Episode #9 – The Best Laid Plans of Martians and Men

This past Saturday I awoke, well-rested after playing a late-night show at a local coffee shop, and I was ready to get moving for an exciting day of gaming down in the Twin Cities area.  Local gaming franchise Games By James had put together a massive day full of game demos and tournaments to commemorate their 40th anniversary celebration at the Mall of America, and a three-deck sealed survival KeyForge battle was to be a part of the festivities.  I myself had garnered interest in the event amongst some other Minnesota natives and it looked to be quite the day. My wife was even willing to travel with me to do some shopping while I indulged in some card playing, so I wouldn’t have to make the drive all by myself, which for me is a constant deterrent from getting to KeyForge events more consistently as I am just not very comfortable partaking in that type of experience completely solo.  But we all know how quickly even the best laid plans can go awry, which was to be the case with my weekend entertainment.

Now, I had painstakingly been grinding out sealed games, both casual and competitive, on The Crucible Online for weeks leading up to this event.  I don’t get to play in many tournaments, so my sealed game was relatively weak, and even after the countless practice rounds I didn’t feel a whole lot better about my chances in an organized play setting.  It’s not that I don’t have the skills or knowledge needed in piloting a sealed deck, it’s more the fact that my luck in opening a deck in a sealed environment that will be competitive enough to do damage is nearly non-existent.  I have played in quite a few sealed tournaments, as it is primarily the only type of event I can get to regularly, and even though I finish near the top in each instance, upon digging into my decklist and devouring stats on my deck, I have only had one single sealed deck that had an SAS score of 70+ (a whopping 74), and that particular deck was a tournament winner in which I was able to go undefeated in a best 2-out-of-3 format, never losing a game all day.  The other decks I had the privilege of piloting all turned out to be mid-60’s in terms of SAS scores, and even in a sealed situation, that’s just not going to cut it.

I’ll be entirely honest, my time spent playing sealed on TCO wasn’t much different, even with the majority of the decks on the site being slightly more powerful do to many more problems importing good decks as opposed to not-so-good ones, and there were some matches that were honestly over in just a few turns, at least on my end when I fell behind and knew there wasn’t a single steal, capture, or board wipe option to save me in the deck.  But I kept battling and through the defeats I gained a bit of confidence in my sealed skill, at least to the point where I felt I was ready to have some fun while trying to survive at the event. I knew waking up that the weather was going to be a bit odd for this time of year, where even though we are in Minnesota, we don’t usually get snow falling until at least the end of October, but the forecast had improved since the previous night and that wasn’t going to stop me from making the trip.

My wife waking up and not feeling well, however, threw a little bit of a wrench in the plans.  We were planning on going down together, but she wasn’t in condition to make the drive when she could be resting and getting better from a lingering cold at home, and while she told me I could go and she would be fine, all of us married folk know that can be a slippery slope to traverse, so I was definitely hesitant to head down from that point on.  I had put this event on my calendar over a month ago though, so if she was doing better by the time I had to leave, I felt I would be okay in leaving for most of the day, as I would still be back in town relatively early for a Saturday. And then I received a text message from my church’s worship leader, saying she had taken ill with a debilitating cough and was wondering if I could lead all of the songs for that Sunday’s services vocally.

It’s always tough for me to say no, since if a friend asks you for help you help them, but I knew I would need to find time to learn the vocal parts of each song and had a very small amount of time to make that happen.  I sat down and got to work, getting frustrated along the way since many of the song keys were not optimal for my vocal range, but I felt I had a handle on them for the day and could fine-tune them in the morning, and I still had a bit of time to get packed up and down to the Mall of America to play cards.  And then I received a phone call from a family member of mine letting me know that my grandmother had been diagnosed with lung cancer, manageable but yet incurable, and it was at that point in the day that I just decided maybe playing cards isn’t the most important thing for me to be doing today. I try to keep this column light and ridiculous, but I think it is always good to remember that KeyForge is a hobby and a game, and that life happens, and that is okay.  Events like this past weekend help one keep that perspective, which is definitely an important one never to lose, so with that note…

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of The Random Ramblings of Raspberry Eyes!  I’m your host, the convoluted yet consolable Raspberry Eyes, and after the slightly depressing preamble to this edition of the column, I wanted to dig into something I have been struggling with ever since KeyForge launched, and that is gathering enough interest in the game to create a local scene in my area of Minnesota.  I was initially going to do an amazing recap of the three-deck sealed survival tournament I alluded to in the opening section of this piece, but as that didn’t go exactly to plan, I figured it would be quite topical to talk about what to do when things don’t go according to plan, especially when it comes to developing a love for a new card game.  And all of this is coming straight from someone who gave it the old college try, only to fail magnificently, and hopefully to learn from what didn’t work the first time around when making another attempt at jump starting a homegrown KeyForge scene.

