Standing at the top of the mountain range while the storm clouds circle overhead and the smell in the air is of potential electricity. The wind rattles around your legs attempting to throw you down and commit you to your doom, while the clouds are screaming at you to fail, as they rub themselves together like two huge woollen sweaters, gathering charge and threatening to rain down static death. You stand defiant, almost winning, holding the jar above your head while your feet encased in rubber slowly begin to slide a couple of inches backwards. There is almost a pause in the sky as the charge gathers itself to roar and your arms lose their feeling and sense that this, after all this time, could be your doom. It is at that point that a hand comes from howling wind and props you up, as the lightning journeys down towards you in one swift and hellish plasma death visit. Sometimes when you are trying to catch lightning in a jar again, it’s better to bring along some help, which is why for Sol Forge we get both Justin Gary and Richard Garfield staring at us from the box.
In SolForge Fusion you take the role of a Forgeborn, a being who controls and fields spells and creatures that level up as the game progresses and your aim is to reduce your opponents health points down to zero and win the game. SolForge is similar to a deckbuilder where over time you will be increasing the power of your deck as you play the game, with the hope of removing weaker cards from your deck to concentrate your more powerful abilities. Each of the half decks in SolForge is algorithmically generated to make sure that each deck is unique as possible and so that the opponents you will face as you play with your friends will differ from your own deck, providing a unique experience when you play.
So while I call this a deckbuilder, it’s more like a deck upgrader, with more powerful cards being added to your deck in the two actions that you take every round. You’ll play a card into one of the five lanes in front of you, and depending on whether you have control of the Forge, they’ll either go at the front or back of that particular lane. You’re only allowed to have one card per lane, but you are allowed to replace cards in lanes without penalty. Playing a card results in you adding an upgraded version of the card to your discard pile for future play. Alternatively, you can take the upgrade action and the old card is destroyed completely so it isn’t recycled and helps in the thinning of your deck. Taking the upgrade action reduces you ability to cover your lanes and prevent future damage from coming through, but slows down how quickly you’ll be bringing out the heavy guns to play. There are also cards that you can play for free providing that you’ve reached the conditions required on the card that you want to play. Like both KeyForge and Magic, cards will have different keyword actions that will effect how they are brought into play and how they act on the lane battlefield. Those who are familiar with both systems shouldn’t feel too much like a fish out of water. After ever third round, you’ll cycle the entire deck adding your discard pile to your draw deck, upgrade the level of your ForgeBorn, and then start the process again. Hopefully with some heavier artillery to cause further damage.
Upon reaching the end of the twelfth round or the fourth recycle, you’ll then finish the game and the player with the least health will lose the game. If during the game, either of the players reaches zero health, the other player is declared the winner. Though you’ll need your own method of tracking health during the game as well as a way to track which round you are on.
The strict twelve round rule will mean that most games will be easily play through in an hour, but if you manage to gain enough momentum here then games are easily going to be done and dusted within half that time. SolForge might be one of those games that you’ll play a couple of games of, in order to switch around the decks and give other characters a chance on the battlefield. You’ll need to organise decks when you first set up, so those used to a riffle and diving in will need to hold their horses.
Honestly? I’m baffled by the choices made here in convincing me that this is a launch product for a new game. A starter set where the soup has been delivered to your table by the waiter but in order to save money, they decided to just bring you the pan and don’t bother with the spoon, then drop an uncut loaf of bread on the table for you to dip into it. I’m confused by the decisions here which must have been made to save money, but it really has you sitting here and wondering why they let the money men even in the room. The shame of it all is that SolForge for what it is, is refreshingly clever in trying to make changes to how you play a Card Battler. The constant changing state and action of upgrading cards and the main protagonist I find innovative. Even if it does borderline on fiddly in making sure you remember that every time you play a card, you’ll be searching the deck for the next upgraded version. It’s something you’ll get used to though over time and it does work very well. It encourages you to experiment by the upgrade path you’re taking. Do you soak up some damage in the first couple of rounds to upgrade your cards as quickly as possible? Or do you start with a strong defence instead? I’m so conflicted.
I like the little marker cards that help you to keep track when your creatures and minions gain or lose armour and life. I’m wondering why there’s no health tracker or damage tokens. I wonder why the playmat misses the opportunity to have a round tracker, which considering how important the deck cycle part of the game is, just seems to be a huge misstep. There’s so many little annoyances here that just scream that this isn’t a game for new players. There’s a bit too much arrogance that somehow these missing key elements are acceptable. In this time, with so much competition in this space? I get it, you want your Magic and Keyforge players for your new shiny unicorn. I wanted someone who cares about me playing their game. And considering how good Solforge has the potential to be, I guess you win, I lose.
While it might not make sense in the first couple of turns, it is worthwhile upgrading your cards in order to thin your deck and give you more powerful cards for the future rounds. It’s important remember to use your ForgeBorn’s power as it is easily forgotten in the heat of battle.
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
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