magic a few times to design cards for expansions, but he's not in the habit of shepherding a game along. He designs, and moves on.
posted by explosion at 7:25 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

He did do Netrunner as well, in fairness, which seems like an explicit attempt to avoid the pay-to-win thing.

If you mean the whole "Living Card Game" concept where you buy entire expansion sets instead of random booster packs, that came later. The game was originally released as a true CCG in 1996 and resurrected as an LCG by Fantasy Flight in 2012. I don't know if Garfield had any say in the reprint, but FF was already promoting the concept of an LCG with other games.
posted by Edgewise at 8:08 AM on October 11 [6 favorites]

Fair, did not know that. Thanks for the correction!
posted by Dysk at 8:10 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

(sorta wish I'd held onto a few of those high value beta rares, but $400 for a card seemed a great deal 20 years ago)

Tell me about it; I got a Black Lotus in the first deck I ever bought, and now kick myself that I sold when I did. But the cash back then was needed, as a poor student.

I'm intrigued by Keyforge; my family has expressed interest in games like Magic, but then get frustrated/confused by the deck building aspects of it, and how challenging it can be to try to build something good. Keyforge might be an easy way to get us all going; everyone gets a deck already designed to play, and we can see how they work out against each other.
posted by nubs at 8:30 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Not that it matters, Wizards pulled the license from FFG and now the LCG netrunner is basically dead. Best case scenario now is they release a D&D themed version of the game.

WRT Keyforge: I don't know why people expect it to be devoid of metagaming. Each deck is comprised of 3 houses out of seven. If you buy two decks, you almost certainly have a decision to make in which to select for a tournament. Some of it may simply be which deck is more synnergistic / has the 'right' combo cards. But to the extent that the houses form a rock-paper-scissors-spock-lizard cycle, you'll still be making that deck selection decision based in part on the decisions you think others are likely to make.

There's potential ways out. Sealed deck tournaments might be one way to move product and avoid the metagaming aspect, but players may (rightly) feel their fate was decided in by the machine that put the deck together. A:NR and MtG's evolution of design has come to rest at a good balance of deck construction and clever plays at the table, and I have yet to see anyone discuss how Keyforge allows for clever plays.
posted by pwnguin at 8:34 AM on October 11

Keyforge has a built in handicapping model called chains, which reduces the number of cards drawn during hand upkeep. The theory is that strong decks can be chained to level the playing fields with a weaker deck.

Another application is in tournament play where decks are auctioned off to the player willing to pay the most chains for it.
posted by PenDevil at 8:50 AM on October 11

WRT Keyforge: I don't know why people expect it to be devoid of metagaming.

I don't think anyone thinks there won't be any metagaming. But there are degrees of metagaming. To use my baseball analogy, if the Yankees say "Pitcher A is better against the Twins, so we're going to move him up in the rotation", that's perfectly reasonable metagaming. Slightly farther along the scale is the Yankees saying "But Pitcher B is better against the Orioles, and we play them more often, so we're not going to sign Pitcher A even though he's slightly better overall", and that's also pretty reasonable. But when the Yankees say "We are going to sign Pitcher A and Pitcher B, oh and also Pitcher C because we sell more hats than any other team and can afford to bust the salary cap every year ha ha ha fuck you Tampa Bay", that's the way a lot of CCG players feel when some schmuck plops down his clearly-eBay-bought deck full of crazy-rare cards that will beat virtually any other deck unless you draw lucky and play perfectly.

So the question is, will having permanent decks prevent that last level of metagaming? That certainly appears to be what Garfield is aiming for, while allowing for the sort of metagaming where a player says "Steve really likes these factions, so I'm going to use these other factions that work well against those."
posted by Etrigan at 9:00 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Here's a pretty fun Magic: The Gathering related thing I saw recently. (link to imgur gallery with pictures of various Island cards)

Magic the Gathering Arena is ok so far, though clearly trying to milk cash out of me at kind of an insulting rate. At least with MTGO and paper you can sell your cards. With MTGA if they become unplayable they're just worthless. I'll continue to dabble in it casually, but I don't expect to put any money in besides the initial $5 I threw at it because it's just a black hole.

