Mice and Mystics

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“This way,” Prince Collin whispered, crouched behind a chair leg and motioning to the others. They huddled across the room where a length of drape pooled on the cool stones of the dining room floor. At their head was Nez, leaning on his great hammer, nose twitching and whiskers working as he checked the air for danger. Behind him, Lily had her bow drawn while Tilda checked over a bad scrape Maginos had taken on his shoulder during their escape from the tunnels below the kitchen. There, they had been set upon by a centipede – something that once the Prince would have crushed thoughtlessly underfoot, but now had grown to monstrous proportions. Well, rather, it had stayed the same, and it was the evil Vanestra’s spell that had transformed the companions into mice – mice that were now very much in danger of being sniffed out by the kitchen cat.

“Psst,” Collin heard above him. Filch was hanging over the edge of the table, a great hunk of cheese in his hand. “Jackpot!” he smiled.

“There’s no time for that, Filch,” Collin snapped.

The grin didn’t leave the thief’s face. “There’s always time for a little brie,” the thief said around a mouthful.

From the other side of the room came a sudden, roaring, scraping noise as the dining room door opened. A great foot planted itself inside the door, the vibration setting Collin’s now-sharp teeth on edge.

“Oy,” shouted Nez. “We’re in for it now, your Highness. Miz Maggie’s come to sweep the floors!”

Mice and Mystics is a cooperative, narrative adventure game for 1 to 4 players. In it, the players take on the roles of heroes that have been transformed into mice by the evil sorceress Vanestra, and over the course of a series of adventures unravel the mystery of her motivations, fight – and potentially befriend – a variety of enemies, and collect treasures and achievements to help them along the way. It is family friendly – indeed, the game is best played with children, though it’s charming enough that even adults will enjoy it as a light dungeon-crawler – and both stands alone as a great game, as well as serves as an excellent introduction to adventure gaming concepts that will warm younger players up to the genre.

As of this review, Mice and Mystics has two expansions: The Heart of Glorm and the newer, more substantial Downwood Tales. Each expansion offers a new adventure book, new heroes, monsters, encounter and search cards. This review will focus on the base game and only touch on the expansions. In addition, there are a number of promo cards and shorter adventures that are available directly from Plaid Hat Games and other sources.


Mice and Mystics plays out over the course of an adventure book, each chapter of which advances a larger story. A chapter opens up with some narrative laying out the objectives of the game, directs the players which room tiles to use to build the game’s map, and adds special rules and exceptions to what the players may need to do in each room, such as limitations on movement, additional monster bonuses, or special side-quests the players may be able to undertake to earn bonuses later in the game. Each adventure can be played individually, or the game can be tackled as a campaign, with the heroes retaining any treasures and abilities they have gained from one adventure to the next. This is how we play in our house.

Before play begins, each player selects a mouse by taking its character card, starting equipment, and initiative card. The character card offers some basic information about the mouse – its name, class (or classes), special powers, hit points, and stats such as movement, lore, fight and ranged attack strength. In addition, each mouse will select one special ability from the ability deck. Abilities (and some treasures) can only be used by certain classes or by mice with certain ability scores. The initiative cards are used during the encounter phase to determine the each mouse’s turn order.

Mice and Mystics Central Character Sculpts

Besides the game map, another board is used to track game time, player and monster initiative, and monster surges. Each chapter directs the player to place a Chapter End token somewhere on the time track, and an hourglass token on the Page 1 space of that track. Throughout the game, various effects and actions may advance either the hourglass or the Chapter End marker.

The game is driven by dice rolls. Each face of the die has a small number in the corner, generally used for movement, and one or more symbols: cheese, sword, shield, bow and arrow, or some combination of these. Several faces also have an asterisk, which is used for searching and other special game conditions.

The rules of play are fairly straightforward, though they are riddled with small exceptions that players need to be aware of. At the beginning of the game, and each time the mice enter a new room, players will draw an Encounter card. The Encounter card determines – based on the Page space the hourglass token currently sits on – the type and number of monsters that will appear in the room. The monster figures are selected and placed on the board – usually, on spaces that bear a little set of mouseprints; then, monster initiative cards and player initiative cards are shuffled together and placed in the initiative track to determine turn order. Each mouse in order may may take an action or move, or move and take an action. Movement is determined by rolling a die and adding the numerical result to the mouse’s Movement score.

As an action, mice my attack figure in their space or adjacent to them, use a ranged attack on enemies in line of sight, use abilities, and a handful of other tasks. Primarily mice will be attacking and searching to both advance through the game and collect useful treasures. Players should be careful, though: the search deck is also sprinkled with traps, so a successful search may end up resulting in a surge of enemies or a mouse being captured.

