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Board Game Review: Keyflower

2013 September 27
by Michael Schroeder

Review copy kindly provided by Game Salute.

Hexagons, meeples, hand drawn illustrations and most importantly, brain-burning game play – that’s Keyflower.

Keyflower

Keyflower

Designer: Sebastian Bleasdale & Richard Breese

Number of players: 6

Age: 12+

Time: 90 minutes

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

Keyflower is a game for two to six players played over four rounds. Each round represents a season: spring, summer, autumn, and finally winter. Each player starts the game with a “home” tile and an initial team of eight workers, each of which is colored red, yellow, or blue. Workers of matching colors are used by the players to bid for tiles to add to their villages. Matching workers may alternatively be used to generate resources, skills and additional workers, not only from the player’s own tiles, but also from the tiles in the other players’ villages and from the new tiles being auctioned.

In spring, summer, and autumn, more workers will arrive on board the Keyflower and her sister boats, with some of these workers possessing skills in the working of the key resources of iron, stone, and wood. In each of these seasons, village tiles are set out at random for auction. In the winter, no new workers arrive, and the players select the village tiles for auction from those they received at the beginning of the game. Each winter village tile offers VPs for certain combinations of resources, skills, and workers. The player whose village and workers generate the most VPs wins the game.

Basic idea in my own words…

Keyflower, at it’s core, is a worker placement/auction game that has players outwitting each other with a random set of workers over the course of 4 rounds (4 seasons) to obtain the most victory points at the end of the game. The victory points are awarded through tiles placed in your village. And these tiles are what you’re bidding for. In addition, VP’s are awarded for tiles with bonuses on them.

The premise and complexity of the game isn’t too difficult but once you know what you’re doing, and are playing against equally minded opponents, it’s quite challenging!

Basic setup:

During setup, each player takes a cardboard house and places it in front of him. Then each player receives a random hand of meeples/workers, that they place behind their houses. This is a bidding game so you don’t want other players to see what you have. It’s up to them to watch their opponents. The color of the meeples are blue, yellow and red. There are also green workers, but these are special and aren’t in the bag with the rest of the colors.

Each player also receives a home tile which is used to basic transport and tile upgrades. The player with the lowest numbered home tile receives the start player marker (purple waving meeple).

How do you play?

Game of Keyflower

Game of Keyflower

On your turn you can either…

Bid – Bidding on tiles is a longer term strategy that enables you to receive the tile you are bidding for. See the image below for a game setup.

Keyflower game in progress

Keyflower game in progress

In the middle of the playing area in each season will be tiles laid out in a strict orientation (this is important). The tiles are for claiming boat tiles, which give skill tiles and workers. Then there’s the larger amount of village tiles. These are in the middle of the playing area and typically are for goods, transportation upgrades and bonuses.

This bidding action will ultimately be the action you’ll take to get points in the game. Many of the tiles have numbers in a circle on it. This indicates the points. If it’s a gold background, that’s the points the bonus or the tile inherently gives. Many tiles have a flip side, which give better or more goods and often, more points. See below for tiles in detail.

Tiles in Keyflower

Tiles in Keyflower

If you are bidding, if you are the first player to put a worker on or on the side of this tile, you may start with 1 worker or any number, but the workers you put down to bid must be the same color! That’s a critical restriction and rule in this game that makes it fun. For example, if I wish to bid on the Key Market, I would place a blue worker on the outer edge of one side of the hex tile (the side your closest to). Then play proceeds to the next player, they may do the same to another tile, but with another color if they wish. If they wish to bid for the same tile you are bidding on, they must place their workers on their side of the hex tile, but it must be greater than the highest number of workers around this tile. The key in this game again, is if there’s a blue player either on a tile or around it, only blue workers can be used for this tile. No exceptions. That can make it part of the strategy of the game – trying to figure out what color meeples your opponents have to your advantage.

The other action you may take on your turn is

Production – what production does, is gives the player a 1 time use of a tile either in the playing area, on opponents village tiles, or on your own tiles.  So if I really need 1 stone resource, I’ll look for a tile that has gives a stone. The same rules apply as in the bidding but in this case, you are putting a meeple on top of the tile and immediately resolve the action. Again, same color workers must be present. Also to note, if say, there’s 2 yellow workers on a certain tile, well, you must commit 3 yellow workers on this tile. The tiles can continue to be used, but you need to be able to afford it.

