We sat down with Stone Blade Entertainment CEO (and game designer) Justin Gary at Gen Con, and talked about the new SolForge Fusion app that uses the physical deck for digital play, the company’s tabletop game release plans, and more.

ICv2: We understand you're launching or about to launch a digital client for SolForge Fusion.  Tell us how that relates to physical play and how that might affect sales.
Justin Gary: This is something we've been very excited about; it's been part of the vision from day one.  As you know, every single card, every single deck in SolForge Fusion is one of a kind, algorithmically generated, and it comes with a QR code.  From our initial launch back in October, you've been able to scan your decks into your online account.

For now, we've been letting you play on Tabletop Simulator. With this new app that we're first debuting here at Gen Con, you'll be able to play your unique decks and your collection online as well as physically.  The collection you already have is now infinitely more useful.  Not only can you play online against other people, we'll be running online tournaments, and you can play against the AI.

We're also still building and will have by the end of the year a Slay the Spire‑esque campaign where you can play your decks in a PvE (player versus environment), algorithmically generated campaign as well.  It creates a whole world of new usability and something that nobody else is doing right now, where your physical collection is a one‑to‑one correlate to your digital collection.

How does the app know what your physical cards are?
You scan it in.  There's a QR code on every physical deck. Remember, it's a deck; each deck is one of a kind and is sold as a unit.  The way that SolForge Fusion works is not like a traditional trading card game where I'm collecting individual cards.  I'm collecting, functionally, half‑decks, faction decks.  I shuffle any of those two decks together to play.  Each half‑deck comes with a unique QR code that lets you scan that entire deck in.

How do you expect that to affect physical sales?  Do you think that's going to be a driver?
We believe it's going to be a huge driver of physical sales because two reasons.  One, just the utility of your decks goes up enormously on its own.  Each thing is an experience that you could play with.

Two, look, we all know that for traditional collectible games in particular, you have the problem of critical mass.  If you don't have enough people at your local store to play every week, then the communities can often die out.  Here, if you don't have everybody show up for the week, you still can play your decks online and then build that community slowly so that you can have those weekly in‑store tournaments.

We also have tools for stores.  Any store can sign up and run events (not only physically in their store), charge entry fees, etc., all through the SolForge Fusion website.  They can do the same thing online.  They can actually make money from running events online, draw people into their stores.

We have hobby kits that are exclusive for stores (see "’SolForge Fusion’ Hobby Kit").  They can sign up and get hobby kits direct from us and prizes that allow them to bring people to their stores.

Again, from anywhere in the world, in theory, if they really want to run online events and mail out their goods, they're capable of doing that.  We're really trying to empower a new model for what a retail store can do with games so that you get the best of both worlds, digital and physical.

Then we wanted to ask about Shards of Infinity ‑‑ Saga Collection, that's a repackaging of previously released products (see "’Saga Collection’")?
As we talked about at GAMA, we finally got all of our IP and our brands back in‑house (see "Stone Blade Regains Rights").  All the Ascension brands, Shards of Infinity, some of our other ones, You Gotta Be Kitten Me!, now finally are under the Stone Blade IP.

What changed?  Because at one point, you thought it was a good idea to license it out.  Then you changed your mind.
It was always a license that had an expiration date.  This was not necessarily a change.  It was something that we did.  Ultra PRO is great at what they do in sleeves and accessories.  They've not as much focused on the hobby gaming space as they were when we first made that deal.

Again, look, it's my babies.  I launched Ascension here 13 years ago, at this very show.  Nobody's going to give it the level of attention and care that we are.  It was a good partnership while it lasted; the brands are now back in‑house.

When we launched SolForge Fusion, we rebuilt our entire infrastructure for being able to do all these things, so it's much easier for us to just run and build everything under one roof.  At the end, Shards of Infinity: The Saga Collection, is the definitive repack edition with improved components, upgraded art, upgraded all in one box.

For stores, we were able to do on the Kickstarter some cool, Kickstarter‑exclusive things, including a foil version and some extra promo cards.  Any stores that want to participate in that can still do so.  Again, if they sign up on the Stone Blade website up until September 1st, they can order and still get all the Kickstarter exclusives as well.

Will there be a regular trade release of that product also?
Absolutely, yeah, just like with our Ascension Tactics: Inferno.  We finished that Kickstarter back in March, which is an expansion to our very successful hybrid game for deckbuilding plus tactical miniatures.  That'll be coming out early next year.  Shards of Infinity: Saga Collection will be out for retail in time for Gen Con, is our expectation.

Tell us about your future plans for Ascension.
I kind of already alluded to it: bringing Ascension Tactics: Inferno to retail, bringing Shards of Infinity: Saga Collection to retail, and we have a new Ascension release planned, that we're not revealing the exact details of.  I guess we'll probably talk to you about it by PAX Unplugged.  We'll have it for first quarter announcements and public releases.

What is going with the SolForge Fusion physical product release?  What's the schedule there?
We launched our first expansion, Whitefang Pass, at the end of March in the U.S.  We have our global release in Europe and elsewhere happening next month, in September.

Then we've delayed our third set, called The Last Winter.  That will be launching in first quarter of 2024.  It will be a globally synched release.

We're delaying the U.S. a little bit.  Two reasons for that.  One, obviously, synching up globally is going to be cleaner for everyone overall.  Two, we will have the app fully available, so everyone, when their retailers are pushing the product, they'll have all of the benefits of the app and all of the extra sales advantages that they get from it.

Are you doing the app in multiple languages?
We are launching in English first, but we're building it so we're planning to translate it down the road.  Then we'll expand from that.

How many SolForge Fusion releases next year?
Two at a minimum.  We'll have two major expansions.  Then we'll have a small content release we're planning as well.