Radio Review #17 – Keyflower

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(2012   R&D Games, Game Salute)

 

“New worlds for the weary, new lands for the living…I could make it if I tried, I closed my eyes I kept on swimming…”

 

It’s been almost 20 years since the original game in the Key series (Keywood) by Richard Breese was released with a limited print-run. Revolved around a medieval time period and Euro-style mechanics, along with distinguishing artwork from Juliet Breese (sister of Richard), the Key series has become a staple in the game community. Other titles in the Key series include Keydom (which was later reworked and released as Aladdin’s Dragons), Keytown, Keythedral, Key Harvest, and Key Market (designed by David Brain). Some would credit Keydom as one of the first to use a worker-placement type mechanic well before games such as Caylus and Agricola would define the genre.

With its 7th release in the series, Keyflower, Breese and co-designer Sebastian Bleasdale have moved a bit away from the medieval era and into the colonial period (hence the similarity to the boat, the “Mayflower). In Keyflower, players will use workers that have arrived off of the Keyflower and its many sister vessels to build and expand their new villages throughout the course of 1 year (4 rounds consisting of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter).

 

 

Components:

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– Skills Tiles (saws, anvils, and pick axes)

 

 

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– Resource tokens: Iron (black), Stone (gray), Wood (brown), and Gold (yellow)

 

 

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– Player screens

 

 

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– Workers (blue, red, yellow, and green)

 

 

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– 1st player marker

 

 

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– Home Village tiles

 

 

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– Boat tiles

 

 

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– Turn Order tiles

 

 

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– Village tiles (comprised of tiles for Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter)

 

 

In Keyflower, players will play through each of the four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) as they settle a new land and upgrade their individual villages. At the beginning of each season, new workers will arrive on the various boats (including the Keyflower) and can be used to add new areas to the village, upgrade existing buildings, and gather resources. Player’s workers can even be sent to opponent’s villages in order to gain their benefits, but at a cost. The player with the most successful village at the end of the game, wins.

 

 

 

Tiles:

The main gameplay mechanics revolve around the various tiles found in Keyflower. While I won’t cover each of the 50+ tiles individually, I think it’s important to take a look at the general difference between them before I take a look at the setup and actual gameplay. The tiles in Keyflower can be separated into 4 main types: Home tiles, Village tiles, Boat tiles, and Turn Order tiles. Players will gain these tiles using a auction/bidding mechanic, which I’ll go over in a bit.

 

Home Tiles

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Each player begins the game with a Home Village Tile which represents the beginning point of his Village. Each Home Tiles provides 1 transportation action (represented by the horse icon and the #1) and 1 upgrade action (represented by the singular building icon to its right) when a worker is placed on this tile. Each Home tile can itself be upgraded to its opposite side, and the benefits provided by its flipside are shown beneath. The resources needed (if any) to upgrade this tile are shown on the front as well.

So for instance, Player A’s Home Tile is seen above. This tile provides him with 1 transportation action and 1 upgrade when he places a worker here. If he chooses to upgrade this tile, he would need to take an upgrade action and spend 1 Wood and 1 Iron. He would then flip this Home Tile to its opposite side (seen below). Going forward, any time he takes an action on this tile, he’ll now receive 2 transportation actions and 1 upgrade action.

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You’ll notice that each Home tile has roads leading out to the different sides of the tile. Any tiles (additional areas) that are added to the village must connect by at least 1 road. These connections will be used when taking the transportation actions, which I’ll go over during the gameplay section. Each Home Tile can also provide endgame Victory Points if upgraded. You’ll notice on the above Home Tile, that if it is upgraded to its opposing side, Player A will gain 5 additional Victory Points at the end of the game. Its original front side however, provides 0.

