It can be hard to keep track of all the free-to-play digital card games popping up lately, but SolForge is one of the longest running options out there. After nearly three years in Early Access, it will be hitting 1.0 and going into full launch next Tuesday, May 31. The official release will come with a completely revamped UI, a ranked ladder mode, new cards, and a whole lot more changes.
I spoke to Justin Gary, CEO of developer Stone Blade Entertainment, about what those changes mean for SolForge and what’s coming—most notably in my mind, the new UI, which Gary tells me they’ve “rebuilt the whole thing from the ground up.” The last time I played played SolForge I had a lot of fun with it, but the game definitely looked and felt like something still in Early Access. And Gary knew it, saying before the update “you enjoyed the game in spite of the experience you had to have to play it.” The new UI has clearer animations, a log of what’s happened, a new turn timer, and many more subtle adjustments.
The addition of ranked play is also a huge improvement, and Gary says it’s been “one of our most requested features.” Previously, to play competitively you had to enter a tournament through SolForge’s built-in tournament creator. While most digital card games don’t have tournament support at all, Stone Blade chose to put that in first and a ranked ladder later. “I came from a Magic [The Gathering] background, and as a Magic pro player and co-designing the game with Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic, we came at [SolForge] with that paradigm,” Gary explained, “which is you can play with your friends or against other people, or you can play in tournaments if you want to be serious.”
While that makes sense for a paper CCG, it’s not really what you would expect from an online competitive game. A ranked ladder has become the de facto way to play PvP games seriously across most genres, to the point where was pretty surprising. To many, adding a ranked ladder to SolForge will be a final step in making it a complete game, which is one of the reasons Stone Blade wanted to include it at launch.
Gary told me that SolForge has been in development for about five years, raising funding on Kickstarter back in 2012, but that “with games like this, you’re never really done.” The beta label was mainly used for so long to make it clear that there were still big features missing, but developement isn’t going to suddenly grind to a halt when the game leaves early access.
SolForge has already received six card expansions, with a seventh to be added on launch. What’s more, the pace may quicken now that other features like the new UI and ranked play are done. “We thought this [UI] rebuild would take six months, and it’s taken a year,” Gary said, “so that means we haven’t had new card content in those six months.” Because of that delay, the next set of cards has been in testing longer than any other set they’ve made, waiting for launch day to arrive.
It seems crazy to try and compete as a digital card game in a world where Hearthstone reigns so supreme, but Gary firmly believes that its rampant success is actually beneficial to the entire card game community, despite presenting a goliath-like competitor. “It’s a huge undertaking. We’re competing against people like Blizzard, who has hundreds of millions of dollars to throw at this and hugely experienced teams,” Gary said. “And us, it’s like five guys in my living room. We’re trying to make it work.” But he doesn’t have dreams toppling Blizzard to the ground. “Are we going to be as big as Hearthstone? Probably not, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to make a great game that people love.”
SolForge's focus on tournament play, its unique game mechanics, and the ability to share cards make it stand out in the digital card game space, and the cleaner, more satisfying UI has convinced me to give it another try come launch next Tuesday. If nothing else, news of its launch just continues to reiterate that it’s a great time to get into CCGs on PC. You can right now.
Update: The Article originally said the developer of SolForge was Stoneblade Studios, not Stone Blade Entertainment. This has been corrected.