Combat is largely a matter of rolling dice for each the mouse and the monster, comparing the number of swords or bows in the attack roll to the number of shields rolled in defense. Many monsters only require one successful hit to kill, but there are some powerful monsters that will require many hits (and lots of teamwork) to defeat. If at any time a mouse takes its maximum damage, it is captured. Its figure is removed from the board and it loses all treasures it has gained so far in the game. The mouse, or mice, will be freed one the last enemy figure is defeated on the board, at which point the mouse is immediately returned to the board

Over the course of the game, mice will collect cheese, which is used to activate special abilities or gain new ones. During combat, any time a mouse rolls a cheese result on a dice, they collect one cheese token. (Note: We have augmented cheese tokens with 8mm orange wooden squares, as we would often run out of tokens over the course of an adventure). If at any time a mouse has 6 tokens, they may cash them in to gain a new ability. Similarly, if, during combat, an enemy rolls a cheese result, a cheese token is added to the Cheese Wheel, which appears on the time-tracking board. If at any point the cheese wheel is full, a Monster Surge occurs. The hourglass marker is advanced one Page, and a monster or monsters – determined by the Encounter card or by chapter special rules – is added to the game board.

Exemplar cards and powers for Lily
Exemplar cards and powers for Lily

Cheese may also be added to the Cheese Wheel if at any point there are no monsters left in a room and the last mouse on the initiative track has ended its turn. In this way, the players are under constant pressure to move the game forward.

The players lose if the hourglass marker reached the Chapter End token or some other condition described in the chapter is met. Similarly, their win condition is explained in the opening of the chapter narration.

If the players win, there is generally some end-of-chapter narration to be read, the story advances and the mice move on to the next chapter. If they lose, they are encouraged to replay the chapter until they win, though you could easily move on to the next chapter without penalty.

There are a handful of other rules detailing equipment use, status effects, and so on, but these are what you would expect in a dungeon-crawler adventure game. In addition, the mice are able to collect achievements for accomplishing certain things during a chapter – such as being the first mouse to gain three cheese in one roll, thus becoming the Cheesemaster – which gives the party a special bonus for the duration of the chapter. For the most part, though, Mice and Mystics is a straightforward, hack-and-slash (though a bloodless hack-and-slash) adventure game with a great storybook feel and rules that are accessible by gamers of all levels.


I picked up Mice and Mystics at the Gen Con 2013 along with Tokaido, hoping both would be hits with my family. It ended up taking a lot longer than I expected to get Mice and Mystics to table, as after a review of the rules and some mock set-ups I could tell the games would be long. Eventually, we made time for it and I sat down with my daughter, who was 8 at the time, and my girlfriend and her children, a son and a daughter who were 10 and 8, respectively. Though they were initially a bit skeptical about playing a game, once I took all the pieces out of the box and the kids saw the exquisitely detailed mouse figured and the equally well-done monsters, the lush artwork and the various bits and pieces, they were sold.

Let me start by saying Plaid Hat games did incredible work with the art of the game, which is carried through on all of its components – the game boards, the rule and adventure book, and especially in the figures. If I was one to paint miniatures I would have taken a brush to these tiny creatures instantly, and indeed a quick Google search will show that some talented folks have done incredible work with these pieces. Even without painting the figures of both mice and monsters are of amazing quality. I’m particularly impressed with the centipede figure, which rises in a menacing coil above its base, glaring down at the smaller mice and ready to strike.

As mentioned in the rules, players are guided through the adventure by a chapter book from which is read various bits of narration. The story is a standard fantasy yarn, nothing particularly groundbreaking, but the work of storytelling is really not done here – it’s in the playing of the game. For example, in one chapter where the party splits up and is sent on two different objectives, we had a moment where one party was down to a single mouse – the mostly defenseless wizard, Maginos – and being set upon by monsters. Were Maginos to be captured, it would have ended the game. Suddenly, heroically, we were able to get the thief, Filch, from the other party into the room with Maginos and aid him against the monsters to win the day. In that chapter, this moment of heroism is what we remember most – not the written text – and my girlfriend’s son, who plays Filch, continues to proudly recounts the story over and over again.

Everyone in the family enjoys this game, though I have to admit I don’t enjoy it quite as much. Not because I don’t like playing, but because I am responsible for keeping track of the rules, tokens, and chapter exceptions, which often means flipping back and forth in the book to look stuff up, or hunting around for the right tokens and monster figures. I mention as one of my Five that constant rules refreshers and a custom box insert to make tokens more easily accessible would be highly recommended for the adult who takes on this role.

