My health is quickly draining away as fallen heroes on both sides of the conflict litter the battlefield. My trusted ally, Tarsus Deathweaver, who has been providing bonuses to attack and health to my party, was vanquished by the relentless Zimus, The Undying, a powerful undead soldier who earlier dispatched my female cleric in flowing white robes. The tension mounts as I know Zimus will be the death of me soon. I shift my attention to the diminutive Arboris Dragon, who has been quietly accompanying my party. He plots his next move and sends a Glowhive Siren to block Zimus’ next charge. The crafty Arboris knows her death will not be in vain. As Zimus splits the Siren in two with his mighty battle axe, her life force grants me and the party new life. Arboris absorbs this life and swells to enormous size and now towers over the battlefield. My pulse rises as I cast the perfect spell for such a moment, and it grants the mighty dragon the power to breakthrough all defenses. Even the legendary champion, Oros, the Chosen with his majestic two-handed sword is not enough to fight off the dragon’s onslaught. Arboris unleashes a devastating attack to vanquish my foes. I take in the outcome of the battle, and exhale. It was a close call for this group of adventurers but more glory awaits. There is always another foe to conquer.
At the moment, I’m not sitting around a table playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends. I’m in the passenger seat of my wife’s car as she is driving us to a family gathering, and she is quite annoyed with the fact that I’m buried knuckles-deep in my iPhone playing a deck building game against a stranger.
Welcome to SolForge.
SolForge first came to my attention around the time I interviewed Justin Gary about his previous brainchild, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. I had gushed about that game after playing it at Gen Con in 2011, so when I heard Mr. Gary was working on another game – I totally dropped the ball and did not back the Kickstarter.
I was a fool!
Considering I have been playing SolForge on a daily basis for the past few months, the magnitude of regret I have for missing out on the Kickstarter is considerable. Let me explain why.
SolForge is a purely digital trading card game. There are no physical cards to be collected or played; the game can only be accessed through a computer or iPhone/iPad. It will become clear why a physical version is not offered as the mechanics of the game are detailed below. In SolForge, both players start with 100 Health and the goal is to drop the opponent’s Health to zero. To accomplish this goal, each player creates a deck of 30 cards from two card types – Creatures and Spells. Creatures have two primary statistics, Attack and Health. Spells allow the player to use a wide variety of powers to effect the cards on the board. The cards are organized into four Factions: Uterra (green), Tempys (red), Nekrium (purple), and Alloyin (black), which each Faction having a unique personality. Any one deck can only have cards from two of the Factions.
A game of SolForge will be illustrated with two fictional players, Jen and Bob. Jen begins the game by drawing five cards from her deck, plays one card from her hand, and then discards the remaining four. After this is complete, Bob draws five cards and plays two cards from his hand, discarding the remaining three. Jen then draws another five cards from her deck, plays two, and discards the remaining three. Bob draws five cards, plays two, and discards the remaining three. After each turn for Jen and Bob, the cards played by both sides battle. This cycle continues until either Jen or Bob are at zero health.
For experienced players of Magic: The Gathering (and likely many other deck building games), these dynamics are nothing new. Unlike many others, I never delved into playing Magic. After Magic was out for several years, it felt too cumbersome to access. The sheer amount of cards, rules, editions, and combinations seemed both intimidating and insurmountable. I was also concerned about the financial commitment in a game like Magic, which seems to require a fairly consistent dose of money to remain up-to-date and competitive. One of the primary allures of Ascension is that it’s a self-contained game. One box, one price, and you have all you need to play the game.
SolForge has taken elements of Magic, combined them with the accessibility of Ascension, and worked it through a digital vortex to create a wonderful gaming experience.
SolForge has several unique elements, but perhaps the most noteworthy is the process of leveling cards. Players familiar with roleplaying games should immediately grasp this concept. When a player decides to play her card during the game, that card gains experience – and thus gains a level. The vast majority of cards have three levels (one card per faction has four), and cards typically grow more powerful as they are leveled up in the game. All cards begin at Level I, and when a Level I card is played it is removed from the deck and replaced by a Level II version of that card. When the Level II version of the card is played, it is removed from the deck and replaced with a Level III card. The image below demonstrates this progression with one of my favorite cards in the game, Tarsus Deathweaver.
