From Archon Arcana - The KeyForge Wiki
KeyForge rulebook cover from 2018


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!

Key Concepts

The Golden Rule


Ready and Exhausted

Running out of Tokens or Status Cards

There is no limit to the number of damage tokens, Æmber tokens, or status cards that can be in the game area at a given time. If there is a shortage of the provided tokens or status cards, other tokens, counters, or coins may be used to track the game state.


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 face up 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.

Turn Sequence

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.

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.

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.
  • 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).

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 in the Play_(step).

  • 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.

Ready Cards

The active player readies each of their exhausted cards.

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.

Playing Cards

Card types

Discarding Cards

Using Cards

Card Abilities


Some card abilities cause a player to gain one or more chains. If a player gains chains, that player increases their chain tracker by the number of chains gained. If a player has at least one chain when refilling their hand and would draw cards based on the number of remaining cards in their hand, they draw fewer cards according to the chart below. Then, they shed one chain by reducing the number on their chain tracker by one.

# of Chains How many fewer cards to draw
1-6 1
7-12 2
13-18 3
19-24 4

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.

Chain Bidding

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.

Official rules v1.8 March 2021