SolForge Fusion aspires to be the next generation of tabletop deck construction

SolForge Fusion aspires to be the next generation of tabletop deck construction ...

Every tabletop enthusiast has a favorite mechanic. Mine is deck construction. Im an avid gamer of Ascension, a meddler in Magic: The Gathering, a fan of Gloomhaven, and a sucker for all other genres. Last week I finally got to walk the trail to the forge ahead of this years Gen Con in Indianapolis.

Fusion is a free-to-play digital card game that was released in 2016 for all skill levels. That means introducing a deck building mechanic that avoids the hazards of overpowered net decks (created by one player, shared on the internet, and copied by the masses to defeat opponents).

Gary mentioned that over three years of arcs have already been written, and the game's official release is still over a month away. Based on the outcome of Storyline Events, the first of which will take place this weekend at Gen Con.

Gary and I first played my first match on Tabletop Simulator (TTS) with Gary. We started off by setting up our virtual table. With our decks fused and Forgeborn selected, we each drawn our hands and it was time to see who would start with the forge.

The game decided to pick Gary to start, so I decided it was time for me to sit back and watch him play. You may play cards to the front of any of your five lanes, banish a card from your hand, and take any free actions once the card is gone. The next-level version of the card is placed in your discard pile.

On my turn, all gameplay was the same except that my creatures were played to the back rows of my lanes, not the other way around. Creatures in the front row attacked and dealt damage to other creatures, only to defend.

We went from lane to lane, banishing creatures who died in battle, changing our lives for the damage we received, and ending the combat phase. With that, my first deck phase was completed. I then handed the forge back to me, and we drew fresh hands of five cards to begin the next deck phase. Play continued until I reached zero health. If neither of us had reached zero by the end of the fourth deck cycle, the winner would have won.

After Gary's initial game, I did my own playtesting to better understand the game.

SolForge Fusion does not require a long ramp-up to play stronger spells or creatures, which is unfortunate for newcomers.

I noticed that my fellow playtesters and I tended to forget to use our Forgeborn powers. We would often be distracted by other play elements or just lost in confusion about what did what. It takes one to two games with a factions card to really grasp the synergy and how best to wield them.

Another pattern was a huge victory. Especially between two new players, victories tend to be by a large margin rather than a few points. Once a solid row of creatures was played, it was virtually impossible for the opponent to avoid taking 20-plus damage in a single turn. On officially sanctioned livestreams I watched that pitted staff from developer Stone Blade Entertainment against each other, gameplay tended toward players winning in a landslide rather than finessed victory.

The game is packed with many interesting and enjoyable things. The 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 during the game.

Booster sets and packs can be combined in thousands of ways, allowing players to get more out of the game without buying costly decks immediately. In addition, players can scan unique decks they create and upload them to tablets simultaneously. This allows the true game experience to be achieved both online and off the bat.

Playing SolForge Fusion on TTS isn't always perfect. Loading errors and design flaws (like overlays obscuring five of my lanes from my opponent) end up dragging players out of the game. Especially for those new to the platform, the interface can take a lot away from learning and enjoying the game.

Officially sanctioned tournaments can be held online as soon as they are sanctioned by professionals. This prevents newcomers from being trashed by pros, and gives incentives to upgrade a decks level to compete in higher-tier events.

Will the game be able to hold casual players' interest, or will it be stuck in a primarily competitive loop? There is great replay value and there are unique deck building features that I definitely appreciate, but I'm unsure if the game itself is doing anything new. Is it too much on the lure of competition and the variability of decks? Only time will tell.