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.
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
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