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KELTIS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

KELTIS (Kosmos, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; about $40)

 

Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities, published nearly ten years ago (featured in GA REPORT back then and “flashbacked” this issue), is one of the most popular two player games from this prolific designer. So much so, that there had always been an undercurrent of support for a four player version. Finally heeding this siren call, Reiner Knizia has come up with Keltis.keltisboxTo hold its components, Keltis (subtitled “Way of Stones”) comes in a much bigger box than Lost Cities: 110 cards (22 in each of the five colored suits), 25 Path tiles (clovers, numbers, and wishing stones), five sets of figures (1 large figure and 4 smaller ones in each color), four Clover leaves, four Score markers and a game board. As in Lost Cities, players score points by playing cards in a specified order and the game follows the same general principles as its predecessor with several significant differences.

Players begin with all their pieces on the large bottom stone from which all paths emanate (keeping a clover leaf in their color in front of them so everyone knows who is which color). Path tiles are shuffled and placed, face down, on the dark stones on the paths as well as the final stone in each path. Now players are dealt a starting hand of eight cards.

On a turn, a player plays one card from his hand. He may simply discard it or lay it face up. The color of the card corresponds to the color of one of the tracks and the effect of the card is to advance one of your playing pieces onto (or ahead on) that path. (Players using their large figure to start on the parth are betting they will advance far along as the large figure will DOUBLE their score on that path.) Unlike Lost Cities, players have the option of starting their run from high value down to low OR low value up to high. (Players may play the SAME value of the current card as well, As this is a four player game, Keltis uses more cards and provides for two sets of cards for each suit (from 0 to 11), a significant difference from Lost Cities.

Should a player advance to a stone where a tile resides, he turns over that tile and claims it. A number tile gives bonus points and you advance your score marker accordingly on the scoring track. A clover leaf allow you to move one of your pieces ahead on any track. (Both the number and score tiles remain in play). Landing on a wishing stone allows that player to remove it from the board and keep it for later scoring. A player’s turn ends by drawing a card (either from the draw deck or from any TOP card from any of the discard piles around theboard) to bring his hand back to eight. (Drawing from an opposing discard deck can be somewhat problematical. The top card on a discard pile that you want may be long gone by the time it comes around to your turn again.)

Play continues as each player’s tokens move ahead on the five different paths. The game ends in one of two ways. As in Lost Cities, the game ends when the last card from the draw pile is taken. But Keltis can also end when FIVE tokens (from any combination of players) have reached the goal area. When either condition is met, the game immediately ends and final scoring done.keltispcs

Each space on a path has a point value and players score points (positive or negative) based upon the spaces their tokens occupy. As mentioned, the large figure scores double points. Now points for those wishing well tiles are scored, ranging from -4 (if you have none) al the way up to 10 (if you manage to scoop up 5 or more of them). The player with the most points wins!

Keltis brings several new factors into the Lost Cities mix. The choice of starting an expedition from high to low or low to high gives players some flexibility. Having a large figure to command to try to double your points allows you to handicap your holdings to figure out where a doubling factor will do you the most good by game’s end. (But be sure of your choice. The first few stones on each path are negatives. If you large figure is stuck there, the negative points are doubled too!) , And, of course, there is a striking theme change. Rather than exotic expeditions, players are now making their way along stone paths, not quite the same adventurous feeling. The use of special tiles injects a certain uncertainty adding another aspect to the game not found in the original, possibly too luck driven for gamers but probably appreciated by the family game players who are, after all, the target audience for the Spiel des Jahres jury.

After years of coming close, Reiner Knizia finally won his Spiel des Jahres recognition with Keltis. You can’t quibble with its pedigree. Lost Cities is a classic two player game and Knizia has broadened it to include more players and a few family friendly game mechanics. Is it his most innovative game? No. Is this the game you would most associate with an SdJ win for Knizia? No. Does it break new ground in game design? No. But does it hit the mark for solid family play value. The answer is most certainly yes. – – Herb Levy


 

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