 

 

Village Tiles

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Village tiles will made up the various buildings and areas of each player’s village and are separated into 4 piles: Spring tiles, Summer tiles, Fall tiles, and Winter tiles (the season‘s icon is presented in the top left corner of the tile). Each Village Tile provides a different action when workers are placed on them, and some, like the Home tiles, have upgraded abilities. Actions can range from gaining additional workers, providing resources, gaining skills, increased transportation, endgame Victory Point bonuses, among other things.

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During the Summer season, special Summer boat tiles can appear that are available as additions to a village. These provide bonuses when certain actions are taken during the game, depending on the Summer boat tile. At the same time, Winter tiles are unique in that they can not be upgraded, nor can workers be placed on them, but they provide scenarios for endgame Victory Points, depending on the tile. Let’s take a look at a few different types of Village tiles (remember that there are close to 50 different Village tiles in the game, so this is just a few examples of what can be found here).

 

 

Blacksmith

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– The Blacksmith can be obtained during the Fall season and provides the owner with 2 Victory Points at the end of the game for every Iron resource on this tile. The Blacksmith can be upgraded by taking an upgrade action and spending 1 Anvil skill token. If it has been upgraded, it instead provides the owner with 3 Victory Points for every Iron resource on this tile at the end of the game.

 

 

Keystone Quarry

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– The Keystone Quarry provides the player with 1 Stone each time their workers are placed on the tile. Remember that players can place their workers on opposing player’s tiles as well, so just because you don’t have the Keystone Quarry in your village, doesn’t mean you can’t obtain its Stone. Keystone Quarry can be upgraded by taking an upgrade action and spending 1 Pickaxe skill token. If it has been upgraded, it instead provides a player with 3 Stone when his workers are placed here, and is also worth 3 Victory Points to the owner at the end of the game.

 

 

Boat 2b

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– Village boats can be gained during the Summer season. The player that owns this boat gains a special bonus in which all his transport actions and upgrade actions are doubled. So if a village tile would normally give him 2 Transport actions and 1 Upgrade action, it would now provide him with 4 Transport actions and 2 Upgrade actions when used.

 

 

Peddler

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– The Peddler can be obtained during the Spring season and allows a player to replace 1 Yellow worker with 1 Green worker. Green workers are very hard to come by and can be very instrumental for bidding purposes which I’ll cover later. The Peddler can be upgraded by taking an upgrade action and spending 1 Gold. If it has been upgraded, it instead allows a player to replace 1 Yellow worker with 2 Green workers and is also worth 3 Victory Points to the owner at the end of the game.

 

 

Village Hall

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– The Village Hall can be obtained during the Winter season and as with all Winter tiles, only provides an endgame bonus. With the Village Hall, the owner will select 1 color of worker that they own. That player will receive 1 Victory Point for each worker they own of that color at the end of the game.

 

 

Boat Tiles

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While Summer Boat Tiles can be added to a player’s Village and provide bonuses throughout the game, the regular Boat Tiles work a little differently. At the end of each season, player’s will gain new workers that have taking the voyage to the new land. Depending on the number of players in the game, there will be 1 Boat Tile per player. These tiles are placed to the side of the play area and workers and skill tiles will randomly be placed on each at the beginning of the season. The number of workers and skill tiles placed depend on the individual boat, and are represented by the icons on them. During the Winter season, each player will gain one of these boats and thus will be granted its Winter bonus ability.

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For instance, the Keyflower boat will provide 7 random workers and 1 random skill tile at the beginning of the Spring and Summer seasons. This means that if Player B chooses to use the Keyflower boat at the end of the Spring or Summer season, he would gain the 7 random workers and 1 skill tile to place behind his player screen. During the Fall season (marked on its flipped side), it will provide only 3 random workers and 2 skill tiles. During the Winter season (shown below the Fall season‘s area), the owner of this boat will gain 1 Victory Point for each Transportation action that his village cumulatively provides.

