Dis in Formats
A LONG DUSTY SILENCE had reigned over the Crucible for an aeon, and so the demons slumbered and bided their time. Then suddenly came a brief time of accord that woke them painfully, piercing their fiber, grating against their very being. With the pain gnawing at their stygian souls, some demons of Dis began to despair. Yet the oldest among them urged calm, for they knew that the pain of conciliation they suffered was but the prelude to a feast.
And so it was. Called into being by the generals of misunderstanding, an æmberstorm now rages and from their dark crevices the Dis have seeped forth to indulge and to revel.
ADO ABOUT TOURNAMENT FORMATS
A few days ago, we announced that we would be hosting KeyForge Celebration (November 11 – 13 , 2022) and provided a preview of the envisioned official KeyForge Tournament formats that would be tested at KeyForge Celebration and elsewhere. We suspected that some strong opinions would be forthcoming.
Feedback is a gift, and we are grateful for the deluge of opinions on these new formats (well, perhaps some have fed Dis more than necessary). We have read every direct message, followed forums and channels, and have done our best to listen to every suggestion, concern, and complaint. Thank you for them all.
Any honeymoon sooner or later ends when couples set forth into real life together (in this case, as players and publisher), so it comes as no surprise that there are some (or many) that disagree with a few (or even all) of these plans. While we had anticipated making course corrections after KeyForge Celebration, the volume of content and work provided by many players have allowed us to make some changes already which we will outline below. This is a good thing, as it will make the testing over the next few months more meaningful.
A few points that bear emphasizing:
– As described in the announcement, these formats are preliminary, being tested, and feedback will be taken. It has always been the plan to adjust final formats to reasonable findings. We expect that final formats for the 2023 tournament season will be set around mid-December 2022.
– As mentioned in the announcement, above and beyond the simple outlines for format structures provided, the formats will be regulated by the KeyForge Tournament Guidelines: a set of documents that we are still working on. Some of the concerns and questions raised will be solved by the content and rules provided in these tournament guidelines (we will spoil some of these items below).
– These new formats apply only to official tournaments. “Official” meaning the relatively few sanctioned tournaments that Ghost Galaxy will be directly organizing (and which lead to the KeyForge World Championship). We plan for our official 2023 tournament season plans to be revealed at KeyForge Celebration next month.
– Official tournament formats do not necessarily apply to casual leagues or convention/store/club tournaments outside the official tournaments. In fact, the league/community support that Ghost Galaxy hopes to produce in 2023 will allow and promote fun, casual formats above, beyond, and different from the competitive tournament formats. Any prize-support that Ghost Galaxy will send to local KeyForge events and leagues will not come with any requirement as to the official tournament formats to be followed (this is up to local store, events, clubs, organizers, etc). Official Store Championships are the exception; they will need to adhere to the KeyForge Tournament Guidelines.
– It is our plan that all future KeyForge products, including KeyForge: Winds of Exchange, will continue to be developed in the same spirit as prior sets, with a unique KeyForge deck in each pack, allowing for innovation and fun new mechanics from set-to-set.
Before getting into tournament structures, let us take a step back to review the big picture.
THE BIG PICTURE
The nature of KeyForge is for computer software to create and render a unique, playable deck via an algorithm created, and continually adjusted, by game developers according to their intent. The ideal output is a varied and fun series of 100% unique decks, each functional and playable right out of the pack. Upon initial development, this was a hugely innovative concept (one very difficult to deliver) and none could anticipate how a customer would accept such a premise, much less whether it would be successful.
Given that each deck is an entity onto its own, the “wizards behind the curtain” (the game developers) that pull the levers of variables and rules by which each deck is made, have a paradoxical choice between the yin-and-yang of KeyForge, that is between variability and balance. Richard Garfield’s original concept heavily leaned towards variability (which we explore in the Unchained decks), while the FFG-team efforts were to move the decks towards balance. As such, what became the commercial KeyForge release narrowed variability, but enhanced playability and balance of decks.
As a result, after bending the levers towards balance, the variability and discovery of each given deck was fortunately still substantial and enjoyable. Even so, in the hands of evenly-skilled players, some decks will perform better than others. Third parties even developed unofficial scores for decks such as the SAS score provided by Decks of KeyForge. In other words, when fit for the purpose of winning within a given set of rules, some decks will be better out-of-the-pack than others. That is the nature of variability in this game, and frankly, part of the fun.
Thankfully, “better” in this context often sits within a large range that varies on deck match-ups, draws, and player skill. That said, with procedural generation and with any given amount of variability, some decks will objectively fall below par.