My experiment in creating a movement of KeyForge enthusiasts like myself began back in the winter months after launch.  I was able to get together with a few other individuals through Games By James in St. Cloud, and for a handful of Tuesdays in a row anywhere from 3-6 of us would get together and play some casual KeyForge with the added bonus of receiving victory points to use at the store for each win.  It was always very hit-or-miss on who was going to show up, and with the record-breaking cold that accompanied this past winter in Minnesota, getting out consistently became harder and harder to justify during the week. So, as that small scene began to fizzle out, I was already looking into what could possibly take its place in the area.

I immediately began reaching out to some of the local game shops in the area, of which there are currently five of, and was wondering if they were doing anything KeyForge-related or if card players were even interested in the game.  Out of those five establishments, only one responded with some enthusiasm, and that happened to be the shop where I purchased my original starter set from in November. I recalled playing Friday Night Magic at this particular store just a handful of years prior, and it was always packed in there on those nights with card and game players of all kinds coming in to play, especially during the summer months, so I thought this might be the place to make things happen.  Upon talking with the owner of the store, he decided to give the game a test run with a sealed Saturday tournament, and we were off and running!

The tournament was held in the spring of 2019, and for a first attempt, the turnout was fantastic.  Twelve players from the area showed up to test their skill in the sealed format, the Top 4 was rewarded with various prizes, and it seemed like this game might have a following in the area.  But a follow-up tournament had not been scheduled for some reason or another, so I began to ask if I could start a push for a weekly chainbound tournament to keep some interest alive, and I was able to put a plan in place to test it out during the month of May and push into June if things were going well.  So, I started to spread the word, made some connections of players who helped me choose a day of the week that might work out best for everyone, and I was ready and raring to give this local scene thing a try. We decided on a Friday evening format, maybe to grab some interest from folks who were disheartened by the game of Magic and might be willing to take the leap into a new game, and as that first date rolled around, I grabbed my tactical bag of KeyForge supplies and began the trek to downtown St. Cloud.

Immediately I realized times had drastically changed, as there was literally no one in the game shop aside from myself and the person working the counter, at least in the front area.  When I played FNM back in the day, the gaming tables were kept up front so when you walked in you could immediately see who was playing and what type of gaming was taking place on any given night.  I knew that they had relegated their back room to the main playing area from the tournament I took part in, but I just assumed that the local Magic players were still participating on Fridays like usual, but this was definitely not the case.  I made my way to the backroom and found a smattering of individuals doing some miniature painting, but no KeyForge players in the bunch. After waiting around and sleeving up some decks, hoping that even a random person or two was interested in learning the game, I called it a night after hanging out a little more than half an hour past start time and was content with trying again the following week.  I know that my small group of friends that I had convinced to pick up the game at least casually were unable to play for the time being, as it was May and the changing seasons can definitely affect gaming nights, but it was what it was for the time being.

After giving it a go another three Fridays in a row, with zero players showing up to play KeyForge, I decided to pull the plug and regroup for a try further down the line.  Since this was just a few short months ago, I have been reflecting on what specifically went wrong with that first attempt at creating a scene, and I think the poor showing can be blamed on a few circumstances specifically.  The first is that I had just assumed that the Friday Night Magic scene at this particular store was still thriving, but this was most definitely not the case. I didn’t have any drive to check out the store prior to starting the KeyForge push, which in retrospect was no one’s fault but my own, but a once thriving staple of the community was no longer flourishing.  Until recently I didn’t put the pieces together on why this was, but looking back about five years ago would have yielded just two places in the area to do any gaming, and only one of them contained a thriving card community. I mentioned earlier that there are now five game shops in the area, of which I know they specialize in Magic and other card games, so the card players in St. Cloud have obviously migrated to different places.

The second misstep I made was in not coordinating with my playing friends a bit more to make sure they would at least be able to show up and play.  This would have helped immensely in recruiting others walking in, just seeing and asking about a new game that they were unfamiliar with, but with scheduling and the timeframe I was working with on this project, we just couldn’t make it happen.  Aside from those two mistakes, I felt I covered everything rather well by posting event times and dates to various social media platforms, I secured playing space and even was able to help in getting the GEM software up and running for the store, but I just couldn’t get the players to show up during this particular run.

