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KeyForge rulebook cover from 2018

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.

KeyForge cards are not sold individually; they are always sold as complete decks. Every deck in existence is unique!

Key Concepts

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. The only exception to the Golden Rule is when a card has received official errata. In such cases where a card has received an official errata, if the text of the errata directly contradicts the text of the rules, the text of the errata takes precedence.


During the game, players use their cards to collect Æmber (also represented by this symbol: Aember icon). 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

A comparison of how cards are oriented when ready or 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.

Running out of Tokens or Status Cards

There is no limit to the number of damage tokens, Æmber tokens, or status counters that can be in the game area at a given time. If there is a shortage of the provided tokens or status counters, 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 counters in a common supply within easy reach of both players.
  2. Each player places their Archon 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 Archon identity card.
  4. Randomly determine who is the first player. That player takes the first turn when the game begins.
  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.

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 Archon 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 (6Aember icon). 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 Archon identity card. During this step, the active player chooses one of the houses on their Archon 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.)

If a player controls a card that does not belong to one of the three houses on their Archon 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 Archon 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 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 cannot 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


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.

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

Example: Tori has been assigned seven chains. During setup, Tori will draw two fewer cards and shed a chain. Then, the next six times Tori refills her hand, she will draw up to five cards and shed another chain. After all of her chains have been shed, Tori will draw to the standard hand size.

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.

KeyForge Master Rulebook v16 November 2022