I don’t know a whole lot about Richard Breese’s Key series. But the latest entry is making some serious waves:
Keyflower was just released at Spiel 2012 by Breese’s company R&D games. It’s the seventh entry into the Key series, and is currently the second highest ranked (behind 2002’s Keythedral). This one is co-designed by Breese and Sebastian Bleasdale, plays with 2-6 players, and takes around 90 minutes to play. I don’t really know why every game has Key in the title, and what they all have in common (other than a general medieval theme), but after playing Keyflower recently, I thought I’d give it a closer look. This is not a review, it’s one of my standard standard overviews with some thoughts at the end.
The game comes with 64 large hexagonal tiles, including 4 turn order tiles, 6 boat tiles, 6 home tiles, and 48 village tiles. There are also 48 skill tokens (anvils, pick axes, and saws); 120 octagonal resource counters (gold, iron, stone, and wood); 141 wooden meeples (blue, red, yellow, green, and a purple to indicated start player); six home screens; a black cloth bag; and 12 plastic zip lock bags (kudos to that). The blue-red-yellow meeples go in the bags, with the greens to the side. Each player gets a player screen and draws 8 random meeples from the bag, keeping them hidden. Each player gets a home tile (the number will determine the initial first player). A number of boats equal to the number of players are used. Additionally, there will be 1-4 turn order tiles (depending on the number of players) and 6-10 spring tiles (also depending on the number of players) placed in the center of the table. The season tiles are replaced at the beginning of each season. Each boat is seeded with the number of random meeples shown on the boat, as well as (possibly) some skill tiles.
Keyflower takes place over four seasons. In turn order, players will either bid on a tile, activate a tile, or pass. Bidding is done using those meeples you have hidden behind your screen. You place your bid (as many meeples of one color as you want) next to a tile you want. Each tile has six sides, so each player is assigned a particular side to place their bids on. You can bid as much as you want, but if someone else has already bid, you must beat them and use the same color they did. Additionally, if someone has activated a tile, you can still bid on it, but you must use the same color they did. If you are outbid, you can move your meeples elsewhere on your turn, but they must stay together. You can bid on any of the seasonal tiles, or the turn order tiles.
You can also choose to activate a tile. This can be a tile you own, or a tile someone else owns, or a seasonal tile up for auction. To activate, you simply put any number of the same color meeple on the tile. As with the bidding, you have to use at least one more meeple than a previous player has, and you have to use the same color previously used on the tile for bidding or activation. No more than six meeples can go on a tile. Some of the tiles are production tiles, which give you resources. Others allow you to move resouces around in your village and upgrade tiles you already have.
Each player takes turns bidding, activating, or passing. If you choose to pass, you can still play again when the turn order comes back to you. Once all players have passed consecutively, the season ends. Any meeples that were unsuccessful in their bid attempts are taken back behind their owner’s screens, and tiles not bid on are removed. Any meeples on these tiles are returned to the bag. Players claim tiles they won the bid on, as well as any meeples used to activate those tiles. Bids go into the bag. Tiles are placed in your village, connecting roads and fields. Meeples used on a player’s individual village tiles are claimed by that player, even those placed by others. Whoever won the turn order gets first choice of a boat, and takes all meeples and skill tiles off of it. The same goes for whoever won the other turn tiles, then other players go in turn order. Whoever won the start meeple gets it; otherwise, it passes to the left.
The winter is a little different. At the beginning of the game, each player will be dealt 2-3 winter games. To start the season, each player will choose at least one (and possibly all) of those tiles, and add them to the bedding pool. This means that you have a bit of a goal from the beginning of the game. The season continues with bidding and activation as usual, though the winter tiles are all scoring tiles, so you can’t activate them.
After the winter, players add up their points. These can come through the tiles themselves, or if certain conditions are met. The player with the highest score wins.
I’ve made no secret that I don’t really like auction games. In fact, I wasn’t going to talk about Keyflower at all because I just wasn’t interested. However, after playing it, I did like it. The bidding didn’t seem so much like an auction as worker placement – you commit a worker to claim a tile, just someone could place more and take it from you. The game is fairly straightforward and easy to understand, though the strategies aren’t necessarily apparent for the first play. At four rounds, the game is pretty quick (I’ve only played with three players, I can imagine that 6 would be quite a bit longer). I’d definitely be willing to play again – I think the mechanisms are fairly clever, and I hope I’ll do better now that I know what’s going on. Recommended. Thanks for reading!