GTM #266 - SolForge Fusion
by Stone Blade Entertainment


SolForge Fusion

SolForge Fusion began more than a decade ago when Richard Garfield and I met at the PAX Dev conference. Richard is the legendary game designer who created Magic: the Gathering, a game that changed my life.

We started by creating SolForge’s unique three-level system, where cards level up as you play them, creating a unique gameplay experience where you get to customize your deck both before and during play.  The game ran successfully for four years before being sunsetted in 2017.

Since then, we’ve been looking for a way to bring back SolForge, but neither Richard nor the team at Stone Blade believed that a straight relaunch was the correct plan. Back in 2011, SolForge was “the next evolution in digital card games,” but ten years later we were worried it was “just another digital card game.” If we were going to bring back SolForge in a sustainable way, we had to return to the question that started it all: “What’s Next?”


The Origins of SolForge Fusion

It was one of Richard’s other designs, Keyforge (no relation), that sparked the idea for the next iteration of SolForge. Based on advances in digital printing technology, it is now possible to make custom cards and decks, something that would have been impossible even a few years ago.

In Keyforge, the decks were pre-generated and 100% unique. This meant that no two players would have the same deck, completely upending decades of trading card game tropes, where players would often copy whatever “netdeck” was winning that month.

I started to imagine what else could be done to leverage this new technology. In other words, “What’s next for digital printing technology?”

The result, SolForge Fusion, is the best of both worlds, giving players the option to customize their deck but still ensuring every player’s deck is 100% unique.

SolForge Fusion is the world’s first Hybrid-Deck game, a game where players combine different unique half-decks to customize their play experience.

SolForge Fusion goes beyond just digitally printing unique decks, but also uses a unique algorithm to digitally create the cards themselves. By “Fusing” two card halves together, SolForge Fusion will have over 17,000 possible cards in our first set alone (more than was created in the first twenty+ years of Magic: the Gathering!), with more unique deck possibilities than there are atoms in the universe.

Moreover, all SolForge decks can be scanned into your online collection, where they can be exported and played via Tabletop Simulator.


Turning a Purely Digital Game into a Digitally Printed Game

In order to make a good sequel to a game, you need to know the core tension of your game. A core tension is the primary constraint that players push against as they play the game.

The core tension of SolForge is the leveling of cards. Players can play any card they want each turn, which also levels that card up. The tension comes from the fact that the more powerful cards, in the short term (i.e. good Level 1 cards), tend to come with weaker leveled up versions. Keeping this tension high and creating a lot of interesting level progressions is the core of what made SolForge so much fun. 

SolForge was originally designed to be a TCG that uniquely takes advantage of the digital space. In it, each card had three levels which evolved as you played the card, allowing us to tell more interesting stories and give players more interesting play decisions than with a single static card.

Leveling up cards is easy when a computer handles it for you because the process is seamless and automatic. In a physical game, where leveling up is manual, we had to work on making the leveling process fast and efficient for the players.  We updated the game engine to make the process of leveling as obvious as possible. Graphic design is a key to making gameplay intuitive.

As you play cards each turn, they are removed from your deck and you replace them with a higher level version. By reducing the size of the deck from 30 cards to 20 cards, the number of cards becomes easier to track from round to round. The deck will always be 20 cards when shuffled until the final rounds of the game. This also had a beneficial effect of reducing game variance and giving players more opportunity to see their leveled-up cards each round.


Shared turns

SolForge Fusion uses a shared turn model, where players alternate control of “The Forge.” Whoever has the Forge plays a card first, followed by the player without the Forge. This process is repeated once more before combat begins. Playing cards one at a time allows the person without the Forge time to search for their level-up cards, making the process less burdensome.

This streamlined turn structure also makes the game go faster and creates a dramatically different feeling from turn to turn depending on whether or not you have The Forge.


Definitive End Games and the Forgeborn

The Forgeborn are the most iconic characters in SolForge. They represent the most powerful characters in the game, those who can actually wield the power of the SolForge directly. In the original SolForge, the Forgeborn were the only creatures that had a fourth level. This gave players something fun to strive for, but since few games would last long enough for the fourth level to come into play, the Forgeborn rarely lived up to their potential.

In SolForge Fusion, we placed the Forgeborn front and center.

Each Faction half-deck comes with a unique, algorithmically generated Forgeborn. Players pick which Forgeborn of the two combined decks they want to use. Every three turns, players shuffle their deck and level up their Forgeborn, granting them access to a new unique power that is guaranteed to have an impact on gameplay.

The Forgeborn are a huge part of the SolForge lore and players can now embody those characters in a far more compelling way. In addition, the Forgeborn are a fun way to track the game progression, as the Forgeborn levels up at the same rate that a player gets access to higher level cards. After the Forgeborn’s mighty fourth-level powers are unlocked, the game goes into sudden death mode, ensuring a dramatic conclusion within a reasonable period of time.

SolForge Fusion, the next evolution in trading card games, will be available everywhere this Spring. Experience the first ever Hybrid Card Game with over 15,000 cards in the base set alone!