WELCOME TO THE CRUCIBLE…
You are an Archon. Hailed by some as a god, respected by others for your wisdom, you were born—or perhaps created—on the Crucible, a world in which anything is possible. The Crucible is ancient, but ever renewed. An artificial planet hanging in the center of the universe, the Crucible’s many layers remain constantly under construction by the enigmatic and mischievous Architects. For raw materials, the Architects have harvested countless worlds, blending them into a new whole both familiar and alien to the creatures that dwell there. Whether lone specimens or entire cultures, the beings brought to the Crucible find themselves in a strange wonderland with no obvious means of returning to their former homes. Some thrive, building new societies and developing new technologies with the aid of the mysterious psychic substance known as Æmber. Some discard the trappings of their old lives, adopting the ways and customs of new tribes discovered in this new world. Others devolve, bodies and minds twisted beyond all recognition, incorporating Æmber into their very bodies. As an Archon, you have gathered followers in your journeys throughout the Crucible, allies who find value in your ageless wisdom and your ability to speak to all creatures. With the aid of these allies, you seek out Vaults hidden throughout the Crucible by the cryptic Architects. Each Vault can only be unlocked by Æmber-forged keys. Once open, a Vault’s contents—the power and knowledge of the Architects—can be consumed by only a single Archon. When two Archons discover a Vault, only one can gain its knowledge. Only one can move one step closer to the secret of the Crucible…
KeyForge is a two-player card game in which each player takes the role of an Archon, and leads that Archon’s deck against their opponent. A player’s deck represents a team that is attempting to gain Æmber and forge keys. The first player to gather three keys is able to unlock a Vault and win the game. The defining feature of KeyForge is that no two decks are alike. This is not a trading card game—you cannot craft a deck. Rather, each deck must remain as it is. Every deck in existence is unique!
This section introduces a number of foundational concepts to keep in mind while playing the game.
THE GOLDEN RULE
If the text of a card directly contradicts the text of the rules, the text of the card takes precedence.
During the game, players use their cards to collect Æmber. Players use Æmber to forge keys. The game ends immediately when a player forges their third key, and that player wins the game.
READY AND EXHAUSTED
Cards that are in play exist in one of two states. Ready cards are oriented upright so that their text may be read from left to right. A ready card can be used during a player’s turn, causing it to exhaust. Exhausted cards are rotated 90 degrees to the side. An exhausted card is not able to be used until it is readied by a game step or card ability. All creatures and artifacts enter play exhausted.
To set up the game, perform the following steps, in order:
1 Place all damage tokens, Æmber tokens, and status cards in a common supply within easy reach of both players.
2 Each player places their identity card to the left or right side of their play area.
3 Each player places three key tokens, one of each color, with the unforged side faceup near their identity card.
4 Randomly determine who is the first player. That player takes the first turn when the game begins. (If players are playing a series of games between two decks, in each game after the first, the player who used the deck that was defeated in the previous game chooses who is the first player.)
5 Each player shuffles their deck and offers it to the opponent for additional shuffling and/or a final cut.
6 The first player draws a starting hand of seven cards. The other player draws a starting hand of six cards.
7 Each player, starting with the first player, has one opportunity to mulligan their starting hand by shuffling it back into their deck and drawing a new starting hand with one fewer card in it. (This step is skipped in the Quickstart game.)
The game is now ready to begin.
The game is played over a series of turns. Players alternate taking turns until one player wins the game. Each turn consists of five steps:
1 Forge a key.
2 Choose a house.
3 Play, discard, and use cards of the chosen house.
4 Ready cards.
5 Draw cards.
The player taking a turn is referred to as the active player. The active player is the only player that can perform actions or make decisions; a player does not make any decisions when it is not their turn. Each step is described in the following sections.
STEP 1: FORGE A KEY
If the active player has enough Æmber to forge a key during this step, they must do so. To forge a key, the active player spends Æmber from the Æmber pool on their identity card, returning it to the common supply. Then, that player flips any one of their key tokens over to its forged side, indicating that the key has been forged. The default cost to forge a key is six Æmber. Some card abilities may increase or decrease this number. No more than one key can be forged during this step each turn, even if the active player has enough Æmber to forge multiple keys. Some cards have effects that allow Æmber on these cards to be spent when forging keys. If there is enough Æmber on cards with this effect you control combined with the Æmber in your Æmber pool to forge a key you must do so during Step 1.
STEP 2: CHOOSE A HOUSE
Each KeyForge deck is composed of three different houses, which are shown on the identity card. During this step, the active player chooses one of the houses on their identity card to activate, making it the active house for the remainder of the turn. This active house determines which cards the active player can play, discard from their hand, and use this turn. After choosing a house, the active player has the option to take all cards in their archives and add them to their hand. (See “Archives” in the Glossary.) If a player controls a card that does not belong to one of the three houses on their identity card, they may (if they desire) choose and activate that house during this step instead of one of the three houses in their deck. A player cannot choose to activate a house unless it is either on their identity card or they control a card that belongs to that house. If a card effect instructs a player that they must activate a house other than one in the aforementioned categories, that card effect is ignored (See Cannot VS Must/May.)