So, what is the point of pointing out all of my failures in trying to create a local KeyForge scene?  Well, I’ve learned many things from these first-attempt blunders and I am currently in the process of giving this endeavor a second try, so I thought I would document everything this time to revisit in the future.  If the path I follow this time around yields more positive results, well then I will have created a roadmap for future areas to use in creating a local KeyForge following that others areas can replicate, and that is just good for the community as a whole.  I feel that the time is definitely right to begin the process of player recruitment once more though, with the Vault Warrior series offering substantial cash incentives for serious players, local leaderboard events offering rare prizes for weekly sealed play, and with the World Championships being held in the state and just a little over an hour from Central MN, the timing could not be better to give it another attempt.

The first phase in growing a local scene is going to begin this month with my very own playgroup.  Before I even start to talk with stores on hosting events, I am going to focus on growing my KeyForge friends and family group first and foremost by holding a weekly card night at my place for the few people that I know that play.  I’m fairly passionate about the game, and while they are pretty casual players at the moment, my hope is that I can at least get them interested in expanding their knowledge and love of the game to one day participate in tournaments of some kind.  This is an important step in that my small group could potentially help in the recruitment process when looking for more local players, bringing them in either to our weekly card night or maybe pulling them in down the line.

Phase two would culminate in me reaching out to some of the local game shops in the area that I am not familiar with, and to this time ask them the right questions.  Instead of asking about if they were carrying KeyForge or if people were asking for it, this time around I am going to offer my personal services (and hopefully I will acquire the assistance of my playing group friends) in demoing the game at some of the stores that might be interested in carrying the game.  I know that there are shops that consistently are bringing in card players for various games, and many of KeyForge’s greatest proponents have been players who have seen their current game grow stale and were looking for something fresh and new to get into. My thinking is that it would be hard to pass up on a free game demo night at most places, and even just getting the interest of a handful of players would result in a want and need for a local KeyForge scene in the area.

As I have quite the extensive KeyForge collection in all regards, I would have no problem parting with some decks to kickstart the community, and if players started to ask some of these newer game shops if they carried KeyForge, I don’t feel it would be incredibly hard for them to start stocking one of the most popular games in the world, which is good for both business and the community once again.  With the price reduction on 2-player starter sets that began with Age of Ascension and carried over into Worlds Collide, letting players know that they can get two brand-new unique decks and all of the tokens they would probably ever need in one convenient package, some of these shops would benefit greatly from stocking that particular item if the game started to take hold, and with some of the premium deck options coming out with the newest expansion, there are even cheaper options available for those looking to get into the game at a price point that won’t break the bank.

Phase three would involve finding which store is garnering the most interest in the game and then spreading the word to other players in the area that a particular store will be the place to play KeyForge.  Partnering up with this store in an effort to create monthly tournaments and eventually weekly events would be the next step to take, but the major difference between this approach would be to grow an interest and a player base prior to setting up weekly events.  It would then be passed onto the player group itself to help push the game and keep recruiting others, and even as events would start to transpire, the continuation of the game demos would be an absolute must. It is fairly well known that this game can boast one of the most inclusive and seemingly non-toxic communities throughout all card games, so building up that casual feel for the game even as a more competitive organized play situation develops would only further the cause in the long run.  Making sure to stay up on the latest organized play happenings and player incentives would also be vital, along with keeping the game exciting and interesting through the use of various alternate formats for weekly events, but in a nutshell, that is my ultimate plan for Central MN KeyForge in 2020.

While it wasn’t even close to my plan for the week, you never know what life is going to throw at you on any given day, so it is always easiest to roll with the punches and make something out of what you’ve got.  This is true for any given game of KeyForge as well, since even in dire times when victory seems a million miles away, you never know when fate will swing the game back into your favor, so keep grinding and use every card in the deck, and that is how I am going to approach round two of operation create a local KeyForge scene!

Well, that will do it for this week’s The Random Ramblings of Raspberry Eyes.  Once again, thanks to anyone out there who reads this stuff, it means a lot and I would love to get any feedback on anything I write from anyone at all, so let me have it!  I think next week I’m going to start digging into some of the new Worlds Collide stuff, so I will work on a fun way to present my own takes on some of the cards I am most looking forward to using in the next set, probably taking a few houses each week leading up to the big release in early November.  And with that, I’m Raspberry Eyes, signing off and reminding you all to ramble on!

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