It’s not fair to describe this as a “kid’s game,” though it is a game that is very appropriate for kids and might be a little light for adults. As a roll-and-move hack-and-slash, there’s not much in the way of strategy to engage a group of adult players; however, as a cooperative game and an introduction to adventure games (and even roleplaying games), Mice and Mystics is excellent. In my house, it ends up serving valuable teaching roles, and each player is forced to decide whether to take an action to help the group, such as attacking a threatening monster, or to help themselves, such as taking precious time to search for treasure. We are forced to make decisions as a group, make sacrifices of Cheese for each other, trade or give new equipment for the mouse who can best use it, and so on. Certainly, this is core of any cooperative game, but in Mice and Mystics, it feels like the player negotiation is a bigger part of the experience. Further, the ongoing narrative contributes to character development. For example, in the chapters we have played so far, we have seen the Prince, Collin, come more into his own as a leader as he realizes the nature of the threat to his father and kingdom. Even though this is not really a roleplaying game, this narrative element makes it impossible not to roleplay your characters a little bit, not to take into account what the narration has said about your character’s development when making decisions. It’s extremely satisfying to see the kids grasp this intuitively when working with each other.

As great as it is to play with kids, the game is not without its frustrations. There are some fiddly rules that are difficult to remember, and a careful reading of each chapter is a must so you don’t miss any of the important rules variations or exceptions that appear. Further, as mentioned in my Five, as a luck-base dice game, incredibly frustrating moments are possible and likely. If the game were all adults, you’d lose, shrug, and try again. Indeed, Legends of Andor is just this kind of game, and I look forward to the challenge of retrying a level until I get it right. However, a few failed chapters in a row or a bunch of bad rolls can cause kids to check out of the game entirely or feel picked upon, particularly if others are rolling well. I have had a number of times where I have had to call an audible and make exceptions to the rules, something as a gamer I am not entirely comfortable with, but as a father I find necessary. Unfortunately, having made an exception once I have since had request to just “bend the rules” again at times where the need is not as dire. In that way, I suppose, it’s not only the kids who are learning something over the course of the game.


Mice and Mystics is high on my best-games-for-kids list, and probably near the top of my highest-quality games list of any category (seriously, I can’t say enough about how well done the figures and art are in this game). Its frustration level can be a little high, but that’s more than offset by how eager my kids are to get it to table, which is another way of saying how eager they are to spend time with their family. It’s hard to give a game a more successful recommendation than that.

The Five

As you will note, I have criticisms of Mice and Mystics, but none of that should detract from how much my family and I love this game. This is easily my kids’ favorite game. They love the story, they love the art, they love their characters. We have been playing campaign-style, so with a couple of exceptions we’ve played the same characters throughout, and much like any roleplaying campaign we’ve all become pretty attached to our particular characters. Indeed, there’s often a lot of light roleplaying taking place, whether it’s me attempting a Scottish accent for my character, Nez, or my girlfriend’s son lobbying, in the voice of Filch, to sneak around and look for treasure rather than assisting with the swarm of cockroaches we’re facing.

The main activity in the game is combat, making it a light hack-and-slash version of a dungeon crawler. Indeed, players are penalized if they clear a room of enemies and hang around searching for treasure: if at the end of a round there are no enemies on the board and the last mouse has taken her turn, a cheese is added to the cheese wheel, signifying mounting pressure of a surge of new enemies. A few games we’ve played have been lost due to spending a little time on failed treasure searches to equip our mice, only to suffer a Surge. Occasionally, we have not been able to take advantage of a special search or other room bonus because by the time we had cleared all the enemies out we were only one piece of cheese away from a surge and couldn’t spare the time hanging around in the room. It can be frustrating, but it’s also an important lesson in decision making.

Mice and Mystics is dice-driven, so luck is a major factor in the game. This can be somewhat mitigated by the use of treasures and abilities your mice gain along the way, but even so dice, as we are all aware, can be fickle masters. The momentum of a game can pivot wildly on a series of unlucky rolls without much ability to mitigate the shift, and it’s entirely possible for the game engine to ramp up in opposition to the players as enemies advance the cheese wheel, mice are captured making it more likely that enemies will get to roll the dice, making it more likely they will capture more mice and take them out of combat, and so on. Normally, this is merely the risk you take with this kind of game – the same criticism can be leveled at Arkham Horror or Last Night on Earth, but for a game that is otherwise so kid-friendly this can result in frustrating game play and hurt feelings.

There can be a lot of referencing of the adventure book and management of tokens during the game. I generally act as a kind of Dungeon Master as we play, but the need to reference the book, look for tokens and monster figures, and verify rules can slow the game down a bit. Recently, I made a custom insert for the base game box to hold both my base game as well as the Heart of Glorm expansion, making everything more accessible. I suspect that having everything organized and compact like this will make the game run more smoothly, and I would recommend something similar. If you have lots of downtime between plays, I would also recommend occasionally rereading the rule book to refresh your memory of all the little exceptions in the game.