Tarsus starts off in Level I with 5 Attack and 6 Health. He also has a special ability during Level I that grants “extra” creatures played a +2 bonus to Attack and Health. Numerous cards in the game allow you to replicate or copy the card. For example, the Ether Hounds card allows you to put two Ether Hounds into play with just the one card. So the first Ether Hounds would have the normal 3 Attack and 3 Health (3/3), but the second Ether Hounds (the copy) would start with 5 Attack and 5 Health (5/5) because of Tarsus’ special ability. Other creatures have an ability to respawn. The Fell Walker card places a 3/3 zombie on the board, but when it dies another 3/3 zombie fills the same space. This reborn zombie would have 5/5 stats because of Tarsus’ ability. As Tarsus “gains experience” and levels, his ability to boost the stats of the creatures not played from your hand increases to +4 and +6.
Players not only have to manage the basic Attack and Health statistics of their and their opponent’s cards, but also have to be keenly aware of what effects are being used and how each card levels up over time. Another wrinkle is the focus on Lanes; in SolForge, creatures can be played into one of five Lanes. The creatures lined up against each other in the same lane battle against each other during each player’s turn. Some cards have a special power to move from one lane to another, and other cards have the power to push, pull, or move creatures played by themself or the opponent. These dynamics are illustrated in a quick game below.
Round 1. My opponent, BigGamesJames, starts the game by playing a single card, an Everflame Phoenix. Cards are broken down into four classes of Rarity: Common, Rare, Heroic, and Legendary. Everflame Phoenix is a Legendary. As you can see, the Level I version has above average Attack and Health. The blue wings with the number “1” in the middle of the card means that Everflame Phoenix can move one Lane during its turn. At this point, I know my opponent is playing the Tempys faction, which is typically focused on aggressive damage dealing.
Meanwhile, my deck is built primarily around the Uterra faction, which is focused on growth and filling the board with as many creatures as possible. During my turn, I play my own Legendary creature, Echowisp, which allows you to put a copy of itself in an adjacent lane. I also play the spell Group Meal, which reduces the attack of BigGamesJames’ creatures by 2 while giving all of my creatures +2 to Attack. Notice the ring with spikes around the three cards below? This symbol means the card will not attack yet. Unless a creature has the Aggressive ability, the card cannot attack during the same round it was played.
Round 2. BigGamesJames plays two Alloyin creatures, one to block my Echowisp in Lane 2 and another to the far right in Lane 5. When the creatures fight, his Everflame Phoenix and my Echowisp in Lane 1 destroy each other. The creature blocking my Echowisp in Lane 2 is another Legendary creature who in later levels will randomly level up an extra card. Meanwhile, the Apocrymancer is a card that allows the player to level up a card whenever they play a spell. Although the first card played was from the Tempys faction, which is typically focused on aggression, the player is announcing pretty loudly that he is playing a late-game strategy to level up many cards early to have powerful hands late. The Alloyin faction is built around the idea of stalling and releasing late-game bombs to end a game. With this information, I know I have to end this game quickly before those bombs start falling on my head.
With my turn, I play the aforementioned Tarsus in Lane 3 followed by another Echowisp. You can see how Tarsus’ ability gave the Echowisp in Lane 4 an additional +2 to Attack and Health. Eagle-eyed readers will spot Zimus (5/2) remaining in my hand. In most games, I would play him at this point because I only have one of him in this deck (I only own one). However, I’m not worried about later levels because of my opponent’s strategy, and feel it’s much better to fill two lanes and take advantage of Tarsus’ ability. At the end of my turn, the creatures in Lane 2 destroy each other. So far, neither player has broken through to inflict damage to the other.
Round 3. BigGamesJames plays another Apocrymancer to block my Echowisp in Lane 4, and plays a spell to reduce the attack of my Tarsus in Lane 3. When the spell was played, two Apocrymancers were on the board, so he got to level up two cards “for free” without playing them this round. At the end of his turn the creatures in Lane 5 destroy each other.
I am fortunate in drawing one of my three copies of Echowisp into each of my first three hands. With Tarsus on the board – and my opponent clearly playing for the late game – I play Echowisp again, and follow this with the Ferocious Roar spell, which grants all my creatures +2 to Attack and Health. I am quite happy with this play because it even keeps my Echowisp in Lane 4 alive after fighting with Apocrymancer. Ferocious Roar takes the 8/3 Echowisp to 10/5, which means that after it takes 3 damage from Apocrymancer, it’s at 10/2 and still a threat. Tarsus gets in for 4 damage against my opponent because he is unblocked, and I’m thrilled with my board presence at this time.
Round 4. BigGamesJames plays two creatures into Lanes 3 and 4 to block; the creatures in Lane 4 destroyed each other. Stasis Warden starts out as 4/5 and is a fun little creature to play around with. Whenever you play a spell, it allows you to put the Defender tag on an opponent’s card for one turn; a card will not attack when it has the Defender status. Again, this is another stall strategy to survive until later rounds when the stronger cards in the Alloyin and Tempys factions can be played. I had four creatures in play, and he was only able to block two, which means the Echowisps in Lanes 1 and 2 are going to hit for 18 damage on my turn.
