This article is sponsored by Stone Blade Entertainment
SolForge was one of the original digital CCGs, and introduced a unique leveling aspect with its gameplay. SolForge Fusion is its successor, and today we’re going to take a look at this new (physical) sequel, which was designed by Richard Garfield and Justin Gary (both of whom designed the original SolForge as well). That’s quite the team, and they came up with a sequel that not only works well as a physical game, but both keeps and enhances the original elements of SolForge, while still adding some important new twists. Let’s jump in!
The first step when playing SolForge Fusion is to assemble your deck. I say “assemble” because the deckbuilding system used is different than in most card games – the designers refer to it as a “hybrid” deck game. That description makes a lot of sense, because the way you make your deck is by combining two half-decks. These unique half-decks are algorithmically generated, leading to an endless combination of cards. You can’t add or remove any cards from within the half-decks, but any half-deck can be combined with any other half-deck, with the only rule being that they have to be from different factions (we will get to those in a second). The concept of algorithmically-generated decks is something you may recognize from Keyforge, which is another game designed by Richard Garfield, but there is a meaningful improvement here.
By letting you combine half-decks, you gain a lot of agency, while still making the game easy to pick up and get going. If you just want to pick two factions you enjoy playing, great – that’s a fine approach. If you want to weigh all your options and find two half-decks that complement each other well, that can also be quite beneficial.
This deckbuilding system is a hybrid in more ways than one, as it really is a middle ground between being able to add any cards you want versus having your entire deck being pre-generated. I think it’s a big step forward, and gives you plenty of agency while guaranteeing that you won’t play against whatever the best deck is over and over. There is no “netdecking”, and when you discover a sick combination, you know you’re the only one who will have that exact one. Granted, it’s not like you’ll see brand-new cards every single game, but there’s a lot of value in learning the card set and not needing to read everything either, so this lands in a good place.
I mentioned Factions earlier – there are four of them, and they make it so you can’t just combine two half-decks with similar cards together, since each half-deck has to be from a different faction. The four factions are Alloyin, Nekrium, Tempys and Uterra (in the order above), and all of them have different themes and cards.
This faction is a “fusion of magic and metal.” It has cards that make constructs, do tricky things and modify your creatures (as well as paying you off for doing so).
This is the undead faction, and features plenty of cards that drain health, kill creatures and bring creatures back from the dead.
In Tempys, you’ll find Elementalists, arcane casters with various powers. This faction has enough burn to go around, and plays aggressively as a result.
The underground druids of Uterra harness and grow life – you’ll find pump spells and gigantic monsters in this faction.
Not every half-deck will play the same, of course – there’s a wide enough variety of cards that you will have different experiences even among the same faction. The main themes of each faction do shine through, but there are enough different things going on that each half-deck will feel different.
Of course, choosing your two factions isn’t the end of the decision tree, not quite…
With each faction comes a Forgeborn, who is essentially your hero/avatar in your game. Now, I said “hero”, not “heroes”, and you will have two factions in your deck, so that brings us to your next choice. When you combine two half-decks, you get to choose one of the two Forgeborn that come with them to be the one you play with.
Forgeborn have powers, and the awesome part is that these powers are also algorithmically-generated (I’ve never said the word “algorithm” this many times in one article before). Not only is each Forgeborn its own mix of powers, you get to choose the one that fits with your vision of the deck best. In fact, you might even choose a particular half-deck because you get access to a set of Forgeborn powers that you’ve been looking for, adding another cool angle to the whole process. Like I said, there’s plenty of agency when making your deck, and you can definitely put as much (or as little) effort into it as you want.
We will talk about how the Forgeborn powers work below, but suffice to say that they are not weak.
So, how does this all work? We’ve talked about the deckbuilding, but what about the gameplay?
Gameplay in SolForge Fusion is quite similar to original SolForge, if you were a fan of that. You start by separating your deck into three piles by level. Each half-deck comes with:
- 10 Level 1 cards
- 10 Level 2 cards
- 10 Level 3 cards
- 1 Forgeborn card
You’ve already selected which of your two Forgeborn you want to use, and you place that in its zone on the battlefield. You then shuffle all 20 of your level 1 cards together (10 from each half-deck), and that’s your starting deck. All the level 2 and 3 cards go in your Upgrade zone – you’ll use those later.
You start at 50 life, which sounds like a lot, but level 2 and 3 creatures pack a big punch – it goes faster than you might think.
The turn cycle is interesting – it’s both simultaneous and not, which is pretty smooth. First, you randomly determine which player starts with The Forge (which is basically saying they are the active player).
The player with the Forge acts first each phase and plays their creatures to the front row. This is as good a time as any to mention what the board looks like, since it’s an important component (though once you’ve gotten the hang of the game, you don’t need an actual board to play).
This is your half of the board, and you can see that the center five rows have a front and a back. That’s where your creatures go, and where most of the action happens. At its core, SolForge Fusion is a game based around creatures and creature combat, which I like a lot. There are plenty of spells and abilities going on, but front and center are creature battles, which I find to be the most fun part of card games.
At the start of each turn, each player draws five cards, then the player with the Forge kicks things off. To play cards, you just play them. That’s it, there’s no mana cost or anything – you can play any card you want. However, you’re restricted to playing just two cards per turn, so choose them wisely.
