The Dork Den Blog

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Key Forge

Key Forge

Keyforge is hailed as a game where “every deck is as unique as the person who wields it”.

To that I say… have you met people?

Keyforge comes straight from the mind of Richard Garfield, creator of Magic, and Fantasy Flight Games, publishers of card games that aren’t really like Keyforge at all. The premise is simple: most competitive card games have an effective entry cost, where you can’t expect to do much at even small tournaments unless you spend a certain amount of money building your deck. Keyforge attempts to do away with that scheme, selling full-fledged decks for $10 a pop and—most importantly—making them unalterable. The deck you buy is the deck you play with. Every deck is procedurally generated by a system that’s supposed to make them relatively balanced against each other, maximizing player agency and minimizing cost in the competitive scene.

Let’s cut to the main question: Does it work? Did they succeed?

The answer: Yes…?

Better answer: It mostly seems like it, though we’re early in the game’s run and that could change for better or worse.

By and large, as far as I can tell, not many decks stomp hard or get stomped hard. Given the breadth of the card pool, it makes sense. The number of potential deck combinations is bonkers, and mathematically only a tiny percentage of decks will roll over everyone (except similarly powerful decks) without the player needing to be better than her opponent. Likewise, rare is the deck that’s hopelessly outmatched by almost everybody. There will be small advantages for some decks over others, but it seems that you’re as likely to find those advantages because one deck matches up well against another as you are because one is simply stronger.

More importantly, to the designers’ credit, they’re implementing methods of curtailing the power of those oddly mighty decks on the competitive scene. First is the deck-switch method. Players play each other, then switch decks and play again. If the match is tied, if they each would prefer to play the same deck for a tiebreaker, they bid chains for the right to use it. This is a very useful way of keeping competition balanced, but may suffer from game length (more on that later).

Another method uses the game’s chain system. Normally, the chain system is similar to the overload mechanic in Hearthstone—play a card that’s very strong, but suffer consequences on later turns, in the form of reduced card draw. Competitively, however, chains are also used to handicap decks that overwhelm all the others.

On a small-time level, if a deck wins a local competition (going 3-0, for example), that deck is tracked and given a chain for its next competition. If it wins again, it gets another chain, because it’s clearly too strong for the available competition. If it doesn’t, the chain goes away, because maybe it’s only slightly stronger.

At larger competitions—and this is through the grapevine, nothing solid is written and posted—decks that keep winning will have chains added during the tournament. At a glance, this may seem unfair, like success is being punished. However, if a serious, large-scale competition didn’t have this in play, one of two things one happen. First, the slim percentage of powerful decks would run everyone else over, making serious competition feel like it requires either a lucky draw or buying the deck from whoever has it, killing the entire goal of making Keyforge a minimally pay-to-win game. Alternately, if decks were tracked and chained going into the tournament, it would incentivize players to never take place in trackable events and instead test decks on their own, which would hurt community events and participation.

In the long run, Keyforge’s viability will depend on the competitive scene’s foundations, which makes these questions of paramount importance. Let’s set that aside, now, and briefly talk about the game itself.

The system of play, where you choose one of your three houses and are free to play or use any cards from that house on that turn—but you can only use cards of that house, barring some special effect—will offer a welcome sense of freedom for some and a weird sense of limitation for others. Players who are comfortable using and manipulating outside energy sources in CCGs (mana in Magic, mana crystals in Hearthstone, wind stones in Force of Will, etc.) may find it awkward figuring out how to play efficiently with this system. The simplicity will be a major draw to some, though, and given time most players who are used to maximizing efficiency will adapt to Keyforge’s mechanics.

The games tend to run longer than other games, though. Things speed up once you’re comfortable with the game, but the mechanics combined with the fact you’re less likely to be familiar with what your opponent is playing compared to a Magic tournament (where the same relatively small subset of cards keeps showing up) slows down the proceedings. A best-of-three finishing in fifty or sixty minutes is less likely than in other CCGs, which is unfortunate since the aforementioned best-of-three style has the best odds of creating a strong competitive format. The game is young, though, so game speed may increase more and more with time, rendering this issue moot.

Finally—and this isn’t about the function of the game itself, but man, did it irritate the hell out of me—Keyforge is advertised as a game that doesn’t require anything besides a $10 deck to play and compete. Technically, that’s true. However, where cards on the battlefield in Magic have two states—tapped or untapped—that’s not the case in Keyforge. Tokens are necessary for a number of things, including stuns on creatures (stuns can add up, so keeping it tapped isn’t enough), embers (I’m not calling them ‘aembers’, bite me Garfield), and keys. You need something to represent these things. Unless you buy the starter set, the game doesn’t provide any of them. You can use whatever you want, be it coins, dice, whatever, but that still requires having those things available. Someone new to the game isn’t going to know that and is unlikely to be appropriately prepared, making the whole “buy a deck and play” not exactly how it works.