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Turn Order Tiles

The last type of tile is the Turn Order tile. This will determine two different order types for each Round of the game. First, it will determine the order in which players choose Boat Tiles to gain new workers and skills. Secondly, it will determine which player is granted the 1st player marker for the upcoming round. Turn Order tiles are placed depending on the number of players in the game. Much like the Boat Tiles, these tiles will remain in the play area during the Spring, Summer and Fall season, but players may gain them during the Winter season that provide certain endgame bonus Victory Points.

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Let’s look at a 4-player game. Player B has won the #1 tile, meaning that he will be able to choose which Boat Tile to select new workers and skills from first. Player A won the #2 tile, meaning that he will be able to choose second. Player D won the #3 tile, meaning that not only will he be the third player to choose workers and skills from a remaining Boat Tile, but he will also gain the 1st player marker for the upcoming round. Player C did not win any of the Turn Order tiles, meaning that he will take workers and skills from the leftover Boat Tile that was not chosen by any of the other players.

 

 

 

Setup:

Now that I’ve covered that basics of each type of tile in Keyflower, lets take a look at how the game is setup, then we’ll get into the actual gameplay itself. Each player receives a player screen to keep their skill tiles and workers hidden from the other players. I found it neat that each of these screens were designed differently to represent various styles of cabins and houses. And each of the player sides of the screen show the insides of each of the houses. A unique aesthetic that wasn’t necessary, but is a pretty neat addition.

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All Blue, Red, and Yellow workers are placed in a cloth bag, while the Green workers are set to the side of the play area, along with the different types of resources (Iron, Wood, Stone, and Gold). Skill tiles (Anvils, Pickaxes, and Saws) are mixed together in a pile and placed face down. Each player will draw 8 random workers from the bag and place them secretly behind their player screen.

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Boat tiles are placed to the side of the player area depending on the number of players in the game, along with the amount of random workers and skill tiles they require. As mentioned before, Village Tiles are separated and placed in piles by their season, and each player receives a Home Tile (the player with the lowest number on their Home Tile also receives the 1st player marker to begin the game). The Turn Order tiles are also placed in the player area for all players to see. Each player also receives a number of winter tiles (depending on the number of players in the game) that they will keep secretly hidden from other players until the final Winter season.

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Since we are beginning in the Spring, a number of Spring tiles will be placed in the player area depending on the number of players (6 for 2-player, 7 for 3-player, 8 for 4-player and so on). Players will also be given a number of Winter tiles which they will keep secret until the Winter season (3 for 2-4 player game, and 2 for 5-6 player game). At the beginning of the game, setup should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

Although Keyflower has lots of individual tiles and components, the rules and mechanics of a player’s turn are quite simple. There are really only two options that a player has on his turn. He can either bid on a tile from the central play area in hopes to obtaining it at the end of the round, thus being able to add it to his village. Or, he can place workers on a Village tile (whether it be on one of his own, on another player’s tile, or even on one from the central play area) and take the particular action awarded by that tile.

 

Auctioning Tiles:

Players are able to gain new areas to add to their village by auctioning on and winning tiles from the central play area. On a player’s turn, they may place workers to the direct side (that is closest to them) of the tile they are choosing to bid on. Some tiles, such as the Turn Order tiles, will not be added to a player’s village, but the winning player will take the particular Turn Order action. There are a few rules that apply to auctioning:

 

– A player can place any number of workers to bid on a tile as long as it is a larger number than a previous player has bid.

 

– When a tile is bid on for the first time, the bidding player can choose any color worker behind their screen in which to bid with. Once the color has been established, all following bids for that particular tile must be with workers of the same color. A tile can never be bid on with different colored workers. A player can always take a later action to increase his bid of workers on a tile.

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So for instance, if Player A makes an initial bid of 2 Blue workers on the Alehouse tile, if Player B, C, or D want to bid on the tile, they can only make bids with Blue workers.

 

– If a player is outbid on a tile, they can place their workers elsewhere, but all the workers must remain together. They can either be moved to bidding on another tile, can be added to an existing bid, can be moved on top of a tile to take that particular tile’s action (explained in the village action section below), or can be used as part of an exchange (instead of having to use workers from behind your screen when using a village action that allows you to do an worker exchange).