Because the game board is modular, there is a great opportunity to extend the life of Mice and Mystics by creating new adventures for it. The mechanics easily allow for homebrew versions of the monsters, the creation of new abilities, and the layout of new maps. If you have a budding dungeon master in your family, letting her take a shot at “running” a Mice and Mystics game could be an excellent way to encourage some creativity.


Tortuga TitleTortuga Specs

I adore pirates. I enjoy games where dice selections dictate the available actions. I am a big fan of Belfort (also designed by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim). I enjoy family games and think Queen Games produces exceptional games of this weight and kind. This game had all the markings of a success, and yet, I am sorry to say, it underwhelmed.  Which is not to say that Tortuga is a failure or not fun, but it did not live up to my expectations and falls into the category of games that I admire but do not enjoy. If I were asked to sum my thoughts up into a single word, I am sorry to say that word would be, “meh”.

In Tortuga players take on the role of a 17th Century pirate captain sailing the seas around the pirate controlled island of  Tortuga, raiding other pirate vessels and strongholds and searching for hidden bounty. The principle game mechanic is the rolling and reserving of dice in order to dominate various action categories. The player (or players) that dominate these categories get to take the affiliated actions and either improve their strength, capacity or stores of booty or raid other player’s ships or crews. Once one player has moved six treasure chests from their island base to Tortuga the game ends and players compare scores in order to determine who will become the pirate king and the winner of the game.


At the outset of the game, each player receives a pool of five dice, a pirate and a ship meeple as well as an individual player board upon which dice results are placed, fleet and crew size are tracked and treasures are stored. The game also consist of red, blue, yellow, purple and white treasure chests, gold coin and bonus tokens, a central treasure island board and a ship shaped first player maker. Players each get one treasure chest on their island and one in their crew area. Additionally, their fleet and crew strength begins at three.

Tortuga Components
Tortuga Components

Understanding the substance of the game should probably begin with an understanding of the dice faces and their affiliated actions. Each set of player dice (colored orange, green, blue and yellow) consist of five die with a ship, a pirate, a treasure chest, a sword, a cannon, and a skull and cross bones on each side. Above these icons (save the skull and cross bones) are numbers values from 1 to 5. Each die is different but, save for their color, each set of dice is the same.

Dice, from left to right: Sailing, Recruiting, Searching, Raiding, Sea Battle and Wild

Each icon is affiliated with an action of the individual player boards and a related action.

The ship icon allows the player to advance their ship token up their fleet size track, essentially increasing the size and force of the relevant player’s armada. This is relevant for two reasons. First, a player with a larger fleet may hold more treasure chest. Second, a player with a larger fleet can assign more battle die to their player board, making it easier for them to dominate their opponents in naval battle.

The pirate icon allows the player to recruit a larger crew, which is tracked by moving a meeple up and down a crew track. Just as the fleet track, the crew track controls how many treasure chests can be moved from the island to your ships as well as the number of dice that you can place upon your raiding track and by extension your ability to attack or defend yourself during crew battles.

The treasure chest icon is affiliated with the searching action, whereby players dig for and find treasure on remote atolls and scattered coins within the Caribbean shallows.

The cannon icon allows you to confront another player in fleet battle and the sword action allows you to raid other crew members. In each of these actions the attacking player is allowed to take a treasure chest being stored either on the fleet or crew spaces, depending upon the chosen action and deplete their opponent’s advancement up the fleet or crew track by one. The icons also serve a defensive purpose however, as if a player has committed at least one die to the relevant action space, their opponent will also be required to reduce their fleet or crew track advancement by one.
The final icon is the skull and crossbones wild result, which can be changed to the side of any die or dice with which it is paired.

On their turn, each player rolls their dice pool behind a player screen and selects one result, or multiple results if any of the results are the same (or wild) and the player wishes to.  Once all of the players have made their selection they simultaneously reveal their results and place their selected die or dice on their player board, retain the remainder of their dice pool and repeat.

Each of the die result have number values from 1 to 5 above them, these values will be summed after all of the players have placed their results and only the player with the highest and the second highest results in result of a specific action will be permitted to take that action. The wild dies are turned to the side of the die with which they are paired (or which the players selects if the wild result or results are used by themselves). All of the players have a table that tell them the values of the results that are affiliated with the wild results, which have letters from A to E above them, so that players can make informed decisions about if and how they will use their wild results. Additionally, if a player completes their rolls before their competitors they get to draw a bonus token which can be assigned to one of the sections on their player board in order to supplement their results for the remainder of the game.

After all of the player’s dice are assigned and results are determined, the players who won each of the actions will take those actions in a prescribed order, fleet building, recruiting, searching, fleet battle and raiding. Once treasure chest have been moved from one board to another (gained chests always go to the island space on the player board of the player that gained it) and advancement up the fleet and crew size tracks have been resolved then chest are moved from the island, to the crew space, to the fleet space to Tortuga base on each player board. However, if any player cannot hold a treasure chest on their board, because they have not advanced far enough up on either the fleet or crew size track that chest must be placed on the island for other players to gain later in the game.