As the publisher of KeyForge, we have three customer groups to consider when making decisions. These are current, new, and lapsed players (in that order of priority).
Current players want a fun, thriving game, with solid support and communication from the publisher (although there is often to be wide disagreement among existing players on how to define fun, thriving, support, and communication—all part of life).
New players are vital to any ongoing “lifestyle game” like KeyForge, as most existing players eventually become lapsed players for many different reasons over time. New players want a positive experience with their introduction, a sense of richness and discovery, an active community to play within, and goals for which they can aspire.
Lapsed players are critical for more abstract reasons than the other two categories. These are 1) knowing why and how players lapsed is important and 2) understanding that lapsed players are the most likely to become a new player once more.
Let’s turn our gaze onto the lapsed player category for a moment:
From our perspective, three common reasons why players quit playing or participating in purchasing KeyForge have been:
a) Early/new players lapse as they have acquired a deck that was determined “bad” by play experience or by having looked up its “score” and determined that a bad deck was acquired.
b) Experienced players may lapse as the fun of KeyForge diminishes as a player’s collection grew. That new decks do not create a sense that the collection grows more valuable, but instead that each new deck simply relegates another to never again being played.
c) For many new and experienced players alike, many sense a lack of agency in making meaningful decisions in regards to their deck.
Based on the data collected (helped greatly by the Gamefound campaign), we note that the number of lapsed KeyForge players easily outnumber current KeyForge players by more than 30 to 1. Given these are both big numbers, it is a joint testament to both how attractive the game has been to many people, and that the rate of lapsed players is very high (given its relatively short lifetime of 4 years, and even when accounting for a slowdown of releases and COVID-19’s impact on organized play).
Some existing players may shake their heads and say that “such lapsed players didn’t ‘get’ the game”. While this may be true to some degree, a larger group of happy KeyForge players is a healthier group of KeyForge players. It certainly is worth asking “can we adjust both perception and practicality of these very real negative experiences by former players, going forward?”
CALL OF THE ALLIANCES
Of the concerns arising from our new draft Tournament Formats, surely the most significant has been with respect to the Alliance system that Ghost Galaxy envisions being used in both the “Alliance” and the “Alliance Sealed” formats.
The Alliance system introduces a form of deck-construction to KeyForge by which players may form a deck from the “House Pods” of up to three different Archons (while still maintaining a deck of three different Houses). We find this new format to be exciting, meaningful, and important because it solves some of the most common reasons for players leaving the game described above, in that:
1) When a deck may be considered a “bad” one, it may still have one or more great house pods when combined with others from a players collection. In fact, the more a deck deviates from the mean, the more likely it will be to have very interesting pods. We believe this enhances the sense of discovery and wonder upon opening a new pack.
2) Given the combinatorial effects of pods joining other pods, it is much more difficult to pigeonhole a deck into a single score, as the opportunities of its three pods are vastly more contextual and will evolve as more decks are discovered.
3) As every new deck purchased may have new interesting combinations with the decks of a players’ existing collection, each new deck makes collections more valuable and exciting.
4) For those that enjoy more agency in the expression of their deck choice, Alliance provides such.
It is worth emphasizing the point that every single KeyForge deck ever made is compatible with the Alliance format. In other words, a player may participate in an Alliance tournament with any normal Archon deck, even one just pulled out of a new pack.
Given the variability of 12-card House pods, especially when accounting for enhancements, Alliance decks will still feature vast variety and uniqueness. In fact, after running a data-model on all the millions-and-millions of decks made for KeyForge thus far (this data was in the Master Vault and thankfully not lost) we found that less than a hundred Alliance match-ups could be identical, and this is not accounting for enhancements (data for which was not retained by FFG). As such, the chances that you may see two identical Alliance decks in a given tournament are vanishingly low.
Further, it should be noted (warning, spoilers from the Tournament Rules and Guidelines ahead) that Alliance decks will also be subject to a Restricted List: a short list of cards of which only one, by card name, may be in a given Alliance deck (in an identified maximum number of copies). In other words, if an Alliance deck contains two different cards on the Restricted List, or more copies of a Restricted card than allowed, then such a deck is not legal for Alliance play. There is one exception: an Alliance deck may ignore Restricted limitations if all three House pods are from the same Archon deck ( i.e., an original unmodified deck).
During the last few days we’ve had a very productive conversation with a great deal of players and playtesters, and their excellent feedback has allowed us to make a few adjustments to the Alliance format, which you may see at the end of the article.
