I have three initial thoughts on Keyforge, but I have to play it a bunch more before I can say any of these things definitively. There are just my first impressions.
I think some decks are blatantly stronger than others, and the chain bidding is essential to have any kind of fair game when there is a power imbalance.
Although there are many decisions to make, it still seems like playing the game is mostly an autopilot situation. You choose a house each turn, which is only occasionally a difficult decision. Once you choose a house, it is not hard to figure out the strongest possible play with that house. You just make the best play you can with the cards you have drawn. Repeat until game is over.
Even if decks are relatively even, luck of the draw seems to be even more important in Keyforge than in other games. Especially since the mulligan is so limited. If you draw your early game cards early and your late game cards late, you are in business. Drawing late game cards early will force you to either lose a turn calling a bad house just to discard them or have a really slow start and weak draw if you try to hold onto them for later.
You are not the first person I trust that has said this. The way you play your deck isn’t very dependent on your opponent, doesn’t change from game to game, etc. You have described a type of puzzle, feeling out the edges to develop the winningest flowchart possible for a given deck.
This may be true of a lot of MtG decks, and it’s something that can get developed away later by clever card design, but it’s not enough to win me over from “not interested” at the moment.
Hmm… In higher level play with the adaptive format, the game would end up coming down to:
“Who can figure out how to best play both decks and bid chains accordingly in the third game?”
If the game doesn’t actually have that many decisions, then the format literally comes down to who, after two games, can determine the relative chain value of the two decks.
This brings us to a fundamental problem: the step increment of bidding. You can only bid in one-chain increments. So if the relative value difference is 3.49998, it’ll come down to who bids first. And that’s that.
Let’s say that deck B is stronger than deck A. Deck B needs to be chained up. On average, played optimally, deck A has a > 50% win rate over deck B if Deck B has 3 or more chains and a lower win rate if Deck B has 2 or fewer chains. Both players know this.
Either player will pay up to two chains to play deck B, but no more. Whoever bids second will get deck B at 2 chains. The player bidding third is at a disadvantaged start regardless of their choice to play A at 0 or play B at 3, but one of those two choices will have a smaller disadvantage than the other. That’s the one they will take. Also, the power differential won’t be so extreme. It will be close-ish to 50% even though it’s not exactly 50%. They still have a chance.
But… with the average chance of victory now being so close to 50% the luck of the draw is now the number one most important deciding factor.
The whole game is just kind of a mess. If you have every deeply analyzed any games so many glaring flaws (runaway leader, nondecisions, lack of resource system, impossible to express yourself, unbalanced cards/houses, chains and chain bidding being the worst thing ever) are apparent.
You do need to make perfect plays the entire game. It’s just obvious what the perfect play is.
Good games force players to make interesting and/or meaningful decisions.
For example in Civilization, what do you research first? Animal Husbandy or Mining? In most games, neither one is the wrong answer. There is no obvious optimal choice. Yet, it is a very important choice that can determine the course of the game.
In Keyforge you have a ton of choices, and you have to make the right one, but it’s not meaningful or interesting. To an intelligent player who understands the game, the strongest play is obvious. On your turn you aren’t making a meaningful decision, you are solving a puzzle. What is the strongest play with this hand? It’s relatively easy to solve this puzzle. Both players solve it perfectly, and the deck and luck of the draw determines the result.
So perhaps the strength of the game is its accessability (no deck building, no meta, no over priced rares) and the best way to play is to lay down your $10, enter a tourney and see who is the quickest to learn/master their deck while predicting (based on experience) what the opponents deck is most likely trying to do.
If you own a couple decks and play casually, it’s as you say.
I feel the real reason this game could be fun is for the ‘Crack open a deck’ and duke it out nights.
The price of entry allows this and it must be intentional.
There’s a difference between the “scores” being close and the game actually being close. If you forge two keys and make 4-5 amber but are a turn too slow and haven’t drawn interaction with your opponents amber you still had no chance to win that game.
Games can exist without resource systems. I’ve yet to see a CCG/LCG style game that functions without one under any amount of scrutiny. Magic and hearthstone have mana, Netrunner has clicks and credits, etc.
The resource systems in all these card games exist purely because not all cards and card effects are equal in power. They want to be able to have a Shivan Dragon and also a 1/1 Merfolk in the same game, you need some sort of resource to even things out.
Imagine if instead of mana, M:tG was just play 1 card every turn. Your whole deck would be super powerful cards. No weak cards. Keyforge goes even further and lets you play every card of a particular house on your turn. Insanity! Imagine if you could customize a KeyForge deck, it would be stupid. But they hold you back and force you to have crap in your deck by not letting you customize it.
One thing that I have noticed in all of these card games is that the victory conditions are always first past the post. First player to kill opponent. First player to steal X agendas. First player to deck the opponent. First to forge three keys. A first past the post victory condition favors speed. Playing stronger cards earlier in the game is better. Again, the resource systems are there to prevent this and force weak cards to come out first, and strong cards to come out later.
The only counter in these games to the strength of fast/aggro decks are control decks. Cards that are slow, but are so oppressively strong that once you play them, the opponent’s game is disabled. Congrats, you forged two keys, and now you’ll never even gather another aember ever again.
Vinci had a first past the post victory condition, and removed it with Small World. That was bad. But I think the same exact change would be good for these card games. Imagine if in Keyforge it wasn’t “forge three keys” but instead "who has the most keys/aember after say, X turns.
This is an improvement because drawing powerful cards early to generate aember faster will no longer just make you win. Both players will be able to play through all their cards and presumably get their machine running and crank it a bit. Probably still not a great game, because whoever happens to have the better deck is still going to win, but at least luck of the draw is mitigated.
I think overall a change of victory condition is one of the keys to making the next great card game.
One of the big things they bragged about was the “technology” they introduced to be able to print all these unique cards. I want to steal from that somehow to print RPG or board game content (kinda like the Risk Legacy stuff, but with more variations). Definitely should have some kind of campaign element though so you can gradually “draft” the decks or something that fits your groups metagame.