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Player C has chosen to bid on the Alehouse as well, using 4 of his Blue workers to do so. He could only bid with Blue workers because that is the color Player A started the bid with on this particular tile. Since Player A has been outbid, on his next turn he may move these 2 workers and place them elsewhere.

 

At the end of a round, a player that has won a tile will add it as an area to his village. Remember that at least on of the road must be connected between the two tiles for it to be a legal placement. Positioning of tiles in your village is an important strategic element that can affect the efficiency in moving resources to certain areas. It is also important to note how important Green workers are for auction purposes. Because there will be a minimal amount of Green workers in play, bidding on a tile with a 1-2 Green workers can usually win you the tile outright.

 

 

Village Actions:

While a player can choose to bid on a tile during their turn, they also have the other option of taking a Village action. When a player’s workers are placed on top of a tile, they may take that tiles action. This can include anything from exchanging regular workers for Green workers, gaining resources, gaining skill tiles, transporting resources, upgrading tiles, etc. As with taking the auction action, there are a few rules that go with taking a village action.

 

– The first time a worker is placed on a particular village tile, workers of any color must be placed there to take the action. The next player that wants to use the same village tile, must place a larger number of workers there to do so, but they must remain the same color as the previous workers.

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Player B places 1 of his Yellow workers onto his Keywood village tile in order to gain 1 Wood resource. If any other players wanted to also place workers on the Keywood village tile to gain 1 Wood resource, they would now need to place a number of Yellow workers greater than 1 to do so (with no more than 6 total workers on one space; see below).

 

– A village tile may never contain more than 6 workers total. Therefore if a player places 3 workers on a tile, no one else (including himself) may place workers on that tile to take its action, since they would be required to place 4 workers, and that would go over the 6 total worker limit.

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Player A has placed 2 of his Yellow workers on the Keywood village tile in order to gain 1 Wood resource. Since there are now 3 total workers on this tile, its action can only be used 1 more time, since 3 more would need to be placed to do so, and the maximum on a tile is 6. Since Player A is not the owner of the tile (it is in Player B’s village), Player A must place the Wood resource he gained on his Home village tile (see below).

 

– Once a player places workers on a tile, that player gains the action on that tile immediately.

 

– A player may place workers on his own village tiles, on the tiles in the central auction area, as well as on other player’s village tiles. You do not have to own the tile in your village in order to take its action. However, at the end of the round, any workers that you have placed onto another player’s village, will belong to that player and placed behind his screen. If a player placed workers on a tile in the auction area, the winner of that tile will gain those workers at the end of the round.

So as you can see, even though you are allowed to place workers in the central auction area and into other player’s villages, you’ll do so with risk of losing those workers. Sometimes, you’ll need to take these options and can even block that player from using his own village tiles if you play it smart. In the above example, by placing 2 of his Yellow workers on Player B’s Keywood village tile to gain a wood resource, Player A would essentially end up giving these workers to Player B at the end of the season.

 

– When taking a village action in your village that gains you resources, those resources are placed onto that tile. If taking a village action in another player’s village that gains you resources, those resources are added to your Home Village tile. Any skill tiles that are gained are not placed on a tile, but are instead (once randomly drawn from the face-down skill tile pile) kept behind the player’s screen.

 

– In order to move resources from tile to tile, (in using them for upgrades) player’s must use workers on a village tile with a transportation action (every player start with a Home Village tile that provides this action). When workers are placed on this tile, they can move resources equal to the number listed on the tile. These resources must move along connected road between tiles (note that gold can be used as a substitute to any other resources during the game). Player’s also receive an upgrade action when placing workers on this type of tile. This will allow them to upgrade any one tile (or more depending on the amount of upgrades listed on the tile) if they can meet the requirements needed. Note that in order to upgrade a tile that requires a certain amount and type of resources, those resources must be on the same tile requiring them for upgrade.

