13 April 2013

Not Your Average Auction Game - Keyflower Review

Image via BGG user Richard Breese
by Jim Flemming
Keyflower is the newest game in Richard Breese’s “key” game series. The 2-5 player auction/worker placement game lasts between 45 and 120 minutes and is not terribly difficult to learn.

In Keyflower, players will be managing their different colored worker meeples. These meeples are the players’ main resource and can be used to place bids on, or activate different tiles that are on display. The game takes place over 4 rounds (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter). Each round, there will be a certain number of tiles placed in the middle of the play area. These tiles are eligible to be bid on (and won, at the end of the round) by the players. Each player will also have a village of their own consisting of their Home tile (which they begin the game with) along with any tiles they have won in subsequent rounds. Players will also be playing the game with a screen (which are adorable little houses), behind which they will place their 8 randomly drawn meeples (which will be red, yellow, and blue).
Image via BGG user Camdin
A player’s turn in Keyflower is simple. She will place one group of her own like-colored meeples from behind her screen onto or along the edge of an available tile. She can place meeples along the edge of any tile in the middle of the play area (tiles not owned by either player). These meeples represent a bid by that player to win that tile at the end of the round. Since players don’t have specific colors, players will have to choose a tile edge and place all of their bids on that tile edge (usually the edge “pointing” towards them). Players can also place meeples on top of any tile in the game, whether it be in the middle of the play area, in their own village, or in another player’s village. By doing this, the player executes the tile’s ability, and either collects the resources generated by the tile or executes the tile’s action.
Image via BGG user diddle74
This is where the brilliance of Keyflower comes in. Players can place any like-colored group of their own meeples as either a bid or a “worker placement.” However, once a tile has meeples present at it (either as bids on its edge, or on it as activations), future meeples placed at this tile for either purpose can only be of the color already placed there. So if a player bids on a tile with a blue meeple, only blue meeples can be used to outbid that player or to activate the tile.

Of course in order to outbid another player, players will have to place meeples until they have at least one more meeple on the tile’s edge than anyone else. There is also a limitation on how many times a tile can be activated. In order to activate a tile, players must still follow the color matching rule, and they also must place a group of meeples that is at least one more than the biggest group of meeples already on the tile. Activating tiles has this important limitation though - each tile can only have 6 or fewer meeples place on it in order to activate its ability. So any tile each round will be able to activated a maximum of 3 times.

Image via BGG user Bombadillo

I am not going to get into too much detail regarding what all of the tiles do, but if you have played a “Euro game” in the past 15 years, you likely have a good idea of what to expect. The tiles available to be won in the first two rounds give out resources and more meeples, while the tiles available in later rounds provide more opportunities to score points at the end of the game (which is when all point scoring takes place).

Speaking of the final round (winter), that is where Mr. Breese puts another little spin on something familiar. At the beginning of the game, each player will be given a number of Winter tiles (dependent on the number of players). There are end game scoring tiles that will give points based usually on how many of a certain resource (including meeples) you still have at the end of the game. These are kept secret until the beginning of the winter phase, when each player decides which of her 3 (but at least 1) will be going out to the middle of the play area to be bid on. So, each player will have an idea of something they may want to be working toward if they are dealt a winter tile they like, but they are not guaranteed to score those points because they then have to bid on and win those tiles.
At the end of the game, players score points for any winter tiles they have won, as well as for any basic village tiles that score points, most points win, with the instructions suggesting any tied players simply play again.

Image via BGG user huchandfriends
Keyflower is a superb game. It is very simple and flows very nicely, but the decisions and strategies are so delicious and painful (in the best way). There are so many decision points to consider despite players doing so little on each turn. Players can attempt to start tiles with a color that they know their opponents don’t have many of, or they can try to guess a tile that their opponent really needs to use this turn and place 3 meeples directly on it (this blocking it off for the remainder of the round). Placing workers on your opponents’ village tiles can be a good way to annoy them and try to disrupt their plans, but at the end of the round, any workers placed on owned village tiles go to the owning player’s supply...so do I want to give her more income for the next round? Especially in a 2 player game where everything that your opponent has is much more calculable, blocking and generally being a pain to your opponent is a great source of tension and fun in this game (assuming your gaming partner is OK with that style of play). Keyflower is a wonderful game that is easy to learn and play, has a good amount of depth, and a myriad of fantastic decisions to be made each turn. It is definitely right up there with Goa and Biblios as my favorite auction game to play with two players or more.

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