In the results below the blue player will win the fleet size, recruiting and raiding actions and the yellow player will win the search and fleet battle actions (for purposes of this example we will presume that this is a two player game during with secondary actions are not available to the player with the second highest result).  Notably, though the player search dice sums were the same the yellow player would win that result because he had a 1 point bonus token designated to his search space.

The blue player would therefore move its ship from the first space to the second one and his crew size meeple from the second to the third space. The yellow player would then draw a treasure chest from the bag and place it on his island space to the far right of his player board. The yellow player would next take the blue players purple treasure chest and place it on his island and the blue player would move his fleet size meeple back to the first space. However, because the blue player had a die committed to his fleet battle space, the yellow player would be required to move his token back a space as well. The blue player would then take the yellow players yellow or purple treasure chest and put it on his island space and the yellow player would move his crew size icon back to his first space, but as with the fleet battle, because of the placement of a defensive die the yellow player would be required to move his crew size icon back a space as well.

The blue player would then move a chest from his crew space to his fleet space and a chest from his island to his crew space. The yellow player would move a chest from his fleet space to his Tortuga base and one of his treasure chests from his island space to his crew space. Recall that his crew size was adjusted down one space so he would be able to hold only one treasure chest in that space. As a result the second chest that was on his island would have to be placed on the island space.
Tortuga Player Board BlueTortuga Player Board Yellow
Play continues like this until one player has placed their sixth treasure chest in their Tortuga base. Play ends immediately and the players tally their scores, one point for all chests in their crew space, two points for all chests in their fleet space and three points for all chest at their Tortuga bases, with purple chests scoring double points. Players also get three points for each set of red, yellow and blue chests on their board, one point for each space they have advanced up their fleet and crew tracks and one point for each coin on their coin tokens. The player with the highest score is named the king of the buccaneers and winner of the game.


Tortuga’s principal failure is the game’s length and complexity, which simply does not support its level of engagement. To start, it should be noted that the game consistently plays longer than its stated 30 minute play time. Each of my plays lasted 45 minutes to an hour. This is due in large part to how hard it is to advance chests through the various stations that they must pass through in route to each player’s home base. The appeal of the game is the choices that players must make when deciding the actions that they must take during each of the game’s rounds. However, this mechanic makes it difficult to build capacity while also obtaining treasure chests. Moreover, the ability of players to exact defensive damage can make the game feel like a two steps forward, one step back experience.
The dice selection mechanic is typically very appealing to me, but after about fifteen rounds during every game that I played, I became frustrated with the effort. After a while, the tactical decisions seem almost rote.
I believe that Tortuga is an innovative game. The attack component appeals to me, in concept, but the execution seems clunky. I appreciate that the number of the dice side limit the number of actions, but I wanted the game to provide the players with more options. Perhaps more way to guard against the loss of their capacity would have made game play more efficient and by extension rewarding.

To the game’s credit, it is easier to “get your engine going” with three and four players, since players who have the highest sum in the fleet building and recruiting action can advance their relative tokens two space, instead of one, but even at that the damage often taken when attacking other players can be very punishing.

Moreover, it can take several turns to build capacity since players will usually ignore the attack options early in the game since they have nominal initial benefit. As a result players will all focus upon fleet building and crew recruiting during early rounds. As a result, lucky roles may give a player an advantage over their competitors that can be hard to overcome. The game does not have a substantial runaway leader problem; however, if a player who has good roles early in the game can obtain a dominant position that they can leverage toward ongoing success.

Some of the game features produce nominal benefits. For example, the player who comes in second in the attack actions can only obtain treasure chests from the central island, not from the player that they attacked. I appreciate why this lesser benefit exists, but very often a player will not be able to take advantage of this opportunity because none of the other players have placed a treasure chest on the island. This makes coming in second on this role and zero sum game, since very often the only thing that this player can do is cause a competitor to move back on their fleet or crew track, while also being forced to take losses of their own.

Additionally, while this game purports to hold two players, I would not recommend ever playing this game with less than three players. The back and forth when only to two players are playing makes the game very frustrating and really not very much fun. In each of the two player games I have played of this game all of the participants longed to see the game end, regardless of who won. During one of our plays my wife actually volunteered to pick our daughter up from her dance class, a task that we usually fight over having to do. (So I guess the two player version can be useful for getting your significant other to perform family chores they usually loath.)