All that being said, if the biggest complaint I have is about peripherals, the game can’t be that bad. The biggest concern about Keyforge as a gaming experience is if long games (30+ min.) are the norm or outliers. In addition to the previously mentioned issues, because Keyforge is a game where the deck cycles its discard pile, you see the same cards again and again, which can become tiresome when the game just won’t end. But if the game matures and game times shorten to twenty minutes or so, I think that problem will be largely alleviated. Then it’s just a matter of whether or not they can sort out the competitive scene.

Short version, Keyforge needs work in some spots, but it’s better than I expected.

(4.2 / 5)
Qui-Gon Jinn #1

Qui-Gon Jinn #1

   There are a countless number of reasons the Star Wars Prequel movies fell short of being good. By now most of us can list them off the top of our heads. This is a reality that Star Wars fans have faced for years now. And yet, there are sequences and characters scattered throughout all three movies that make Star Wars fans remember why they keep going back. If you wade through the truly unwatchable romance scenes and some of the borderline braindead decisions George Lucas made while writing / directing these movies, there is a certain amount of charm, adventure, and action packed excitement that makes the kid in all of us, especially those that grew up with Star Wars, giddy. There’s also a respectable storyline hidden beneath others. The political intrigue, questionable character alignments, and the unpredictability of how Lucas attempts to connect all the dots he created in the originals are all worthwhile traits of the prequel movies. Qui-Gon Jinn is a primary reason to watch Episode 1. It’s the first time George Lucas steps away from the black-and-white nature that often was Star Wars, and most other movies of the 20th century. There wasn’t just an ultimate hero (Luke) and an ultimate villain (The Emperor / Vader) anymore. Qui-Gon was a good guy that existed to question the moral fabric of the other good guys (The Jedi Order). While characters like Han Solo did fill a morally neutral void in the world, there was still a spot to be filled. Jinn presented a new side of the coin, and thus, a new side of the Star Wars movie universe. He wasn’t just a nod to fans of the EU, those that read the novels / comics and played the video games, he was the first true exploration into a world where, until him, Force users were basically wholly good, or wholly evil. That’s what made the character so incredibly likable, especially by today’s storytelling standards. This comic, part of an anthology of Star Wars comics called Age of Republic, seeks to continue that line of character development and show even more of Qui-Gon in his prime, ever controversial, always pushing the Order’s buttons a bit more than they’d like.

   Qui-Gon #1 focuses primarily on Jinn’s constant inner turmoil: What does it mean to be a Jedi in the Order, and does it conflict with being true to the nature of the Force? While the galaxy is seeped in conflict, the Jedi are used as great defenders and warriors of the Republic. Jinn sits with Yoda after returning from a mission where he’d saved a Priestess from her obvious demise. He’d chosen to run and escape with her, rather than kill her attackers. Most other jedi would have stayed to fight. Yoda in his always wise, but ever cryptic ways, understands Qui-Gon’s doubts, but cannot wholeheartedly side with Qui-Gon’s actions. Although he reaffirms that Qui-Gon’s decisions are not bad ones, he tells the perhaps even more spiritual Jedi Master that he must find understanding within himself and within the force. Qui-Gon agrees. With the force and instinct guiding him, he sets off to learn more, and strengthen his bond with the force in ways many other Jedi hadn’t done before him.

   This comic book is both visually and emotionally stunning. In an extremely action packed universe filled with lightsaber fights and ship battles, the force is a mostly unexplored aspect of the lore. Forget midichlorians, this comic book is all about the spiritual aspect of the Force, and its ever growing connection to Qui-Gon as a Force user first, and a Jedi of the Order second. There are no massive revelations in this comic book. It’s a calm, simple and peaceful story about Qui-Gon in a lifelong journey to find peace within the Force, and to do good. The two conversations between Yoda and Qui-Gon, one near the beginning of the comic, and one at the very end, are perfect representations of these characters, and an awesome showing of the potential that the Force has as a mysterious entity of this universe. There’s so much to tell and so much to show with this character, and with the EU being taken out of canon, Qui-Gon is still an almost completely untouched aspect of these new storylines, say for the movies. With a novel on its way written by the best Star Wars writer currently in the lineup, Qui-Gon Jinn #1 is a flawless tease into the potential of this character, and an amazing standalone story. It’s a quick read, and it’s well worth your time. Check it out.

