I’m writing this at the tail end of a KOTE game I lost due to not thinking things through. This article is a long time coming, so let’s dig in. But do remember this is how my brain works, yours may differ.
Update the board state in your mind
When I plan out my turn, I hold in my head the current board state and adjust it based on my actions.
A place where this is commonly done is Chess. Due to chess being completely open information, you can make your move in your mind, then respond as your opponent and then plan your next move and so on and so forth as many moves as you can hold in your head.
In chess you also need to “branch out” those moves to include several possible moves your opponent might make. This results in a complex structures you will need to hold in your mind by even the third move.
In KeyForge if you only map out your own turn, you don’t need to branch out as much, since your opponent doesn’t respond during your turn.
Example from the aforementioned lost game: A very complex matchup where both players had Infurnace and Hysteria in multiple copies. A key to winning the match was purging your opponent’s Infurnaces. I start my turn with my opponent having an Infurnace in play and several Untamed creatures, Mab the Mad among them, and on check. I have my own Infurnace in hand, along with a Gleeful Mayhem, Exhume and a Buzzle. I also have two creatures on the board I am happy to sacrifice to the Buzzle’s endless hunger.
My objective here is clear, I want to kill their Infurance and Mab the Mad, play my own Infurnace and purge them, kill my own Infurnace and the Exhume it to purge two more cards. In my mind, I look at the board and I can kill off Infurnace with my Gleeful Mayhem. I plan out my Buzzle killing a couple of Untamed creatures, and then play Infurnace, kill it with Gleeful Mayhem, then play it again with Exhume. Great. Execute.
Oops. I reach the stage of playing Gleeful Mayhem, and realize I can only kill one of the two Infurnaces, mine or theirs. If I kill theirs, I can’t Exhume mine. If I kill mine, I can’t purge theirs. I was lazy and did not go through the process of updating the board state in my mind past killing my Infurnace and Exhuming it, if I did, I would have noticed I could only kill one of them before actually going through the motions.
The correct play here was to Buzzle their Infurnace and forget about the Untamed. This misplay is a contributing factor to my loss, as later when they had a Hysteria they replayed the Infurnace.
Stop and plan
Updating the board state in your mind is not easy, and sometimes you need to give your brain a rest. This is not chess and the time allotted to a game doesn’t allow to fully map out every turn. You need to be able to recognize which turns need to be fully planned out and mapped out, and which you can play out based on your general game knowledge and intuition.
Being able to make this distinction is a great boon. A lot of the time what separates the great players from the good players is how long it takes them to process complex turns, but also being able to play out the simple turns quickly to save up time for the complex ones. You might see top level players play fast and then suddenly stop cold and think for three minutes. This is them realizing this is a complex turn that must be mapped out.
Given Infinite time, good players are not likely to play any different than the best players in the world. A good example of this is a Play by Post I’ve been running on Mortivas’ discord (you’re welcome to join), where a team of players play together and you post a move every day or two. The players almost never disagree as they have as much time as needed to plan out each turn, and find the “optimal” path. As a spectator, I also find that in three games, I have only disagreed with a play once. I disagree with plays when I spectate all the time, but not here.
This means that if you take the time to map out the most important turns, and also learn to intuitively play the simpler ones, you can play at a top level without taxing your brain. The simpler turns can be streamlined by learning the cards and deck you’re playing as thoroughly as possible.
Practicing board state update
In chess a popular method of going from good to great mapping is playing blind. One player plays with their back to the board, always maintaining the board state in their mind. Their opponent tells them only the move made, so the blind player has no choice but to visualize a board state and update it. An added benefit of this, is that the blind player can usually recall the entire game after it’s completion!
I have been thinking about trying this with KeyForge, and I might still do so, but there are a few small issues to sort out before I can. In the meantime, I think looking at a board state, closing your eyes, and then planning out your turn will work.
A few days ago I told Ugluk, my KOTE teammate that I don’t play at 100% locally. He said he doesn’t think he can play at less than 100%, but after I explained what I meant he agreed he does it too in casual games. Playing at 100% for me means I do as much of the aforementioned board state update as I can, while also keeping the bigger picture in my mind.
KeyForge can be played well tactically, playing out your turn optimally, taking your actions in the right order and always playing the most optimal current turn. But you can get quite a bit of extra juice out of your deck if you play it strategically. Knowing how your next turns are likely to look and how their next turns are likely to look allows you to make better decisions regarding the current play.
For example, having 3 Untamed creatures on the table with 2 Untamed cards in hand and 4 Dis cards in hand can sometimes feel fairly ambiguous, and you really need to know the game plan of your deck to make that decision. Are there cards in your deck you need to see in order to win? Dig. Do they have a board clear? Might want to use the board while it’s there. Can one play establish a bigger threat? Might be a good idea to force your opponent into a corner.
When I don’t play at 100% I don’t hold this bigger strategic picture in my mind. Online I might alt-tab to social media. In real life I might peek at a neighboring table. Being 100% focused on the game and the bigger picture takes a bit of effort, and I only really do it when I’m playing an event that feels important to me.
Adding your opponent’s turn
While KeyForge has hidden information, there is still a lot of information to be had from decklists and discard pile. You can often make a fair assessment of how many cards from each house they have in their hand, or at least which house they are likely to play next. Especially towards the end of the game when discard piles grow.
With a good educated guess as to what your opponent might do and what you might draw, you can plan out their turn and your next turn, like in chess..
Most players usually do this with Aember control, and I should have done it in my KOTE game, but I didn’t. I went to 8 aember, and I didn’t think through the possibility of them playing Cutthroat Research, Reap with Quant, Play Evil Eye, which was their only out. If I stayed at 7, they would not be able to go to check, and I would have had another turn to respond.
But you can do it with other things too. Remember their key cards and you can predict what they are likely to do, and how you might respond.
Contact and afterword
Just, you know, don’t be lazy if you want to win. And it’s fine to be lazy if you’re just in for a relaxing game.
I’m still running a double elimination bracket low sas tournament on Thursdays. So join the discord and find the #timeshapers channel to join in on the fun.
I am trying a new event time on Sundays 4pm GMT dedicated to research and development.
We’ve also started the Timeshapers Podcast, so find it on your favourite platform, and if it isn’t there, please leave a comment so we can get it on there.