What’s interesting in Keyflower is once you place a worker on a tile, if you don’t happen to bid for that tile, or don’t win the bid, the winning bidder gets your worker! So this is something to consider. Now, if you use a worker in an opponents village, they also receive that worker the next season. But if you place/use a worker in your own village, you get them back.

Play continues clockwise around the table until each player has passed.

Cleanup then ensues.

The workers used in bidding that won the tile go back in the bag. Also any left over workers that were lost in bids. But what’s interesting to note is, on your turn and if you did not pass, if you are losing a bid on a tile, you can move those workers (all together) to another tile (to bid). Same rules apply though, same color, and at this point it’s quite restrictive if you’ll have any options left.

Upgrading tiles and transport:

Some of the tiles, such as your home tile, have a picture of a horse and buggy with a number on it, and a house on it or more. What these are is for transport and tile upgrade.

When placing a worker on a tile for production, if it has a horse with a 2 on it, for instance, this means you may immediately move 2 goods, 1 space on your home tile, that are contiguously connected by roads, or you may split up the move to be 2 different resources 1 space each. The option is yours. But figuring it out makes this game difficult because this can really bog you down and make you have to use up many workers and turns.

In addition, you may upgrade a tile. This is typically important for end game scoring as the flip side of tiles award more points. Tiles that can be upgraded have a big down arrow on them with resources inside it. For instance, you can use a pick axe skill tile to upgrade a tile that gives 1 stone to 3 stone. But to actually upgrade a tile, if the needed resource is not a skill tile, you must use your available moves of transport to move the resources to the tile you’re upgrading. This can take multiple actions and if other players are keen to what you’re doing, they can screw you over by tacking on more of their workers (if it helps them as well).

Buttoning up the game

So, in Keyflower, to summarize, you are placing workers on tiles and bidding on tiles in the hopes of obtaining the most victory points over the course of 4 rounds. In the final round, you are bidding on winter tiles that all players choose to throw in the middle of the playing area. These winter tiles were dealt randomly to players at the beginning of the game and the point is, for the players to secretly see what the bonuses are, on those tiles. For instance, one of your winter tiles may give you points for having many different color workers, so that may be one of your goals in the game. The dangerous part of these winter tiles is, you may not necessarily get the one you put out and wanted, another player may outbid you on them. So it makes the game even more interesting.

In addition to round ends, is placement of tiles in your village. After everyone passes, you have an opportunity to place your new tiles in your village. The places tiles must be contiguous illustrations, like Carcassonne. The roads must not abruptly end and its advised to leave room for a river.

After winter ends, everyone calculates their scores based on all the points in the gold circles for the tiles, plus their bonuses. We noticed scores ranging anywhere in between the 30’s and 60’s. I really enjoy Keyflower. It’s quite a challenging game and feels rewarding at the end.

Breakdown

Components: 3/5

The quality of the components is OK. The stock of the tiles is fine and the meeples are fine, but I was a bit disappointed with the cardboard houses and the box. The box seems a bit thin in material. The rulebook also isn’t the easiest thing to read. It just doesn’t seem to flow right.

Theme: 4/5

My favorite themes are ones like in Keyflower. Which are loosely based in history, such as colonizing land or before the 1900s.

Luck Factor: 3/5

While there’s a good mix of luck in this game, ultimately it’s up to how well the players play. There is luck in this game by the random worker drawing from the bag, skill tile draw and the random tiles drawn in each season

Strategy: 5/5

I like the amount of strategy in this game. It can be a brain burner, but not exhaustively like. It’s certainly not to a level of a Martin Wallace economic game but it has a refreshing level of thought.

Overall Feelings: 4/5

I really enjoy Keyflower. At first I didn’t think much of the game after reading the rules and just looking over the components. At first play as well, I wasn’t too thrilled but after playing it again, when I knew what I was doing, I really enjoyed it. It makes it even more fun and competitive when playing with players that also know what they are doing.

 

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