WRATH OF THE ARCHONS
Some players have voiced concerns that the inclusion of the Alliance format is somehow anathema to the spirit of the game, that future game releases would be negatively affected (that is, against the classic Archon single-original-deck format), and finally that the announced formats leaned upsettingly heavy towards Alliance formats (being two of three formats).
Given its backwards compatibility, the seamless inclusion of any deck type (constructed or not), the preservation of enormous variability and near-100% uniqueness, not to speak of the fact that gameplay is identical, it seems incorrect to state that the Alliance format is “not in the spirit of the game”. It is a format that will be fun for many, will have a positive influence on every deck bought, and enriches the possibilities of every deck in a player’s collection. Further, given the variable nature of the House Pods, it is not a format that is able to be “Netdecked” and so will preserve the very sense of deck-uniqueness inherent to KeyForge. Compared to other games, it is also very “constructed lite” with only three choices of what to include.
As for future product development, as mentioned in the comments above, there are no plans to make the Alliance format determine how future KeyForge is made. After Winds of Exchange, we will publish Grim Reminders, and have every intention of continuing the core principle of KeyForge — that every deck is unique and playable directly out of the pack. The Alliance format should have no more impact on the game development than would KeyForge: Adventures.
All that being said, it was our intention for the Archon format to be as viable and strong as ever. From the large amount of feedback, we agree that the optics of the tournament formats did not support this objective, and disappointed many for whom Archon embodies the game. While we believe the proposed “triad” Archon format would make for the most interesting environment, we certainly have been swayed by those calling for the simplicity and classic nature of a pure single-deck Archon format. The same arguments have been made for the sealed format where we had proposed only a Sealed Alliance format.
With all of this in mind, we have made some adjustments to the preliminary tournament formats that we will be testing in the months to come.
BUT, WHAT ABOUT…
For many, one of the strengths of KeyForge is the large variability of possible formats. Given this, a number of alternative options may seem obvious on the surface.
One may ask, why not solve the “bad deck” problem with other formats and structure… such as establishing handicap structures like the former meta-“chains”, or use adaptive formats (in which players play each others’ decks), or encourage “virgin tournaments” only for decks that have never won before, etc. While it is true that KeyForge is a richer game for all these formats being possible, it does not solve the core issues of most lapsed players described above, and solving a problem by creating substantial complexity is not ideal.
Then, one may ask, why not add many more official tournament formats so there is something for everyone?
At its essence, OP (“Organized Play”) is the concept of arranging a gathering of play by which players may meet with the shared expectation of playing the same game. It is a method for connecting people over a shared experience, and the more connections made, the healthier the game and community. A game such as KeyForge is generally only as healthy as the average player’s ability to find another player.
As such, the more formats and possibilities that one presents as “official”, the less likely an individual is to find another player to engage in the game with. One may have a gathering of KeyForge players, none of which are inclined to play the game because each have their own preferred format. In effect, too many formats creates an entropy of connections, which is particularly harmful to games with smaller player bases.
Ideally, only one format is played. However, many games have found that a limited selection of official formats can create the necessary variety without harming the necessary connections too much. For these reasons, Ghost Galaxy has taken a principled stand to limit the number of formats played in official tournaments. We believe that such an approach is not mutually exclusive with allowing for the multitude of local preferences in casual play or non-official tournaments.
Hopefully the details above have created additional context and understanding as to our forward-looking plans. As can be gleaned, there are few objectively right decisions, and it will not be possible to please everyone, sadly.
Yet, this does not mean that the feedback and passions by player communities have been wasted. Not at all. As mentioned earlier, the volume of feedback and opinions have given us much valuable information and many good thoughts. This has allowed us to make some course corrections before the KeyForge Celebration, and we will keep listening and adjusting as necessary after that event.
The adjustments made to the Official Tournament Formats today are as follows:
1) The “Archon” format has been adjusted to single-deck format (rather than the more complex Triad format).
2) An official “Archon Sealed” format has been added.
3) The “Alliance” format has been adjusted so that an Alliance deck’s house pods must be recruited only from the same KeyForge set (i.e., Call of the Archons, Age of Ascension, Worlds Collide, Mass Mutation, Dark Tidings, Winds of Exchange, etc). This being in addition to the Restricted List limitations described above.
These changes have already been made to the Official Tournament Formats page.
We can’t wait to play these formats at KeyForge Celebration, and to then publish the final official tournament formats in December 2022, so that we all can embark on a wonderful KeyForge 2023 Tournament Season.
– Team Ghost Galaxy
Life’s roughest storms prove the strength of our anchors.