Moreover, the game does not draw a lot of interest from perspective players. Since Tortuga was still not resonating for me after multiple plays I redoubled my efforts to play the game as often as I could. The problem was I could not get any one to play with me. The box art is not very appealing (actually the pirate featured on the box terrified some and repulsed others) and the game mechanics seem very static when described.

There was something about Tortuga that my family resisted. Or to be more accurate that my son resisted. For reasons that were never fully explained to me, he simply would not accede to play this game. This presented a dilemma; as after several plays, I knew that this was a family game and felt that a careful and thorough review mandated at least one family play. But the boy (typically eager to help out) simply could not be persuaded to sit down to play the game. In candor, I could not argue with his reticence (which in a 10 year could more accurately described as stubbornness). At first glance the game seemed a bit stilted, even boring. But I had found this game at least somewhat engaging. I needed to see whether this game was suited for families. It seemed to be targeted for family play, did it succeed. Finally, he played the game with his mother and me. I owe my son an apology.

I woefully regret having to give this game a piddling response. As I noted at the top, I usually enjoy Queen Games family games very much. I enjoy the designs of Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim. However, I found this game to be a miss and one that I cannot recommend for most players. It did not appeal to light gamers, heavy gamers or kids. In spite of having fine components (I do wonder why the player boards were modular rather than being fold out, I suppose this was done in order to ensure that the player boards laid flat, but a slight print error resulted in my player boards being slightly offset, this was not a big problem, but worth noting) if just did not pay off. In other words, it wasn’t much fun.
The Five

  • This game took too. long. to play. I suspect it is possible that I and everyone that I know are AP prone idiots, but somehow I doubt it. If the game had more in game variability it might have been able to support this play time, but I cannot think of a single play of this game where at least one player asked, “how much longer” at least twice.
  • I thought the scoring mechanic was one of Tortuga’s strengths. Players score points for advancing their chest, but also for building sets and obtaining chests of certain colors. This made deciding who to target an occasionally difficult task and led to some discussion between target and attacker that were interesting. Players who were being targeted for attack would often use the available chests colors in order to make a case why someone else should be the target. This social element of the game was probably my favorite part of game play. In other words, I am a deeply dysfunctional human being that derives a sick pleasure from watching people throwing their friends and loved ones under the proverbial bus.
  • I enjoyed the push your luck element that sometime (though not often enough) arose when trying to choose how many dice to designate to a certain task. If a player rolls sets of one they can select one, two, three, etc. of those dice in order to reveal and place. Player also gain an advantage for placing all of their dice before their competitors. Deciding to reroll a die with a lower or mid-range value (or even a high value in some cases) involved a risk that I enjoyed. What can I say, I am a risk taker. And by risk taker I mean I only like to take small insignificant chances in a controlled fictional setting. Which is to say I not really a risk taker.
  • The choices in this game very often got stale. As I noted above, I would have liked to have more options. This game could have benefited from something more. Not really sure what that would be, but I felt that I wanted to have more ways to mitigate against losses. Perhaps the cost for taking these action could have been high, i.e. requiring the use of two dice instead of one, but I wanted to have more decisions to make especially later in the game. Sorry guys, but I have suckled at the teet of video games and choose your own adventure books, I am easily distracted and frequently bored. BTW- Have you guys seen the recent episode of The Walking Dead? You know what, I am going to watch that now.
  • Box art, box art, box art. Oh my Lord, that redheaded pirate will haunt me for the rest of my days.

The aforementioned review derives from a copy of the reviewed game which was provided by the publisher, free of charge.


It is rare that a game effectively does many things well, all at one time. Very often, a game that seeks to carry too much water, collapses under its own weight. Incorporating multiple mechanics often results in a games that is too complex or it is too random. A few designers are able to create games that provide for multiple routes to victory, but most of those games focus upon a single mechanic. Keyflower is the rare exception to this rule. It is difficult to categorize the mechanic of this game. True, the principal mechanic initially involves bidding; however, this game also requires that workers be place in order to obtain and use resources. Additionally, tile laying influences scoring opportunities while secret objectives dictate game play strategies. Moreover, each of these mechanics may be employed at different times by each player, making it imperative to resolve this question carefully. In sum, this game is a true mash up, though unlike other games it pulls this parlor trick off fairly effectively.

Play Summary
Keyflower is a 2 to 6 player game that takes about 90 minutes to play. Keyflower is was designed by Sebastin Blesdale and Richard Brees and published in 2012 by R&D Games and Game Salute. Play is divided over four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter. After the end of four seasons, victory points are tallied and the player with the highest score wins the game.

Play in Keyflower commences with a bidding/worker placement stage, where each player takes a turn deploying their initial secret pool of eight red, yellow or blue workers on various hexagonal tiles. Players may either deploy those workers on the selected tiles border, in order to bid upon that tile, or within the tile’s center, in order to use that tiles special power. Powers of the tiles vary widely, from simple resource production to the creation of special workers. Additionally, some tiles give special abilities to the player that wins them, but cannot be used by other players.