(5 / 5)
Spider-Man Enter the Spider-Verse #1

Spider-Man Enter the Spider-Verse #1

   I was never that into Marvel. I grew up like most kids, pretending to be Batman and fawning over the awesomeness that was Superman. Even today, a lot of what Marvel comics has to offer just isn’t my jam. I understand it’s appeal, and will occasionally enjoy a series or two from the company, but I’m just not as invested. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies were a different situation though, and Spider-Man earned its special place in my heart as a young age. Spidey has been killing it in recent memory with the release of Homecoming, another success from Marvel movie studios, and the PS4 video game which quickly nabbed the spot as the best selling Playstation exclusive of all time. The company is only hoping to bolster the Spider hype even further with Into the Spiderverse, and upcoming stylish animated movie out this month. It looks really cool, and it’s getting pretty unbeatable early reviews so it’s only natural to add to the hype train by releasing a comic book tie-in to get mega fans ready for the inevitable release of the movie. It’s a bit of a shameless cash grab. Count me in.

   Spiderverse #1 follows the band of Spider-People from Earths all across the Multiverse called the Web-Warriors. This team has been around for a while now, and has a pretty significant following in the Marvel comic community. Peter Parker is in there as the ‘regular’ Spider-Man along with fan favorites like Spider-Gwen and Spider-Punk, as well as a few other Spidey powered characters that only work on teams like this. It’s a rag tag team of quippy spider heroes ready to hop across the multiverse and take down any evil-doers. You know the drill. When the team travels to a universe outside their realm of knowledge, they cross paths with a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavius, or perhaps better known as the Spider-Man supervillain: Doctor Octopus. The Web Warriors are too well versed in multiuniversal travel to jump to any conclusions. Every universe holds its own reality, and for all they know, Octavius is a respectable man here. While he seems like a man out for the betterment of the world and Spidey’s allies, something’s not quite right, and the webslingers find themselves quickly caught off guard.

   There’s an undeniable amount of charm in the way all of these very similar characters interact with each other. This team could very easily devolve into something annoying. I really enjoy Spider-Man as a character, but I think depending on the writer writing him Peter Parker treads the line of being unlikable. He’s very quippy and very sarcastic and if handled incorrectly (Amazing Spider-Man movies) the character can both annoy and irritate. On top of that you now potentially have an entire team of cocky, snarky characters all basically the same person, and yet it never feels too over the top. The characters, especially one like Spider-Gwen, are different enough that they add some diversity to the cast of heroes, and mix up the personalities a little. Obviously this comic is a little ridiculous, but its creative team is self aware enough and good enough that they keep it at a respectable level. I’m not invested in Spider-Gwen or any of these side characters. I don’t read their stories or keep up with this side of Marvel. But, as a general Spider-Man fan, I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with this comic. It also harnesses that crisp, recognizable wide-shot art style Marvel has as well, which as a main DC reader, is always refreshing to see.

(4 / 5)

Century: Eastern Wonders

Century: Eastern Wonders

The second in the Century series of games, Eastern Wonders blends with Spice Road to create a third game called From Sand to Sea. Maybe this is how they’re going to get to a hundred*.

*the author has no information suggesting they plan on getting to one hundred.

Where Century: Spice Road involved trading spice cubes with cards, Century: Eastern Wonders involves trading spice cubes with travel. The abstractness, then, decreases slightly—you’re on a boat! Rather than collect a hand of cards that lets you make trades, you place outposts on pieces of land that let you make trades (once the outpost is up, you don’t need to be on the tile to make that tile’s trade). The overall mechanics are similar, however—you place an outpost rather than take a card, make a trade where you have an outpost rather than with a card in your hand, or visiting a port with the cubes that will earn you the VP tile in that port rather than simply trade in the cubes for the VP card on the table. You also have the option to simply take two yellow cubes on a turn (harvest), in lieu of having a card that gives you that ability.

The difference in the core gameplay, if it’s not glaringly obvious, is the travel aspect. You move one space per turn, unless you earn upgrades that let you move more spaces per round. The faster you swing across the board, the faster you place outposts, especially since outposts are free if you’re the first one to place one in an area—once opponents have outposts up, it’s a little more costly, since your outpost costs one cube per outpost already on the tile. Thus, while sticking with one move per round is doable, two tiles of movement is very helpful; whether you want more depends on when you get your upgrades and, in many cases, how many players are in the game. You also can’t land on a tile with an opponent, so extra movement helps you avoid that scenario.

