Episode #1 – The Importance of Online KeyForge

Hello.  My name is Raspberry Eyes…and I am an online KeyForge addict.  This will be how I eventually introduce myself at a future Forger’s Anonymous group, surrounded by a cast of fictitious characters from every corner of The Crucible who also present themselves through the use of their online personas.  In this fabricated dream world of mine, it would be safe to assume that the being in charge of this KeyForge support group would have to be some type of Logos scientist with a background based in Saurian philosophical studies. Being that I am of sound mind and body, I would immediately begin to question this particular scientist’s motives and let my mind wander, possibly leading to thoughts focusing on the idea that online KeyForge is simply the grandest of all mental experiments and we as humans are simply the rats running the maze, obviously with an endgame of determining which of us carefully selected few are worthy of carrying our very own Shadows plague delivery systems!  As is vastly apparent due to my incoherent ramblings above, it’s pretty clear that I don’t have a KeyForge problem, since I can quit whenever I want to…

Welcome one and all to the very first episode of The Random Ramblings of Raspberry Eyes!  I’m your host, the lovable and slightly unhinged Raspberry Eyes, and I have no idea why this series of articles is going to have episodes or why I felt the need to introduce myself as a host, but here we are and if I were to delete anything now it would kind of go against the entire ramblings premise, so let’s just keep falling down this wild wormhole and embrace the madness!  Each and every week I will be delivering my own personal views on anything and everything KeyForge, ranging from rules conundrums all the way to which customized token options present the biggest win percentage advantages, so if you’ve stuck with me through these first two paragraphs, you might as well dive a little deeper into this episode’s topic, which just so happens to be a slightly psychotic take on the importance of online KeyForge and its effects on the community we hold so near and dear to our hearts.

As I’m sure most of you have already gathered, I play KeyForge on The Crucible a lot.  Some people, such as my wife, might claim that it is a bit too much, but I personally find this game very therapeutic and finding time to squeeze in a game or five every day is something I cherish and find immensely relaxing, culminating in an almost zen-like experience.  This is one of the few games I have ever come across where even playing through a defeat can be both a valuable learning experience and an enjoyable one all at the same time. Sure, you will come across some terribly mean-spirited players who take the game too seriously, even in the online world, but to me there is nothing more satisfying than chatting with your opponent as they talk up their deck and the hefty price they paid to acquire it, only to watch you claw your way back into a game and snatch that seemingly impossible victory from the jaws of defeat!  If that doesn’t bring about feelings of instant buyer’s remorse, I’m not sure what would, and this type of exchange occurs far more frequently than one can even fathom. But without the initial release and the Age of Ascension restructuring of The Crucible, many of these encounters with players around the world would not be taking place.

Speaking strictly for myself, without having the ability to use my decks online, my love for KeyForge would have diminished rather quickly.  Upon hearing about the game prior to the November release, I was intrigued, to say the least, having dabbled in various collectible card games throughout various moments in my life.  Like so many others who have become drawn to this game due to its unique deck-building algorithms, I adored the prospects of being able to spend a measly $10 on a deck that was mine and mine alone.  I’m sure some of you would be quick to point out the fact that I mentioned that players are still shelling out huge dollar amounts for “unbeatable” decks in the previous paragraph, but to my knowledge this is the only game that you can theoretically buy a deck for retail and have it end up being the supreme and matchless Vault Tour winning mega deck of your dreams.  Needless to say, I picked up a starter set from the local game shop, ordered a few more decks online incase I wanted some variety, and I devoured that rule book.

By this point, I’m sure some of you are becoming irate, wondering when this whack job is going to get to the part about playing KeyForge online and why it is such an integral part of the KeyForge community.  Oh, I will definitely get there, but if I’m not allowed to ramble in my own column that is based on my slightly coherent ramblings, then somewhere along the line we all missed the point! Now, where was I…ah yes, learning to play the game.  I was immediately able to coerce my wife into humoring me through a few games with the starter decks, which was a lot of fun, but just as I was about to discount this game as nothing more than a game night with friends affair, I discovered The Crucible Online (TCO).  And it was at that specific moment in time that my entire world was changed!