Bidding or worker placement involves committing one or more workers of a single color from your pool to the selected tile. Absent the employment of special powers, subsequent use or bidding upon that tile may only be performed by using a worker of worker the color first played on that tile. Additionally, while a tile may be used up to three times per season, each subsequent use will cost the player using the tile one additional worker. Furthermore, while workers that have been overbid may be moved to another tile, they must be moved as a group.

After all players have passed the winning bidder takes the relevant tile along with all workers that have been placed upon it a and places it into their village ensuring that all roads are connected to roads, fields are connected to fields and waterways are connected to waterways. Thereafter, that player will draw all workers that use the tile into their stock, at the end of each season. Furthermore, that player can upgrade the tile by producing and moving the proper resources to that tile. Making the tile more powerful, more valuable and subsequently more attractive for the placement of workers.

This brings us to the games movement mechanic. All resources built within a neighboring village or unplaced tile are produced within the players home tile. In contrast, all resource within a player’s own village are produced upon they relevant production tile.  However, by using transport tiles a player may move a set number of resources a set number of spaces along tile roadways. Once the appropriate combination of resources are moved to a specific tile that tile may be flipped over to its upgraded side. Furthermore, resources may also be moved to tiles to store them in order to score end of game bonuses. Therefore, a player must obtain resources and then deploy those resources to trigger upgrades or victory conditions.
Tile powers vary greatly; however they can be roughly categorized as resource production tiles, skill production tiles, worker production tiles, ability tiles and scoring tiles. Resource production tiles allow players to obtain resources needed to upgrade tiles, obtain skills or workers, or score victory points. The available resources include steel, coal, lumber and gold (which is a wild resource).

Skill production tiles allow players to trade workers or resource for skill tiles that also be converted into upgrades, resources workers, or score victory points. The available skills are blacksmith, carpenter or miner.
Worker production similarly provides randomly drawn workers in exchange for resources or skills; however, some worker production tiles allow players to covert red, blue or yellow workers into green workers. These workers cannot be obtained any other way; therefore they are very rare and can be used to obtain tiles through bidding more effectively.
Ability tiles give the player who obtains them special rule breaking skills that will allow them to ignore certain of the games restrictions. For example, one card allows a player to over bid another player with a set of workers of any color. Another allows a player to move resources through field, while yet another allows a player to substitute resources when upgrading tiles.

The final class of tiles is scoring tiles. While every upgraded tile has a scoring value, scoring tiles either provide a large number of points at the end of the game or set up conditions that the player who has that tile in their village can employ in order to supplement their final score. An example of the former is the Keythedral tile which provides 12 points to the player that adds it to their village. An example or the latter is the Village Hall tile which awards the player that has it within their village 1 point for each worker within their stock of a selected color at the end of the game.
Scoring tiles may be obtained two ways. First, they may be obtained through each of the first three seasons by traditional bidding. However, during the winter season (which is the final round of the game) players can choose which of several tiles they want to place up for bid during that round. At the beginning of the game, each player is given a set number of tales (with the number of tiles depending upon the number of players) that they may look at and choose to place for bid during the winter season. While each player must place one of their secret tiles up for bid they may place many or all of those tiles up for bid. While all players may bid on these tiles, the player placing the tile can focus their prior game play upon maximizing the end game value of those tiles, while also setting themselves in order to ensure that they have an advantage when bidding for that tile.
Each round proceeds from bidding and production to the final stage, namely replenishment. During the replenishment phase players draw workers and skill tiles from newly arriving boats. However, each boat has a different allotment of randomly selected workers and skill tiles with some boats having many and some boats having just a few. The order of boat selection is determine by a series of tile (differing based upon the number of players) upon which the players can did during the bidding/worker placement phase. During this phase players can also choose to take a later draw and instead receive the first player token, which will allow them to set the tone for bidding during the subsequent bidding phase.\

Play proceeds from bidding/worker placement to replenishment for four season with new tiles coming into play each season. As noted above during the final phase the tiles upon which the players bid if determined in part by player selection. After four rounds, scores are tallied and the highest scoring player wins the game.

The components is Keyflower consist of hexagonal tiles, cardboard tiles, wooden meeples and wooden resource tokens. The number of components is considerable and the component quality is fairly high. The wooden token are standard and interchangeable with many similar games. The cardboard tiles are well sized and made from good cardboard stock.

While the game art is not remarkable, it is attractive. The images are fairly detailed though fairly crudely drawn. If one were the described the art style, it would be best to describe it as a poor man’s Klemens Franz (the artist for Agricola) meets Doris Matthäus (the artist for Carcassonne). The colors are somewhat muted, though the tile details are pleasant.

