Every tabletop enthusiast has a favorite mechanic. My favorite is deck construction. Im a huge fan of Ascension, a meddler in Magic: The Gathering, a fan of Gloomhaven, and a fan of all other genres. At the last week's Gen Con in Indianapolis, I finally got to walk down the path to the forge.
Fusion was created as a trading card game that was understandable for players of all abilities, without the use of overpowered net decks (created by one player, uploaded to the internet, and copied by the masses to defeat opponents) and with a lower startup cost.
Gary mentioned that more than three years of story and lore have already been written, and the game's official release is still over a month away. As players will help shape the SolForge Fusion universe's future, the first of which will take place this weekend at Gen Con.
Gary and I played my first match on Tabletop Simulator (TTS) with Gary, and we started off by setting up our virtual table. With our decks merged and Forgeborn selected, we each drew our hands and it was time to see who would start with the forge.
Gary chose me to sit back and watch him play. You may play cards to the front of any of your five lanes or remove a card from your hand, plus take any free actions. Once a card is removed, the lower-level version is removed from your discard pile.
On my turn, all play was the same, except that my creatures were played to the back rows of my lanes. After we each completed two turns, combat began. Creatures in the front row attacked and dealt damage to other creatures or struck the opposing player directly. Creatures in the back row could only defend.
We played from lane to lane, banishing creatures who had died in combat, adjusting our lives for the damage we received, and completing the first deck phase of play. I then handed over the forge to me, and we drew fresh hands of five cards to begin the next deck phase. Play continued until I reached zero health. Those who had the most health remaining would have won.
After Gary's first game, I did my own playtesting to get to know the game better.
SolForge Fusion does not require a lengthy ramp-up as in MTG or Ascension. Instead, the game just sat there with nothing on the board, and play popped off immediately. This feature can be frustrating for new players since there isn't much time to master the turn flow or deck cycles before being thrown into the fray.
I noticed that my fellow playtesters and I often forgot to use our Forgeborn powers. We would often forget about other play elements or just get confused about what did what. It takes one to two games with a factions card to grasp the synergy and how best to utilize them. With limited play time and access only to the online TTS version, it was difficult for us to get into any strategy.
Another pattern was sweeping defeat. Especially between two new players, wins tended to be by a great margin rather than a few points. Once a solid row of creatures was played, it was nearly impossible for the opponent to avoid taking 20-plus damage in a single turn. Even on officially sanctioned livestreams I watched, gameplay trended toward players winning in a landslide versus finessed victory.
The game is packed with many interesting and enjoyable features. One-of-a-kind decks keep drafting and fusion feeling fresh. Deck creation never really ends, since you continue to build while you play. The same fused deck can behave completely differently depending on the cards you play and upgrade throughout the game, which is a major drawback.
Gary and Garfield have eliminated some obstacles for new players to get interested in the game. Booster sets and packs can be combined in thousands of ways, allowing players to get more out of the game without purchasing costly decks right off the bat. Unlike other games with companion apps, such as Ascension, players can scan the unique decks they create and upload them. This allows the true game experience to be achieved both online and off.
Playing SolForge Fusion on TTS isn't perfect. Loading errors and design flaws (like overlays blocking five of my lanes from my opponent) end up drawing players out of the game. Especially for those new to the platform, the interface can take a lot of time from learning and enjoying the game.
Officially sanctioned tournaments may be held online as soon as they are approved. This safeguards newcomers from being trashed by pros, as well as gives them an incentive to improve their decks to compete in higher-tier tournaments.
Is it possible to keep casual players interested, or will it be stuck in a mostly competitive loop? There are many great replay value and unique deck building features that I strongly appreciate, but I'm unsure whether the gameplay itself is doing anything new. Is it too much on the lure of competition and the variability of decks? Only time will tell.