From the launch of Call of the Archons until Age of Ascension, TCO was essentially the wild west of KeyForge!  It was a battleground accessible to all to utilize their own decks, test out potential decks to buy or trade for, and you could even be “that guy” and grab the biggest, nastiest deck that had been pulled up to that point and steamroll some people in casual gameplay.  I begin to play a few times a day as I learned my own decks and the game itself, and I can not stress enough the significance of studying card art, learning card names, and uncovering combos that may not have been apparent to you by playing them yourself or having them played against you.  I became a student of the game immediately, along with hundreds of other players around the globe, and my in-game abilities grew exponentially stronger with each and every online experience I had. Even during the advent of TCO, there were definitely some problems concerning the rules of gameplay, and we don’t need to even mention all of the rage quit shaming and chat trolls that still run rampant to this day, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, especially for a player such as myself who happens to be without a local scene of his own.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve played in a handful of chainbound nights locally and a few sealed tournaments here and there, but I get my KeyForge fix primarily by playing on TCO and will continue to do so at least for the time being.  My local scene never really took off, even with the support of my favorite local game shop and my continuing efforts to recruit players, but the silver lining for me at least is that I am based in Minnesota and am just over an hour north of the Fantasy Flight Gaming Center, so as my new work schedule allows for it and locations for the various championships are announced, I will be making a much greater effort to get out and play with some people face-to-face to further the development of my gaming skills.  That doesn’t mean I would consider myself an inexperienced player though, as in the limited action I have experienced at tournaments and other events, I have done incredibly well, and without logging countless hours of online play and preparation, that just wouldn’t be the case.

As it currently stands (at least according to the latest update of The Crucible Tracker), I am currently hanging out just inside the Top 20, with around 350+ wins and a win rate of just under 80%, and just having the ability to even roughly gauge my play abilities against some of the top players in the game and know that I could at least theoretically hang with them is something that online play and online play alone encourages.  Outside of the off chance that we all encounter one another at a World Championship someday, this might be the only time I have the opportunity to play against this caliber of opponent, and like I mentioned earlier, in this game, you just never know…

I strongly feel that online play was a key component of KeyForge’s early success on all fronts, and this can be evidenced by what took place upon the release of Age of Ascension.  When Call of the Archons released in November, the number of decks being registered through the Master Vault was skyrocketing, and with it, the secondary market was bringing in thousands of dollars for industry-savvy sellers such as myself.  But when Age of Ascension rolled around, it all stopped.  Players around the world who didn’t have a consistent local scene to play the new expansion were left not knowing what to do with their newest decks, with many optioning to just hold onto them and wait.  Some turned to utilize Tabletop Simulator (TTS) as a means to at least try and get a few games in with the new stuff, but the vast majority of us continued to wait. While a plethora of freshly unboxed decks sat dormant, the secondary market all but evaporated.  But then a light shone into the pits of darkness, and with the decision for TCO to become open source for developer collaboration, players around the world have had the opportunity to enjoy Age of Ascension, many for the very first time!  My joy for playing this wonderful game has recently returned in full force due to the update to TCO, and I know the secondary market has begun to respond in kind with sales once again on the climb, and while some say that the pay-to-play aspect of card games is a detriment, I believe that this is a great thing.

As I’ve rambled fairly coherently over the past few paragraphs, which is an impressive feat for an individual such as myself, I feel like I’ve laid out the importance of an online KeyForge platform.  And while in no way would I want to discredit the hard work of those involved in keeping TCO functional or anyone else out there developing their own online iterations, I do want to sum up this first episode with a call to action for a sustainable licensed KeyForge online experience from Fantasy Flight Games.  We all know this is currently in the works, but being a player who is dedicated to the online version of the game as much as I am, I thought it might make for some compelling discussions to outline some of the many possibilities that a fully-developed and funded online platform could hold for the future of KeyForge.  

Since this is my column and I get to do what I want, I’m going to end this week by sharing a list I have compiled that I am going to title “10 Things That Raspberry Eyes Might Want to Possibly Be Included in an Official KeyForge Online Experience”, so here goes!

10. A System That Utilizes a Player’s Own Deck(s)

I would assume that this would be something that will be included since the Master Vault itself could be employed to make it happen, and while it does bring about all kinds of problems when it comes to people sharing out QR codes or forgetting to delete them from their vault when they are traded or sold, it would help alleviate duplicate decks a little bit.  However, deck-testing on the secondary market might be impacted by this, unless…

9. The Ability to Allow Other Players the Opportunity to Test Your Deck(s)

This could be done by giving another player a passcode that allows them to use a certain deck for 24 hours in a casual setting.  This would be contingent upon this digital KeyForge platform containing various ways to play, such as…

8. The Option to Have Match-Ups Created Based Upon Power Levels

One of the most frustrating experiences that can be had on TCO revolves around wanting to test a deck that might be conceived as being “weak”, only to face off against a 95+ SAS with 64 AERC monster.  I could see this being done in a fashion very similar to how some online game servers are run, where the system automatically matches you up with comparable opponents based on player skill levels. This couldn’t be done through any current metrics though and would have to be done based upon… 