Upgrades are the main new feature in Eastern Wonders. You start with a board that has numerous outposts laid out in rows. Each row has a symbol replicated on some of the island tiles. If you place an outpost on a tile, you take the next outpost in line from the row matching the symbol on that tile. When you empty a column, you get an upgrade. You can choose from the aforementioned extra movement, extra cargo space, gain red cubes when you harvest, upgrade a cube when building an outpost, or take flat points for the end of the game. This, obviously, incentivizes spreading your outposts across certain spaces. However, the farther along a row you go, the more points each of those outposts are worth at the end of the game, so you’re doing fine as long as you throw down outposts wherever you can for free, and anywhere else that it’s worth the associated cost (keep some yellows handy).

Other than that, it’s still seventy percent recognizable as Spice Road. There’s not so much going on that you need to have played Spice Road to understand Eastern Wonders, but it definitely helps if you have that background knowledge so you only have to add the parts about the ships and the outposts. It’s probably better as a game in an objective sense; it’s just as solid, just as coherently designed, but there’s more going on, more options, and the lack of a hand of cards you need to reshuffle every so often smooths out the gameplay.

The option to sit in a space (like a port) and force an opponent to pay you a cube if they want to land there seems silly, but I got screwed over by it, so I’m definitely biased. Game’s still good.

(4.2 / 5)

The Green Lantern #1

The Green Lantern #1

   Green Lantern is perhaps the most flexible title in the DC Comicverse. Anyone with a Green Lantern Ring assumes the title, and all are a part of the universal police force: The Green Lantern Corp.. The freedom of this title has allowed creative teams at DC to play with the main title of ‘Green Lantern’. Where Batman will always fall back to Bruce Wayne and Superman will always fall back to Clark Kent, the main name of Green Lantern has in the past or present belonged to John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Jessica Cruz and most famously, Hal Jordan. Kids that grew up in the late 90’s and 00’s are probably most familiar with John Stewart, the mainstay Green Lantern of the incredible Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons that many of us, even non DC fans, remember fondly. Many would argue that Stewart hasn’t had the comic spotlight he deserves in recent years, and while I would agree, Hal Jordan has, and seemingly always will be the main crux of the name Green Lantern, and even with every new Green Lantern title that’s come out over the past 5 years or so, fate will always seem to realign the course of events, and give Hal Jordan the ever fitting title of: The Green Lantern.

   Green Lantern #1 begins as it should: larger than life. Somewhere deep in space far from Earth the Green Lantern Corp is dealing with a seemingly unformidable threat. Just another day in the job of a space cop, but there’s more to this problem than originally expected, and this small band of Lantern members find themselves quickly overwhelmed. The Guardians, leaders of the near omnipotent congress that make all major decisions regarding the entirety of the universe around them become quickly aware of this overwhelming problem and call all Green Lanterns back to their home world. Jordan is in a bit of an awkward situation though. He’s been put on hiatus by the Guardians, and even though he still has a power ring, he has no Lantern to charge it. So, he’s stuck on Earth feeling particularly rowdy and ready to get back into action. What better than a fellow Green Lantern in need and a call back to the Lantern home world to relieve some of that pent up fighting energy. Despite benching Jordan, in typical fashion, the Guardians need his help, and privately they tell Jordan of a growing threat of a traitor within the Corp.. One they’re unable to locate, but one that will surface on their own soon to challenge the strength of the Green Lanterns. Jordan is needed now more than ever to prepare for this incoming enemy.

   If there’s one thing that Grant Morrison can do well, it’s big space operas. That being said, Morrison has a track record of going a little too big and too complicated for his own good. Glance back to Final Crisis, a big DC event headlined by Grant Morrison around 10 years ago. It was absurdly bad primarily because of its obtuse story and near nonsensical timeline. It’s obvious that Morrison is a bit full of himself when it comes to his writing, and while I think he’s done some admiral works with DC, and he basically created my favorite DC character of all time: Damian Wayne, readers should be nothing but skeptical going forward with this comic book. I’m being genuine when I say I think this first issue was decent. Hal Jordan is a likable character who’s been around for a really long time, and with those two factors Morrison delivered on hard-to-fill shoes. However, if there’s ever a series that can become overblown and uninteresting in scale, it’s Green Lantern. If there’s ever a writer that can become overblown and uninteresting in scale, it’s Grant Morrison. That’s a dangerous combination. Keep your fingers crossed Green Lantern fans. I hope you get a good comic book going forward.

(3.5 / 5)

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