The player with the Forge makes the first move, either playing a creature to the battlefield or playing a spell (spells are also what you imagine – cards that aren’t creatures that have a wide range of effects, up to and including putting creatures into play). Then, you take a level 2 version of that creature or spell, and put the level 2 version into your discard pile. When you eventually play the level 2 version, you put the level 3 version into your discard pile, and this is how cards level up. A key part of SolForge Fusion is that your cards get stronger over time, and as the game progresses, you’ll start playing more and more powerful versions of the cards you played earlier. Take a look at how Scorchmane Dragon levels up:
As you can see, things escalate quickly. Scorchmane Dragon is a cool example of some of the choices you get, as the level 1 version is not strong at all – it’s a 0/7 defender. However, once it hits level 2 you get a 7/7 Dragon that deals 5 when you play it, and soon enough a level 3 monster that dominates the board.
There’s a huge strategic component when it comes to the leveling system – you have to balance the short-term and long-term when deciding which cards to play. The cards you play early are the ones that are the most likely to level up multiple times, so you’ll have plenty of choices like the one Scorchmane Dragon gives you – do you want a card that’s good early but weaker later, or should you start out slow for future payoffs? With only two card plays per turn, you don’t have time to waste, and I’ve found it challenging (in a good way) to decide what I want to commit to.
You also have your life total to think of. As we will get to in a second, creatures unsurprisingly attack players if left unchallenged, so sometimes you’ll have to choose between defending yourself or playing something for a future payoff and taking damage now. The leveling aspect of the game is the main focus, and I like how SolForge Fusion has implemented it. The designers clearly learned from the original SolForge (which had essentially the same system, but the level 3 cards were overwhelmingly stronger), and not only do the cards scale in a more linear fashion rather than an exponential one, but the redraw system makes it so both players usually have similar numbers of level 2 and 3 cards to deploy.
Note that spells level up just like creatures do, so every card in your deck has upgraded versions that you’ll (eventually) get to battle with.
There’s a lot of excitement baked into the game engine, as every card you play feels like a seed you’re planting for the future, and every leveled-up card you draw is a reward for the work you did earlier. Plus, it’s fun to play with more powerful cards, and getting to a level 3 is an exciting moment indeed.
Let’s get back to the turn sequence. As I was saying, the active player plays a card, and puts the level 2 version into their discard pile. Then, the second player gets to play a card, and it passes back to the first player. They then play their second card, as does the opponent, and combat begins. Note that if you already have a creature in a lane, playing a second one there banishes the first one, so you only want to do that if you absolutely have to.
Let Them Fight
As you saw with Scorchmane Dragon, creatures have attack and health, displayed at the top of the card. When there is a creature in the front of a lane, combat happens, and combats in each lane resolve simultaneously.
If the creature in the front is unopposed, it deals its damage directly to the opponent – not blocking is costly. If there is an opposing creature, the two creatures battle, and deal damage to each other equal to their attack. Damage is sticky, which is to say that it’s permanent – if a creature doesn’t die from damage, that damage remains on it, and permanently reduces its health. As you might guess, when its health falls to zero, it dies.
Creatures also have activated abilities, which you can use as soon as you play them. Once you activate them, they’re exhausted and remain exhausted until the end of the turn (though exhausted creatures still participate in combat).
End of Turn / End of Cycle
After combat, the turn ends, and a number of things happen:
- Each player readies their exhausted creatures
- Each player moves their creatures from the back row to the front row
- Each player discards the rest of their hand and draws 5 new cards from their deck
- The Forge moves to the other player
- Check for the end of the Cycle
The last one is a new one – what’s a Cycle? Well, every three turns you get to level up your Forgeborn (your hero) and shuffle your discard pile into your deck. Under most circumstances, that means your deck will have five cards you didn’t see over the last three turns, and those will get shuffled alongside all the leveled up cards you generated over the last three turns.
The end of each Cycle is exciting, and not just because you now get access to the next level of cards. It means your Forgeborn is getting powered up, as Level 2 is when you get your first Forgeborn ability.
Whenever your Forgeborn gains a new ability, you have until the next Cycle to use that ability. You get to use it exactly once, which you’ll want to mark with a token or the like. In this case, Korok gains Demolish at level 2, and has until level 3 to use it. Some of these abilities are passive, like this Korok’s level 3, and in that case you don’t have to do anything, as the ability just is on.
The game ends when a player goes to zero health, or at the end of four Cycles. If nobody has died by the time four Cycles have concluded, the player with higher health wins, and if that’s tied, you go to Sudden Death. In Sudden Death, the first player to have a lower health total than the opponent loses (so first blood gets it). Most games don’t go the full 12 turns, as somebody usually succumbs to damage, but it’s possible to drag things out if you’re really determined.
For the full rules document, take a look here.
While SolForge Fusion is a game designed for paper, there is online support as well – you can play remotely via Tabletop Simulator, and the setup is pretty slick. You can even scan your deck so you can play your paper decks online, and use them for tournaments or to play against other players. As an avid user of Tabletop Simulator, it’s great that the devs support the game via that platform, as it’s a really good way to get your gaming on via a digital platform. To find the game on TTS, click here.
The Kickstarter for SolForge Fusion just went live – as you can imagine, I got to play the game in advance. Kickstarter is a great way to support indie game studios, and if you thought this look at the game was sweet, I’d encourage you to back the game. Not only does it help the game succeed and get into the hands of potential opponents, you can pick up some sweet swag for yourself. Stoneblade Entertainment is the studio that brought us one of my favorite games of all time, Ascension, and this is another great addition to the card game pantheon. You can take a look at the Kickstarter here.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the newest card game to enter the scene, and best of luck finding the perfect combination of factions to fuse together!