What happened to Keyforge?

13 March 2024
What if you created a trading card game that didn’t just leave you to build your own decks, but could use an algorithm to make billions of different, usable decks, that meant no one knew what you’d get within each pack – but you could play with every single one? Brilliant, you’d probably think. Except when the algorithm had some hiccoughs…

Written by Ross Gilbert.

Keyforge had a chance. It really did. In a world where a game like the Transformers TCG was made by Wizards of the Coast and featured an extremely strong licence but never made waves, Keyforge had a chance.

Keyforge TCG

The first Keyforge set, Call of the Archons, launched in November 2018 and initial sales were extremely strong. It’s hard to get an accurate idea of collectable game sales but the website ICV2.com makes a list twice a year and in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 Keyforge came 4th behind only the “big three” TCGs (Pokémon, Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh) and even outsold Yu-Gi-Oh to come 3rd on the Hobby Channel in Spring 2019, looking specifically at sales in hobby stores, as opposed to the mass channel looking at sales in supermarkets etc. It looked like its makers Fantasy Flight Games had a hit on their hands.

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What was Keyforge?

There were good reasons why people were so excited about the game. It was designed by Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering and was a Collectible Deck game where every “pack” was a complete deck to which you would make no changes. There were 7 houses (factions) and in every deck, you would get 12 cards each from three of the houses, and that was your deck. Some tweaks were made to the algorithm that generated the decks to prevent some broken combos, but decks varied wildly. It was brilliant. Now, if you’re thinking that some people would get very powerful decks, you’re right. There were people who used the same deck to win more than one of the “Vault Tours”, the premier Keyforge tournaments at the time. On the flipside, I have never found a better sealed game than Keyforge. Because each pack is a deck it is so easy to grab two decks, open them and play. I have a whole heap of Keyforge decks set aside for when my children are older. I really hope they actually want to use them!

What went wrong with Keyforge?

Unfortunately, the early optimism of the game dissipated quite quickly. The second set Age of Ascension launched in May 2019 with a sealed-format Vault Tour at UK Games Expo in Birmingham that attracted 388 players. According to the website Archon Arcana, this was the largest Keyforge event at the time of writing. I was in attendance at that event, casting the event with a pair of employees from Fantasy Flight Games and excitement was high. When the dust settled however the player base was in agreement that Age of Ascension just wasn’t as good of a set as Call of the Archons. Sales reflected this too. By Fall 2019 Keyforge was outside the top 5 games overall by IVC2 metrics and 7th in the Hobby channel. That was the last time it would appear on the list.

There were more expansions released though. Worlds Collide launched in November 2019 as the first set to bring in new houses, Mass Mutation followed in May 2020 with Gigantic creatures split over two cards, and then Dark Tidings came along in March 2021 with the new Tide mechanic. The game never saw the level of hype or sales as it did with Call of the Archons though and in September 2021 Fantasy Flight Games confirmed our fears with the announcement that “we have decided to put the game on hiatus for the time being”. They did however offer a glimpse of hope by announcing the 6th expansion Winds of Exchange alongside the hiatus, giving all of us fans hope that this really was a hiatus and not an actual cancellation. After all, how could they cancel the game when the next expansion was already designed?

The reasons for the hiatus were numerous but among them FFG blamed the pandemic and “another unforeseen complication”. This complication was “the fact that the deckbuilding algorithm for KeyForge is broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up”. Obviously having a game that relies entirely on an algorithm to create the decks and not having that algorithm is quite the hurdle and FFG were honest with the fanbase that “This is neither an easy process nor a fast one”.

And then it went awfully quiet.

Is Keyforge Back?

And then came Ghost Galaxy. In June 2022, 15 months after we learned of the hiatus, we were told that Keyforge would be coming back, but that the IP had been sold to Ghost Galaxy, a new company founded by Christian T. Petersen, the original founder of Fantasy Flight Games, someone who helped to launch the game in the first place. The game was back, the algorithm was fixed, and we would all be forging keys again in no time (yes, the name of the game was extremely appropriate!).

Ghost Galaxy’s first job was to finally bring us Winds of Exchange, the set promised nearly a year and a half earlier. Rather than go the traditional retail route for Winds of Exchange they decided to use Gamefound, a crowdfunding website, to bring about the return of our beloved game. As well as the obvious offerings like decks they also finally gave the fans something they had been clamouring for since the very inception of the game, personalised decks. The campaign launched on September 9th 2022 and the stats look pretty impressive. It attracted 6,172 backers and raised $1,101,183. Keyforge was back.

Unfortunately there were issues. Although production and distribution went quite well for North American backers, there were significant delays for European and other backers. In fact, the retail pre-releases started for American fans and the second crowdfunded set was announced before backers in Europe had even received their pledges. Some of this delay was due to the need to produce cards in several languages but the delay was also significant for fans with English-language decks. In an update in August Ghost Galaxy boasted that English-language decks had been delivered in North America and that they represented “80% of all pledges”. A good proportion of decks delivered, but also a sign that the demand for the game was significantly higher in North America than everywhere else combined.

Winds of Exchange has received a wide retail release but the follow-up, Grim Reminders, was also launched through Gamefound, rather than going straight to retail. Fans have questioned whether this was necessary given the realities of resurrecting a previous dead game or whether this showed a lack of faith in the interest the set would garner. Either way the campaign hit its goal, but the interest was significantly lower than for Winds of Exchange. It attracted $509,770 of pledges (a 54% fall) and 2,195 backers (a 64% fall).

What's next for Keyforge?

For now, Keyforge is still here. The number of houses is bigger, but the number of players is smaller. With such a drastic fall in pledges from the first to second set after the resurrection, it’s fair to question what the future holds. How many more sets will we get? But of course, for a lot of Keyforge fans this question is moot. We already have two more sets than we had before the hiatus, the game recently saw its first World Championships and new unique decks are being opened every day. Regardless of what the future holds, that has to be a good thing right? 


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