7. Online Specific KeyForge Deck Power Levels

I’m sure there would be a way for physically obtained chains and power levels to be incorporated into this as well, but an online platform would need to keep track of wins/losses pertaining to both specific decks and specific players.  While decks themselves could obtain online chains and power level increases, similar to what is done in the real world, players themselves would need to be a part of an online ranking system in order to keep the online game fun and balanced.  This would allow beginning level players to be paired up with other beginners, and the most competitive of us shouldn’t mind the challenge of proving their worth against other top players. But what if a tournament-winning powerhouse player wants to share the game they love with some beginning players on the other side of the world?  Well, then we would definitely need…

6. The Option to Host Private Games with Friends, Family, or Whomever You Choose

This is something that can be done on TCO currently with private games, and it would definitely need to be carried over.  This is where a lot of the deck testing would take place since all private room games should not count towards any type of leaderboard stats or player rankings.  This may also be the only way to go about testing decks, and until the deck is released from one vault and loaded into another, it would keep that deck unique in the digital game while still allowing others to enjoy it casually in private.  The uniqueness of each deck would be important because I strongly feel that this new venture would need to have…

5. Online Tournaments with Real Incentives

This is something that could be a lot of fun if implemented correctly but could go horribly wrong if executed poorly.  If the above precautions were taken to make sure each unique deck was registered to only one online user, then online tournaments could become commonplace events.  The key here would be to offer something for participating and winning that would entice players to then go and visit their local game shop or find a Vault Tour. My thoughts immediately went to utilizing the Aember Shard system that is already in place which would get more players to seek out Vault Tour options and find a prize wall, but to garner support through local game shops would involve something more like a discount on KeyForge products or prizes available only by visiting local game shops.  This could begin an even stronger partnership among FFG and KeyForge-friendly stores, which could in turn pave the way for…

4. Online Tournaments Run by Game Shops Themselves

I have seen online tournaments run through TCO where certain companies have donated prize support, so I could definitely see the merits of those companies to continue that and to see gaming stores themselves get in on the action as well.  Maybe a local game shop offers a gift certificate to the winner of an online tournament or some other cool incentive that would get people into the shop after playing online, or maybe they offer up some other type of unique prize or opportunity that you can only get by decimating the field in a massive online tournament.  There is also the potential for this to take on a satellite tournament feel if the winner is awarded a spot in a future physical tournament on their quest towards Grand Champion status, very much like online poker did in years past. It would be imperative that entry into these online tournaments would be free though…

3. A Free or Subscription-Based Online Experience

Here is where things could get a bit heated!  In no way would I want to see an online platform that forces you to purchase digital-only decks, as that would defeat the whole purpose of everything that has been stated previously (with the possible exception of using some type of online algorithm for any type of sealed deck play).  I feel that this service would either need to be free to play completely, or a small monthly fee would be needed to utilize the online features. All of the major video game consoles employ a subscription service in order to play online, so this could be done in a similar fashion, and while I’m not completely up-to-date on what other games are doing in regards to online platforms (the last CCG I played competitively was WWE’s Raw Deal, which should tell you all you need to know about me), I would have no problems supporting a well-developed platform with a monthly fee, but there should be no add-on fees of any kind, as it needs to be an enjoyable experience for every level of player.  Speaking of enjoyable, what if…

2. All Formats Were Playable and Supported

This is my personal favorite, as I have only had the opportunity to play a few Archon and Sealed games in real life, which is also all I’ve been able to play on TCO as well.  The ability to play some Reversal, Survival, or Triad would be great, and how fun would it be to lock into an Adaptive match with some random player and the deck they spent a grand on to see who really is a better player?!?  The possibilities here would make for some truly exciting competition, and this to me would be one of the easier wish list items to actually put into practice. Which leads to my last, and probably the most important aspect of a dedicated online KeyForge platform…

1.  The Ability to Play With New Sets When They Release!!!

I will straight away tell you, those two months without being able to play Age of Ascension, especially for a KeyForge junky like myself, were excruciating!  I know the situation that transpired with those running TCO and I don’t blame them at all for offering us this amazing and FREE avenue to enjoy KeyForge through, but if FFG had their own online system in place, those cards could have been made available on day one.  To further that relationship with game shops and actual physical game play though, I would say that the new set should not be made available online until at least a week (or possibly two) after release to allow for a flurry of pre-release and release tournaments to get people playing together.  This could actually increase participation in those events, as I would definitely want to get as much tournament experience as possible with the new cards before they go live online.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, bless your soul, because I have rambled randomly enough for this week (and then some on top of that)!  I would love to hear some feedback on what you thought of this textual monstrosity, so leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’m always looking for new things to ponder for future episodes as well, so if there is something you think I might have an interesting take on, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.  And with that, I’m Raspberry Eyes, signing off and reminding you all to ramble on!

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