I play the other two copies of Tarsus I have in the deck while the creatures in Lane 3 destroy each other. BigGames James is now down to 78 Health and I am in great shape with four creatures on the board.
Round 5. BigGamesJames played a creature to block Lane 1 and used a spell called Energy Prison to make my Echowisp in Lane 2 a Defender. This means that my Echowisp will no longer attack, which means it will never inflict any damage to his health. Now if he were to play a creature in Lane 2 and that creature attacked the Echowisp, then the Echowisp would defend itself. There are spells that would allow me to remove the Defender tag from a creature, but I know I do not have any in this deck. BigGamesJames is forfeiting the 10 points of damage he will take from the Tarsuses in Lanes 4 and 5.
You can see below in Round 6 that I played the Spring Dryad in Lane 1. I did this because it gets +1 to Attack and Health every time I play a creature, and I know I will be playing as many creatures as possible to end this game as quickly as possible. I decided rather than leave that Defender Echowisp in Lane 2, I overwrite it was a Level II Echowisp. You can see how the stats for Level II have improved. Level I has 6/1 for Attack/Health while Level II has 8/3. However, since I have two Tarsus creatures on the board, the copy of the Echowisp in Lane 3 gets +4 to Attack and Health for a 12/7 total.
Round 6. BigGamesJames seems to have gotten a bad hand as he plays another Stasis Warden to block and destroy the Echowisp in Lane 2 and players another Energy Prison to make the Tarsus in Lane 4 a Defender. Recall that whenever you play a spell with Stasis Warden on the board, then you can tap an opponent’s creature to be a Defender and not attack this turn. Since Stasis Warden is only Level I, it can only affect another Level I creature, so he tags the Level I Spring Dryad in Lane 1.
I overwrite the Tarsus in Lane 4 with a Level II version and use Lifeblood Dryad in the open Lane 2 to benefit all creatures. If Lifeblood Dryad enters the playing field and all five lanes are full, then each creature on the board gets +1 to Attack and Health. I played her rather than a second Tarsus because I want to push through as much damage as possible, and my board is already a bit cluttered so adding copies in the future is going to be difficult. Besides, I have creatures getting in for damage and my opponent only has 46 Health left.
Round 7. BigGamesJames plays a Level II Apocrymancer in Lane 5 to block and uses another spell to decrease the attack of my Spring Dryad in Lane 1. With four lanes left unblocked, he is in serious trouble.
If I were to play nothing on this turn, my creatures would get in for 30 damage (1+6+13+10). You may spot the same thing I do in my hand above, Ferocious Roar. The Level II version of Ferocious Roar increases the Attack and Health to each of your characters by 3, so instead of only landing 30 damage this turn, I’ll land 42 – and actually 43 when I play the Echowisp in the empty Lane 5, which gives the Spring Dryad another +1 to Attack and Health.
Every Game is Unique
I imagine if BigGamesJames and I played a few more games with those specific decks, I would likely come out on top more often than not. My deck is built to grow creatures and fill lanes while his deck is meant to slow the opponent down and wait until later rounds to unleash bigger, stronger creatures. I was fortunate with getting the Echowisps in my hand when I did, which allowed me to gain card advantage quickly. Next time, he might decide to play more creatures as blockers rather than spells, and might get out a few Level II creatures who are more powerful than anything I have to offer. The point is that even a match with these exact decks could look very different the next time around. Had I played against a player with a different deck style – like mass removal – then the game would have gone much differently.
The game played above is rather short, as neither of us reached Player Level 3 when you gain access to the Level III versions of your cards. Most games I’ve played have gone into Player Level 3 and beyond. I once had a slugfest into Player Level 6 that pitted an 85/85 Level IV card against my 100/101 Level III card.
There is every reason for you to try SolForge. It’s 100% free-to-play, and in the many months of playing the game, I believe I have spent $70 on packs – but this was completely voluntary. Players get free rewards just for logging in each day. Rewards are also given for the first and third wins each day. Prizes include individual cards, packs of cards, and event tickets that can be used to enter tournaments. The tournaments are fun because you get to open packs of cards and the cards remain in your inventory. They also introduced a forging system this month that allows you to trade in cards you no longer want or need to earn silver, which can then be used to buy cards you want.
Like I said – no reason not to give the game a try!
Stay tuned for additional discussion of SolForge on the blog. I’m in the process of interviewing three individuals currently involved in the growing SolForge community. Those interviews will be posting soon. And send me a game invite through SolForge if you’d like to play. Shockingly, my name there is TheIdDM.