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For example, Player B needs 1 wood resource and 1 stone resource in order to upgrade his Home village tile. He has the required resources for the upgrade, but he needs to move them onto the Home village tile before he can upgrade it. By placing 1 Blue worker on the Home tile, he gains 1 transportation action, meaning that he can move either the stone or wood resource 1 space (and onto his Home tile).

The next turn he may place 2 Blue workers on the Home tile and gain another transportation action, therefore moving the other required resource 1 space and onto the Home tile. Placing workers on the Home village tile also gains the player 1 upgrade action, so on the same turn that he moved the 2nd required resource onto the Home tile, he could also go ahead and spend the resources and flip the tile to its upgraded side.

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Players will continue to take actions (either auctioning or village actions) in turn order until all players have passed. At the end of each round (season), player’s will collect the workers from their villages and winning bids. They’ll collect the new tiles they’ve won and place them in their village as well as gain the new workers off of the arriving boats. Turn order is then determined for the next season (depending on the bids of the Turn Order tiles) and the new tiles for the following season are placed into the central auction area for bidding.

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Winter

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Once the Winter season arrives, players will choose from the Winter tiles they were given at the beginning of the game, and place any number of them face down into the central auction area. Remember that Winter tiles consist of end-game bonuses only, so its important to take a look around at how it may help opposing player’s before deciding to add it to the auction area. Player’s must place at least 1 of these tiles. These tiles will then make up the final tiles to be bid on for the last round.

 

 

End-game Scoring:

After all seasons have been completed, player’s will tally up the Victory Points their village provides. Victory Points are scored in the following ways:

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– Any Victory Points listed on the tiles themselves.

 

 

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– Resources that have been placed on the Blacksmith, Barn, Timber Yard, and Stone Yard during the game are scored accordingly.

 

 

– Any other resources, workers, and skill tiles a player controls can be allocated to any other tile that would provide it a Victory Point bonus. But, each individual item can only be scored once and can not be used for multiple bonuses, so choose wisely where you want to score a particular resource, skill, or worker. The start player marker is considered a “wild” and can be scored as any of these three items.

 

 

– Any leftover gold resource tokens that were not used for bonuses are worth 1 Victory Point each.

 

 

The player with the most Victory Points has built the strongest Village and is considered the winner.

 

 

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Thoughts:

Keyflower is thematically strong, with the way that workers arrive off of the boats, can be placed to “build” new areas to a village, or “work” in the village itself, as well as how resources are transported from one area of the village to another in order to upgrade that particular building. Artistically, the tile designs stay true to their chosen seasons, with the fall tiles full of orange, browns and yellows, while the winter tiles provide barren trees and a hint of snow. After the completion of the game, seeing all the different tiles together in a village is visually, quite pleasing.

There’s not a lot that you can’t do in Keyflower, as long as you have the necessary workers available. Unlike many other games, players are not solely limited to their tableau, instead being able to take actions from opposing players villages as well as using the tiles in the central area currently being bid on. Since the risk involved with this is losing future workers, it’s important to decide not only what is best for you at the moment, but what might be best for your village long-term. It’s quite a balancing act between gaining workers, gaining tiles, and taking actions, but one that never feels over-complicated. Even if you aren’t able to follow through with the plan you began a season with, there always seems like an equally strategic alternative to switch to. Choosing which colored workers to bid/take actions with, and how many is like working a jigsaw puzzle each round, so it will appeal to those that enjoy sorting that type of stuff in their mind, 2-3 turns in advance.

The beauty of Keyflower is in its simplicity. The rules are neither overbearing or complicated. Each player has only 2 options per turn. The strategy however, resolves around how well a player can gain needed tiles in his village, how they correspond to one another, and how well a player can manage his workers and what they are used for. Fans of the Key series should be quite pleased with this one, as well as those new to Richard Breese and his designs.

 

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