It does have the "tell" problem that Dysk mentions, but I don't know that any online CCG has fixed that really. Hearthstone just removes a solid chunk of interactivity so that it's not an issue. Eternal and MTGA both allow for you to set things up to not give away info iirc, but then it's kind of annoying to micromanage. I should check out Eternal again actually.

Right now I'm having fun enough playing kitchen table level Magic for no stakes with my thrown-together deck.
posted by ODiV at 9:49 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]

but two brand new Garfield designed card games

I initially misparsed that as Garfield themed games, which seemed a bold but extremely odd choice. I believe it's time for coffee.

The Keyforge concept seems like it could be interesting but feels like it lends itself better to computer play rather than physical.
posted by Candleman at 10:02 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]

RoboRally was a favorite beer-and-pretzels game in college. I always thought it would be slightly better if the different robot personalities had some gameplay impact, but in any case it is a marvelous example of one's inability to tell left from right. (Particularly after beer and pretzels)

A coworker is excited beyond belief at the new Valve game, I'm just glad they're developing anything at this point.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:45 AM on October 11

I went to school in the mid 90s at the institution where Garfield had his last teaching gig in academia, just before launching the game. He had apparently approached various members of faculty seeking investors in the game, all of whom scoffed at the idea of D&D with baseball cards. They were all kind of shell-shocked at its success.
posted by St. Oops at 11:52 AM on October 11

Keyforge looks great and I hope it finds an audience, ideally one big enough that I can join. I got back into Magic after a 20+ year absence last year. I love it more than ever, but quickly realized that Limited was the only non-kitchen table format that appealed to me (outside of Arena, at least.) I'm always going to hit up a pre-release sealed event with each new set, and maybe a couple of drafts if it seems like a winner. Keyforge seems to be much more in keeping with that mindset, and I'd love to participate in events where everybody buys and gets a new deck and then rolls with it.
posted by SpiffyRob at 12:09 PM on October 11

Keyforge seems like yet another WotC moneygrab, but maybe it will be successful. Let's not forget the many other games Garfield has designed that were terribad, (Rocketville? Seriously?)
posted by Windopaene at 12:26 PM on October 11

I think MtG is brilliant in most every way, especially the way Wizards has managed it in the past 10 or so years. But the monetary aspect of MtG is very much to be respected and in fact I believe strongly that extra layer of complexity is the final factor that is responsible for the game's longevity.

At this stage of my life I can afford any deck I want, but that won't win me any tournaments. It takes a lot more than good cards to win.

But if you are limited in funds you can always: (1) play limited or (2) play on Cockatrice.
posted by M-x shell at 12:48 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

I've been getting into MtG: Arena after years of Hearthstone, and it's reminded me of two things:

1) When both players have reasonable draws, the complexity and interactivity of Magic make it a much better game than Hearthstone
2) Magic's mana system (Drawing too many lands? Not drawing enough lands? Enjoy your non-interactive game!) makes me want to flip the table every 3-4 games
posted by ripley_ at 1:18 PM on October 11

Keyforge sure sounds like a thing that has the potential to make a lot of money and pay a lot of artists to illustrate it. Or to flop horribly when it turns out their deck-sorting algorithm produces a lot of weak-ass decks.

It doesn't sound like a thing I'd ever want to play but I haven't had room in my life for a normal CCG since I was a college kid regularly playing INWO with my friends, I don't think I'm anywhere near the market for it. The closest I've been to any of this is the month I spent regularly playing Slay The Spire.
posted by egypturnash at 1:55 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Honestly, my first thought that Keyforge sounds more like performance art than a salable game, but a bunch of people here seem interested, so what do I know? I'm the sort of nerd who likes going down the rabbit hole of zillions of magic cards and finding ones that work unexpectedly well together/

And to continue the geeking otu about MtG derail...

2) Magic's mana system (Drawing too many lands? Not drawing enough lands? Enjoy your non-interactive game!) makes me want to flip the table every 3-4 games

I wonder if this variant rule might work: have your land and other cards in separate decks, and when you draw, you pick which deck to draw from and search effects could search through both. I'm certain some hardcore magic player could figure out a way to break the system awful quick, but maybe it would be good for friendly play where you want to have few games that are just "well... I have basically one thing I can play, so have fun winning!" for one player or another.