However, the tiles iconography is fairly impressive. The tiles tell player fairly concisely what each tile can do. While players will want to familiarize themselves with the icons meaning before and during initial gameplay, during subsequent plays, understanding tile powers by glancing at each tile is fairly easy. Additionally, the means by which bid placement is tracked is very elegant with each player bidding along the tile border that faces them. Therefore, in a quick glance a player can know how much each player is bidding on each tile.

The one component disappointment is the player screens, which are houses printed on thin paper stock. While the paper is coated with a durable sheen, the three dimensional screens can be hard to construct and require the insertion of thin chimneys in order to hold the together. The art on each is very detailed and charming and the screens serve their important purposes; however the chimneys can be easily lost as they do not stay in place between plays.

The rule book, though somewhat dense is fairly well written. That said, the set-up directions are a bit obtuse and will require multiple reads in order to fully understand them. Additionally, while the illustrations are good, the rules could benefit from examples. The rule book does feature margin highlights, which make quick reference to basic rules. However the page and text layout is not ideal and key phrase should be highlighted more effectively.

The Pegs each felt that the components though somewhat daunting at first glance where sufficient for the needs of the game and consistent with the games theme. While not remarkable they components were deemed sufficient and worth of the game’s cost.

Final Assessment- 2 Pegs

Game Play
The game play as described above can be perceived during early games as complicated. Though subsequent game plays make the mechanics easier to understand and employ effectively, the game does have a significant though not extraordinary learning curve.

All of the Pegs agreed that the game play was unique; however, the Pink Pegs found game play occasionally tedious. Blue Peg Patrick did not share this view and thought that the game play was smooth and engaging.
There is no denying that Keyflower does a great deal; however, because choices about which mechanic to use are resolved quickly (if you are paying attention to the developing board) the diversity neither clogs game play down nor feels overwhelming. While new players may need to refer to the games rule book occasionally in order to confirm the power of certain tiles, after a few plays understanding the tile powers will be easy. Game play definitely favors foresightedness as players will be required to balance the needs of the moment with their evolving end game. This necessity keeps the game interesting throughout. Furthermore, while players can take what appear to be early leads by winning multiple bids this circumstance may set other players up for large gains during subsequent seasons. While one player can win by a robust margin, typically this does not become apparent (if even possible) until the game’s final season. Therefore, the game abounds with opportunities for players to harry the apparent leader while also making gains of their own.

Additionally, the acquisition of powerful tiles can give a player a sizable advantage in later rounds since other players will want to use that tile giving the player with that tile in their village the ability to produce additional workers for later use and bidding. However, while the game can take up to ninety minutes to play, early missteps can be hard to overcome. While it can be done, a player that does not obtain sufficient resource producing tiles early in that game will need to arrive at a strategy to mitigate against this disadvantage fairly quickly. That said, there are many paths to victory in this game. While Keyflower apparently favors balanced play, there are several tactics that can be employed that rely upon focusing upon a single scoring mechanic or specialization.

All of the Pegs noted that while the game involves a great deal of in game interaction, it did not allow for much social interaction. Game play is largely silent as players consider their moves. While players can respond to other player’s intentions, these responses are subtle. For example, a player may choose to block an opponent out of a tile that they need by placing a worker upon early during a season. However, a player can not directly challenge or undermine another player’s production. Additionally, all spaces can be used multiple times, so it is rare that a player can entirely preclude another player from taking a desired action. Furthermore, because the board contains many options, each player can usually achieve the same results many different ways.

Overall, though the Pegs recognized that the game mechanics were novel and well crafted, they did not generally enjoy game play as much as they had hoped. The exception to this is Patrick who has played this game several times and therefore had a better understanding of its mechanics. As a result, he was able to plan his moves out more effectively. This ability is key to a player’s ability to maximize both their score and their enjoyment. The Pegs therefore conceded that Keyflower is a game that may become more enjoyable after more than a few plays. Players should be prepared to grow into this game; however, Blue Peg Patrick asserts that this game is worth that time investment.

Final Assessment- 3 Pegs

At $50.00 this game could be said to be slightly higher than the average board game; however, this price is in line with the price of most heavy Euros. Given the number and quality of components the Pegs agreed that Keyflower was a fair, if not good value.

The Pegs also agreed that the game had good re-playability, since not every tile is used in games that do not use 6 players. Furthermore, the manner in which tiles are acquired makes each game experience unique. The game also involves a measure of luck, through the nature of workers and skill tiles drawn. This luck elements requires players to craft a different strategy each time that they play. Likewise, changing board conditions and bid developments make for an evolving game experience.

Additionally, because the game contains so many tiles and related powers players will be able to seek to explore different strategies over multiple plays.

Final Assessment- 3 Pegs