Saturday, 2 March 2013

SereneJ's Review of Keyflower

Keyflower - as game names go it doesn't sound very threatening - equally, it doesn't really give anything away about what the game actually involves - but it should have a warning on the box - this game pulls you in!
So what is it? What it is - is a game of 2-6 players and is probably best described as a worker placement game that is all about you building something - actually not just something - a village.  A village that you come to care about and in the three games I've played so far I've found it utterly delightful, enticing me into making the best damn village I can - my meeple deserve it. Keyflower, as I've discovered (with the help of the Finely Diced Gamers), is a game that looks friendly (it uses meeples for goodness sake) and invites you to play (the game artwork is lovely to look at), it has some interesting game dynamics but ultimately allows for some potentially bitter power struggles as you try to improve your village in medieval Keyland.

When you start keyflower your village is one building – your house - ironically you are given an actual starting house which is needed to conceal the different meeples and tokens that you collect throughout the course of the game.  The aim of Keyflower is simple, take your newly founded village and improve it - adding different buildings such as mines, quarries and other equally useful structures. Some of these new buildings benefit you immediately, providing necessary resources (to further improve your village) or more meeples (used during your turn to activate village buildings or bid on unclaimed buildings). There are other buildings that you'll want to claim that provide either the option to select the next player to go first, the first choice of meeple coming to colonise your village or victory points at games end.
The game itself occurs over one year, OK - it doesn't take a year to play (I definately wouldn't have time to play the game otherwise) but it is played over four seasons - Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter – with each season being one turn. From the first season, each player takes it in turn activating or bidding on unclaimed buildings laid out in the centre of the table.  The first person to activate a building only needs to spend one meeple, the next would have to spend two meeples (of the same colour), the third person three meeples (yes, same colour).  Ultimately it comes down to how many meeple you have stashed that can allow or prevent you from activating a building.

So... you see a perfect addition to your village and you decide to bid on it (hoping that no-one has the same idea as you).  Bidding on a building again involves your meeples, with them being used to stake your claim - but watch out - as long as another player has enough of the same colour meeple - you can be outbid.  Can you remember who placed which colour meeple or how many - two, three, four...?
Each season ends once everyone has finished placing their meeples - the dust settles and village founders (you the player) look at what is to be added to your village - all the meeple used in the bidding process are lost - gone forever.  However - any building that was activated (by yourself or others) that you now own - those meeple now belong to you to help your village grow in the coming season.

Now you would be forgiven for thinking that all was lost, if a building that you wanted and bid on was taken by another player.  With Keyflower, regardless of where a building is - whether unclaimed, your village or another's village.  If a building can be activated you can place a meeple there - with those meeple going into the building owners's hidden stash at the end of the season.  With some strategic placement of your meeple, you can use another's building to improve your standing - in the process making it more expensive for the actual owner to use.  However, remember that the building's owner gets to keep the meeple used and don't forget - they could easily choose to use your buildings!

So the activation and bidding of buildings is present in every season but once you reach Winter you're essentially looking at how to maximise on the buildings you own to score the most victory points.  Throughout the first three seasons player will be bidding and outbidding each other to have buildings in their village - winter (I think) is slightly different - it's all or nothing.  I've managed to win this game by managing to get a building that another player's strategy required, preventing them from attaining their full potential - admittedly a risky strategy but I won by one point. 

The thing is Keyflower offers lots of strategies, one person may choose to hoard meeples, another may choose to build the longest river, yet another hoards gold - these are just three such strategies that I've seen - however, each strategy can be countered if another player manages to get the meeples in at the right time.  Keyflower could just be the right strategy at the right time but there are more building cards than can be played for each season which means that each game will be unique, there will be variety and you - the player - will have to choose  how you want to see your village expand - what direction will you want to take?

I don't currently own this game but I intend to - it's already on my BGG wishlist! If someone offers you the opportunity to play this game I would suggest you say yes - it's entertaining and its subtly aggressive -  This is a game that our group has played three times in two weeks and I would happily play again - it's a great game!  Who knew colonising Keyland could be so much fun?

I still think there should be a warning on the box!

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