Introduction to Keyforge

Keyforge: Call of the Archons is a brand new card game with some very cool mechanics. Keyforge was designed by Richard Garfield (who also designed Magic: The Gathering, one of the most successful card games of all time) and produced by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). The main mechanic that makes Keyforge special is that every deck is unique. When you purchase a deck of cards, you will get a set of cards completely different from every other deck, with a 100% unique, procedurally generated name and picture of an Archon. Archons are beings in the Keyforge universe that are similar to gods. Each deck represents one of them. A game of Keyforge represents two rival Archons accumulating AEmber (yes that’s how to spell it) in order to forge keys and access the master vault at the crucible, a planet in the lore of the game.


In Keyforge, there are seven “houses”: Sanctum, Logos, Mars, Dis, Shadows, Untamed, and Brobnar. Each deck contains cards from three of these. Every card has a symbol in its corner that tells you what house it’s a part of.

There are four types of cards in Keyforge: creatures, artifacts, actions, and upgrades.


Creatures are played in a row at the front of your play area, called the battle line. Creatures at the ends of the battle line are considered on flanks, and creatures can only be played on to flanks. When you play a creature, it starts out exhausted, or rotated 90 degrees. Creatures have an armor rating, which is marked on the gray shield on the card. Armor allows a creature to block damage equal to the armor value every turn. Armor can be spread over multiple battles. Creatures also have a power rating, which is marked on the red shield on the card. Power is how much damage a creature deals when it fights, and how much damage it can take before being defeated. Damage is marked by special tokens. Creatures sometimes give you AEmber for playing the card which is marked by crystals on the left side of the card. AEmber is kept track of by tokens. Every type of card can give you AEmber, not just creatures. Each creature can be “used” once a turn to fight, reap, or perform an action. To use a creature, exhaust it by rotating it 90 degrees to mark that it has been used this turn. To fight, select an opponent’s creature. Those creatures take damage equal to the opposing creature’s power. To reap, gain 1 AEmber. Only some creatures can perform actions. Those that can will have text that says “Action” and then an effect. Some creatures can also do special things when they fight, reap, or are played or destroyed, and the same notation will be used for these.


Artifacts are played in a row behind the battle line. Artifacts can be used to perform actions, but can’t fight or reap. To use an artifact, exhaust it by rotating it 90 degrees. Some artifacts have actions that require you to sacrifice them, which simply means they go to the discard pile.


When you play an upgrade, you choose a creature to attach it to. This creature will be enhanced by the effects of the upgrade.


Actions provide a single use effect. After using an action, send it to the discard pile.

Now that you know what cards do, how does one set up a game? Before the game starts, both players must set up their play area with their deck, identity card, and token supply. Then, they both shuffle their decks and randomly determine who goes first. The most common ways to do this are flipping a coin and rolling dice. It is important to note that the player who is picked by the chosen method does not get to pick who goes first, they go first. The first player draws 7 cards from their deck, and the second player draws 6. Both players have the opportunity to shuffle back their hand and re-draw a new hand with 1 fewer card in it. Now the first player begins their turn.


There are 5 steps in a Keyforge turn. Step 1: Forge a Key. If a player has 6 or more AEmber, they must lose 6 and forge a key. Only one key can be forged during this step. After a player has forged 3 keys, they win the game.

Step 2: Choose a house. During this step, the active player picks one of the three houses on their identity card. If you control cards from another house, you may choose that house as well. After choosing a house, the active player has the chance to take all the cards in their archive and add them to their hand. The archive is a zone of play that some cards will add to, but no game mechanics put cards in the archive.

Step 3: Play, discard, and use cards of the chosen house. There are three restrictions on what you can do in this step. First, you can only play, discard, or use cards of your chosen house unless a card effect would allow you to use a creature. Second, the first player on the first turn of the game can only play or discard one card. Third, no card can be played or used more than 6 times in a turn. Other than that, you can play or discard any card and use creatures or artifacts already in play.

Step 4: Ready cards. You ready every exhausted creature and artifact by rotating it so that it’s upright.

Step 5: Draw cards. Draw up to 6 six cards from the top of your deck. If you cannot draw cards because there is not enough in the deck, shuffle your discard pile and put in into the deck. If you have more than six cards, you do not draw cards and you do not have to discard down to six. If you have 6 or more AEmber, announce “check!” as you would in a game of chess to make sure your opponent knows you can forge a key next turn. Then, the next player gets to go.


Keyforge also has some other important rules and mechanics that I haven’t gone over yet. First up: chains. Chains are used to handicap decks that both players agree are very strong decks. Chains can also be given in game as a cost for using powerful cards. Cards will say when they require you to gain chains. Chains are kept track of through a special card and a token. Every time a player would draw cards, including setup, that player draws less cards based on how many chains they have, and then lose one chain. Chains can be used to handicap decks that players believe are very powerful. For example, if you have a deck that beats your friend’s deck in most of your games, the two of you can agree to have your deck start with a certain amount of chains.

The next mechanic is capturing AEmber. When a creature captures AEmber, their opponent loses one AEmber, and it is placed on the creature that captured it. After the creature is defeated, all the AEmber is returned to the player they were captured from.


The next mechanic is keywords. These are printed on some creatures and provide them with an ability. The first is assault. This is always accompanied by an assault value. When a creature with assault attacks, it deals damage equal to it’s assault value to the opposing creature before the fight occurs. If this defeats the opposing creature, the rest of the fight does not occur. Next up is hazardous, which is the same as assault but it works when the creature is attacked and not when it attacks. Next is elusive. This prevents damage from the first time the creature would be attacked, and it does no damage to the attacking creature. This does not prevent damage from card effects of keywords. The next keyword is skirmish, which prevents the creature from taking damage when it fights. The next keyword is taunt, which prevents your opponent from fighting that creatures neighbors(the creatures on each side of the creature with taunt).The final keyword is poison, which kills every creature that the creature with poison fights, unless all the damage is blocked by shields.

The next mechanic to go over is omni actions. These will have “omni:” printed on the card before the action. This means the action can be used no matter what the active house is. The next mechanic is purging cards. Anything that is purged from the game is set aside and cannot be returned to the game.

The final mechanic is stun. This is kept track of through a card or some kind of marker. The only thing a stunned creature can be used for is to remove the stun marker.

Now you know how to play Keyforge. If you’re interested in picking it up, you can buy a core set for about $40. This comes with all the rules and tokens two players need to start playing the game. It also comes with two starter decks that are the same in every core set to learn the game with and two unique decks. This set is obviously designed for two players, but I think it’s still worth picking up if you’re going in alone. If you’re on a budget, you can buy a single deck for 10$ and use your own tokens or buy them after market. This is totally legal by the way, the only restriction on tokens is that you can’t use dice and it has to be clear what they represent. Single decks are also a wonderful way to expand on the game for anybody.


Image Credit to Fantasy Flight games