Because figuring how not to get screwed over by mana randomness is a huge deal in the game. To the point where professional players distribute the lands evenly through their deck before shufflign for each game because between the minimum you are required to shuffle and the maximum your opponent is, you don't get back to true randomness.

And the most consistently expensive cards are the good lands that give you multiple colors of mana since if you want to play multiple colors they are just better than the alternative of compounding the problem of not getting the right amount of mana with not getting the right colors either.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:32 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

I played magic the gathering growing up in the early to mid 90s, but stopped when I discovered MMOs in the early aughts. I’ve been playing hearthstone very regularly for....3 or 4 years now? I am intrigued by arena and these two games, but it will take a LOT to get me to swap.

If Kripparian streams a lot more of it / swaps out of hearthstone, that would do a lot as well.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:46 PM on October 11

"Procedurally generated" from a base of how many attributes and variables, using what kind of algorithms and rules? I mean No Man's Sky is procedurally generated and it takes maybe three planet hops before you're seeing the same shit again and again (don't get me wrong, I had a ton of fun with it for about 80 hours).

I feel like Keyforge is going to be pretty bug-riddled on first release until they start getting player feedback on how cards are interacting within their own decks and with the decks of opponents. It sounds like a fun idea but if it's US$10 that means it's going to be AU$20 and for that I can get a six pack of decent beer and not have to worry about RNG, and just play Aeon's End. Maybe update 1.5 or so will be worth a look-in.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:48 PM on October 11

Keyforge… puzzles me. I feel on some level like I don't actually understand the target market. Pretty much everyone I know who is into CCGs loves the deck composition stuff, and having a game with the physical version of DRM to prevent you from modifying your deck seems like it'd undermine that pretty significantly.

There's also the worry that you either have to move to sealed-deck tournaments (which, as noted above, are potentially very feelbad because it's easy to feel like you just got a deck that… loses) or you go to open-deck tournaments, in which case presumably the meta would eventually catch up to figuring out what sorts of decks you want, and then it's just a matter of buying entire decks at a time until you find Wonka's golden ticket.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:09 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, I'd love to plug a CCG-type game I've been playing for about two years now, called Codex: Card-Time Strategy, which is sort of the exact opposite of Keyforge — designed to be a well-balanced, closed-set game with discrete, consistent sets of cards, with no intention of ever doing expansions or booster packs (the two "expansions" that came out initially were part of the original design, and just released separately to keep prices down if players didn't want all of the cards). Fans have joked that the designer is allergic to making money, which seems… fair.

It fixes a lot of other stuff I don't like about, say, MtG, too: there are no instants (so when it's not your turn, it's not your turn), and combat has this super clever mechanic called the Patrol Zone, where you pre-decide your defenders and what bonuses they get while defending (e.g. "+1 armor and Taunt" or "if this dies, defender draws a card"). Also it has a deckbuilder-y sort of mechanic where you start with a starter deck of early-game cards, and you add new cards to your deck as you go along, so you don't draw end-game cards until toward the end of the game.

Anyway, it's super great, and it's a crime that nobody seems to know about it. It's ranked 7th overall on BGG for customizable games (and is basically the only one in the top ten without a major license or a major name attached to it). I really encourage people to check it out and try it if you like CCG-style games, because it's really great!
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:14 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

Oh also they totally fixed the resources and avoid mana screw entirely but I don’t want to take over the thread with my love of Codex
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:37 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

With regard to the tells in online games that show when you have no cards to play in a given phase, online poker has had that figured out for years, at least some versions. There, if you pre-check the 'check' or 'fold' button before it's actually your turn to play, then the client will wait a random amount of time before actually executing the action once it gets around to you. It seems as though MTG online could do something similar; if it's auto-skipping a phase it could just wait a small, random amount of time before moving on.
posted by dbx at 7:53 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Because figuring how not to get screwed over by mana randomness is a huge deal in the game. To the point where professional players distribute the lands evenly through their deck before shufflign for each game because between the minimum you are required to shuffle and the maximum your opponent is, you don't get back to true randomness.