STEP 3: PLAY, DISCARD, AND USE CARDS OF THE CHOSEN HOUSE
The active player may play or discard any number of cards of the active house from their hand and may use any number of cards of the active house that are in play under their control. Eligible cards may be played, used, or discarded in any order. A card’s house is determined by an icon in the upper-left corner. If the active house corresponds to a card’s icon, that card is eligible to be played, used, or discarded. Rules for playing, discarding, and using cards are described later. First Turn Rule: During the first player’s first turn of the game, that player cannot play or discard more than one card from their hand. Card effects can modify this rule. The active player may not play, use, or discard cards that aren’t of the active house unless specified by a card ability.
STEP 4: READY CARDS
The active player readies each of their exhausted cards
STEP 5: DRAW CARDS
The active player draws cards from the top of their deck until they have six cards in their hand. After a player completes this step, their turn ends. If the active player has more than six cards in hand, they do not discard down to six. If a player needs to draw cards (during this step or at any other time) and cannot because their deck is empty, that player shuffles their discard pile to reset their deck, and then continues to draw (cards are drawn one at a time). When a player’s turn ends, if that player has enough Æmber in their pool to afford a key, the player announces “Check!” so that their opponent knows the forging of a key at the start of that player’s next turn is imminent.
The active player is permitted to play any number of cards that belong to the active house during step three of their turn.
Many cards in the game have an Æmber bonus below the house icon. When a card with an Æmber bonus is played, the first thing the active player does is gain that much Æmber. Each time a player gains Æmber (for any reason), the Æmber is placed in that player’s Æmber pool (on their identity card).
Some cards have a bold “Play:” ability. Such abilities resolve after the card’s Æmber bonus is collected, if it has any, and after the card enters play.
There are four types of cards in the game: action cards, artifacts, creatures, and upgrades. There are different rules describing how each card type is played.
When an action card is played, the active player resolves the card’s “Play:” ability and, after resolving as much of the ability as possible, places the card in their discard pile
Artifacts enter play exhausted and are placed in a row in front of the player but behind that player’s battleline, which is explained on the next page. Artifacts remain in play from turn to turn.
Creatures enter play exhausted and are placed in the front row of the active player’s play area. This row is referred to as the battleline. Creatures remain in play from turn to turn, and they each have power and armor values that they use to resolve fights, which are described later. Each time a creature enters play, it must be placed on a flank—at the far left or the far right of its controller’s battleline. Each time a creature leaves play, shift the battleline inward to close the gap.
Upgrades enter play attached to (i.e., partially overlapped by) a creature chosen by the player who controls the upgrade. Each upgrade remains in play from turn to turn and modifies the card to which it is attached. If the card to which an upgrade is attached leaves play, the upgrade is discarded. If an upgrade cannot attach to a card in play, the upgrade cannot enter play.
The active player can discard from their hand any number of cards from the active house during step three of their turn. Cards are discarded one at a time, at any point throughout this step. This lets players remove cards that they do not want to play from their hand, freeing up space to draw more cards at the end of the turn.
The active player can use any number of cards from the active house that they have in play during step three of their turn. Depending on a card’s type, the active player is able to do different things when using that card.
An upgrade modifies the creature it is attached to and is not used independently of that creature.
There are two types of abilities that enable a player to use an artifact: “Action:” abilities and “Omni:” abilities. When a player uses an artifact, they exhaust the card and then resolve its abilities. A player can only use an “Action:” ability if it is on a card that belongs to the active house. A player can resolve an “Omni:” ability even if it is on a card that does not belong to the active house. Some artifacts require that they be sacrificed as part of the cost of using them. When an artifact is sacrificed, it is placed in its owner’s discard pile. A player must still exhaust such an artifact when using it. Artifacts cannot be used to reap or to fight.
When a player uses a creature, that player must exhaust the creature, and the player has the option to reap, fight, trigger the creature’s “Action:” ability, or trigger the creature’s “Omni:” ability. Any card effect that causes a creature to fight, reap, trigger its “Action:” ability, or to trigger it’s “Omni:” ability is causing that creature to be used.
Any ready creature of the active house may reap. When a creature is used to reap, the creature exhausts and its controller gains 1 Æmber for their Æmber pool. Then, all “Reap:” abilities the creature has, if it has any, resolve.
