Gen Con was already bursting at the seams of the Indiana Convention Center, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise the oft-overcrowded board game convention of all board game conventions had to go completely online last month. It also meant we all got to see the revelations of February 2021’s Keyforge set at the same time, and some teasers with interesting scientific twists.
The world’s first ever “unique deck game,” Keyforge tends to scratch the itch of disillusioned Magic: The Gathering players, as it has the same fun and style of a collectible card game, but it’s the decks themselves that are collectible — you purchase them individually without the ability to customize, so there’s no dumping of cash to chase down the money cards. Keyforge is unique in another way, though, in that it may be the only hobby store powerhouse to ever have a paleontologist as a lead designer.
Brad Andres has moved on to other endeavors now, but his mark on Keyforge is indelible and will likely continue far into the future. Under his watch, the “Worlds Collide” set included not only a “house” of evolved, philosophy-loving dinosaurs called the Saurian Republic, but it introduced the idea of “Anomaly” cards that represented examples from future sets that had come back in time to tantalize players. One of those was called “Valoocanth,” reminiscent of the superstar fossil fish the coelacanth, once thought long-extinct, only to be rediscovered off the coast of South Africa.
And now, coming next year in the “Dark Tidings” Keyforge set, we know that the Saurians will be getting some underwater, prehistoric support.
Andres’ influence is clear here, most obviously with the name. The suffix nathus is Greek for “jaw,” and is used in the names of several dinosaurs, maybe most notably the Compsagnathus, a small, bidpedal theropod that appears in the Jurassic Park franchise. And the creature itself bears more than a passing resemblance to a real-life monster from eras past, the mososaurus.
Mosoasaurus is actually the genus name of a group of animals that might have been the largest marine reptiles ever, living during the late Cretaceous period. It’s estimated that mososaurs grew up to 60 feet in length, so big that when their fossils first started to be discovered in the late 1700s, people thought they were whales.
Of course there weren’t any scuba divers for the mososaurus to snack on (despite some suggestions to the contrary), and due to the positioning of the eyes on the side of the skull, preventing binocular vision, it’s thought that mososaurs operated as ambush predators in the more-or-less two-dimensional environment of the Atlantic Ocean’s near-surface. There it would feed on, well, anything it could fit in its mouth, including birds, squid, sea turtles, sharks and even other mososaurs. Nothing in the literature about jumping out of theme-park tanks, though.
The addition of seemingly ancient sea creatures also lends more credence to the Saurians’ use of an ammonite (that spiral shell guy in the top left of the card) as the symbol of their house. Ammonites were ubiquitous molluscs that filled the seas for almost 350 million years, eventually dying out around the same time as the dinosaurs and mososaurs.
And fittingly enough, the word “ammonite” comes from the great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, who called the fossils ammonis cornua (“horns of Ammon”), due to the resemblance of their shells to the rams’ horns worn by the Egyptian god Ammon.