Hi there, Magic judge here. This is not done, and is not allowed. If it has any effect on your deck, then it's not random, and you're cheating. If it has no effect, then you're wasting time, which will earn you a Slow Play penalty.
posted by explosion at 8:37 PM on October 11 [5 favorites]

Keyforge seems like yet another WotC moneygrab

Keyforge is published by Fantasy Flight Games.
posted by YoloMortemPeccatoris at 9:48 PM on October 11

The WoW CCG is not as good as MtG, but I do like the way resources work. For those who haven't played, any card can become a resource. Each turn, you can just pick the weakest card in your hand and flip it over on the table and it will be mana instead of whatever it was. I wonder how much better MtG would be if you didn't have to worry about that land balance.

I agree with DoctorFedora about KeyForge. The deck building is the most fun part of these games. I'm sure we'll buy a few KeyForge decks just to see what's up, but I'll be very surprised if it turns out to be so much fun that we want to keep going.

I remember when D&D 4E came out, everybody in my group who had been playing 3.5 for a long time hated it, because it felt so dumbed down. But its simplicity got some people playing who had never touched tabletop RPGs because they were intimidated. Maybe Keyforge is supposed to be introductory.

explosion, thanks for pointing out that this is the same guy who invented Robo Rally. I never knew that. And we play that one a lot. It's a classic!
posted by heatvision at 3:13 AM on October 12

As a counterpoint to most folks here, I'll say the deck building parts of CCGs are my *least* favorite thing about them. I haven't really played Magic since the early 00s when I sold all my cards, but I'll happily borrow a prebuilt deck from a friend to play a few casual games. I have no interest in starting from scratch and building my own decks again. So, Hi! I'm KeyForge's target audience. It sounds great to me that I can buy a couple of decks to have a bit of variety in play, but not have to worry about optimizing them myself. I'm just hoping I can find a few friends to try it out with me.
posted by Roommate at 5:28 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]

In the early heydays of M:tG, there were such a thing as "Sealed Deck Tournaments" - you signed up, paid the entrance fee, and were assigned a sealed starter pack and a couple of sealed boosters from the most recent expansion to round it out into a fighting deck. No substitutions, you run with what you have. These were insanely fun - as random as it was, you get an appreciation of how a most cards can just work with each other with some quick thinking, and this is by design. It also allowed new players without huge collections to play against the best on even ground.

It also reminds me of Hearthstone's Tavern Brawl, where you are given a clever deck and need to think on the fly on how to use it best against another clever deck. Some deck types are stronger against others, sure, but not overwhelmingly so, and a lot depends on how it's played and how lucky your opponent selection is.

The only metagaming I can think of is to observe a potential opponent at play enough times to get a feel for their deck, and then select a deck of your own that might counter it... only they may have a few decks, and choose another, and you won't know which one they're gonna play until gametime.

It's basically "Sealed Deck Tournament: the Gathering." You won't need dozens and dozens of decks, you just want them because they're cool and a new challenge to master every time. It allows poor kids who save up to fight on even ground with wealthy power-collectors.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:28 AM on October 12 [3 favorites]

Yeah, they still have sealed, Slap*Happy. You might want to check out the next Magic pre-release as that's the format they use. I vastly prefer draft, but sealed is fun too.

If it has any effect on your deck, then it's not random, and you're cheating. If it has no effect, then you're wasting time, which will earn you a Slow Play penalty.

Oh God come and explain this to the people at my store.

With regard to the tells in online games that show when you have no cards to play in a given phase, online poker has had that figured out for years, at least some versions. There, if you pre-check the 'check' or 'fold' button before it's actually your turn to play, then the client will wait a random amount of time before actually executing the action once it gets around to you.

This is interesting, I wonder which ones. I'm assuming not the big ones like PokerStars as I've never heard of it. One of the US State only sites? It sounds like it'd be more annoying than anything with Magic Arena/Online as if you really want to you can just turn on full control and do it yourself.
posted by ODiV at 7:46 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

No examples (probably for the best), but some of the procedurally generated decks are named with “unfortunate pairings of words” and are being recalled (with 2-for-1 replacement).
posted by Etrigan at 5:59 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

Someone on a subreddit posted pictures of one recalled deck: "Titanflayer, the Farmer of Racism." I was really expecting something more accidental like '$monster of $color power" accidentally rendering into something like "Dragon of White Power." This seems like it would be far more avoidable. And frankly, a lot more confusing. How did Racism even enter the word pool?
posted by pwnguin at 4:24 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

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