Any ready creature of the active house may fight. When a creature is used to fight, the creature exhausts and its controller chooses one eligible creature controlled by the opponent as the target of the attack. Each of the two creatures deals an amount of damage equal to its power (the value to the left of the card’s title) to the other creature. All of this damage is dealt simultaneously. After the fight resolves, if the creature that is being used to fight survives, all “Fight:” abilities the creature has, if it has any, resolve. A creature cannot fight if there is no enemy creature that can be chosen as the target of the attack.
Any ready creature of the active house may trigger its “Action:” ability, if it has one. When a creature is used to trigger its “Action:” ability, the creature exhausts and that “Action:” ability resolves.
Any ready creature may trigger its “Omni:” ability, if it has one, even if it does not belong to the active house. When a creature is used to trigger its “Omni:” ability, the creature exhausts and that “Omni:” ability resolves. DAMAGE AND ARMOR When a creature is dealt damage, place an amount of damage tokens equal to the amount of damage dealt on the creature. If a creature has as much or more damage on it as it has power, the creature is destroyed and placed on top of its owner’s discard pile. If a creature has an armor value (to the right of the card’s title), the armor prevents that much incoming damage each turn. (For more details, see “Armor” in the Glossary.) When a creature leaves play, any Æmber on that creature is gained by the opponent. (See “Capture” in the Glossary.)
Unless otherwise specified by the ability, the active player makes all decisions while resolving an ability. For details on specific terminology that can be found in card ability text, see the Glossary.
RESOLVE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
While resolving a card ability, resolve as much of the ability as can be resolved, and ignore any parts of the ability that cannot be resolved. Example: Aaron plays the card Anger (COTA 001), that reads “Play: Ready and fight with a friendly creature.”, and chooses his friendly Snufflegator (COTA 358) to resolve the ability on. However, the Snufflegator is already ready, so Aaron ignores that part of the ability and just uses his friendly Snufflegator to fight.
USING CARDS VIA OTHER CARD ABILITIES
If a card ability allows a player to play or use another card (or to fight or to reap with a card), the chosen card may belong to any house unless the ability specifically states otherwise. When using a card via a card ability, any other requirements of using the card (such as exhausting to reap, fight, or resolve its “Action:” ability) must be observed, or the card cannot be used. Players can only use cards they control, unless a card ability specifically states otherwise.
THE RULE OF SIX
Occasionally, a situation may emerge in which, through a combination of abilities, the same card may be played or used repeatedly during the same turn. A player cannot play and/or use the same card and/or other copies of that card (by title) more than six times during a given turn.
If a card has an ability that does not have a boldfaced precursor, the ability is a constant ability that is active so long as the card remains in play and meets all conditions specified by the ability. Constant abilities on a card are active even while that card is exhausted. Applying the effects of a constant ability is not considered using a card and therefore does not cause the card to exhaust.
Chains represent supernatural bindings that are occasionally placed onto specific Archons by the Architects: sometimes in an effort to better challenge the Archon to grow and overcome greater adversity, and other times to penalize the Archon for breaking a rule or a piece of Crucible etiquette. A player may gain chains through card abilities during a game. When a player gains chains, that player increases their chain tracker by the number of chains gained. Each time (including during setup) a player with one or more chains would draw one or more cards to refill their hand, that player draws fewer cards (based on their current chain level, see below) and then sheds one chain by reducing their chain tracker by one. The more chains a player has, the greater the card penalty becomes. Chains 1–6: draw 1 fewer card. Chains 7–12: draw 2 fewer cards. Chains 13–18: draw 3 fewer cards. Chains 19–24: draw 4 fewer cards
CHAIN HANDICAPS (OPTIONAL)
When playing a game between a weaker deck and a stronger deck, players may use chains as a means to handicap the stronger deck. Chains are used when players want a fair game between two known decks rather than a potentially unfair competition between decks that aren’t known. When playing with new decks, or competing in a tournament, players will not use this handicap.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ASSIGNING CHAINS
When the players have a sense that a particular deck is stronger than the opposing deck, start it with four chains. From then on, every time the chained deck wins three games in a row against that opposing deck, adjust the number of chains up by one, and if it loses three games in a row, adjust the number of chains down by one. As a player plays more games with their collection, the number of chains assigned to a deck will fluctuate up and down based on the matchup and how well the deck has performed against the opposing deck.
If players are reasonably familiar with two decks they can ignore the suggested number of chains, and instead bid a number of chains for the right to use a particular deck. Example: Terry and Julie decide to play Mother Mahospot against Chancellor Fisher. Mother Mahospot is a deck that both players are very familiar with, feel is quite strong, and enjoy playing. Chancellor Fisher is a newer deck, that the players are not as comfortable playing. The above guidelines suggest they begin with four chains on Mother Mahospot. Julie looks at Fisher, considers a moment, and says, “I’ll play Mother Mahospot at five.” Terry raises to six. Julie goes to seven. Terry decides to let her play it at seven, and plays Chancellor Fisher.
You are now familiar with the basic rules of the game!