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KEYTHEDRAL

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Pro Ludo, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 60-90 minutes; $49.95)

 

Richard Breese seems obsessed with finding the key to unlocking great gameplay. As evidence of this, just look at the string of games he has designed and published under his own, privately printed label: Keywood, Keytown, Keydom (re-issued as Aladdin’s Dragons and Morgenland), and Keythedral. Now, following in the footsteps of Keydom, Keythedral has appeared in a new edition in which Breese adds a few “tweaks” to present us with his strongest design to date.

Keythedral comes bookshelf boxed with two small mounted “mats”, scores of tiles (representing building tiles of the Keythedral, cottages, workers etc.), wooden cubes (acting as resources and “crafts”) and fences, a set of “law cards”, a variety of play aids, and 12 pages of rules.keythedralbox

The mat showing the interior of the Keythedral contains rows for building tiles and these rows are filled with the tiles face down. The five “work order” markers (green cylinders numbered 1 through 5) are also placed on the mat. The second mat holds the more expensive “craft” cubes (ironwork, stained glass and gold) and the law cards. The goal: be the most help in constructing the Keythedral, shown by amassing the most Victory Points.

The fields of the kingdom are octagonal tiles that come in five varieties, each producing its own type of resource: brown (which will produce wood), white (stone), blue (water), green (food) and red (wine). Four field tiles, two white and two brown, are placed opposite each other so they surround the Keythedral tile, creating a large “x”. From that beginning, the kingdom grows.

Each player begins with color-coded sets of five cottage tiles, ten worker counters, three fences, a screen and a turn order card. In turn, a player draws a field tile from the stack of face down, unused tiles and places it so it is connected to at least one existing cottage or field. Then, that same player places one of his cottages (numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5) in one of the vertices created through any field placement. Strategy tip: when placing cottages, try to place a cottage with a number DIFFERENT from neighboring cottages. (More on that later.) The kingdom continues to expand until all players have placed five field tiles and their five cottages. Now, with the first row of building tiles in the Keythedral turned over, you reap what you have sown.

The player on turn chooses one of the work order markers. The starting player now places one of his workers in a field ADJACENT to his cottage with the matching number. In clockwise order, the other players do the same. Now, the next player picks the next work order and the procedure is repeated until all five cottages have been chosen. Players collect one resource cube matching the field in which they have a worker. Now that you have some resources, you may spend them.

Beginning with the start player (and proceeding clockwise), players choose from a menu of options and, one action at a time, do as many as they like (or can) as long as their resources hold out.

They may buy a building tile from the Keythedral (by spending the specified resources on the tile). The building tiles are worth Victory Points, ranging from 4 to 12, at game’s end. The more expensive craft cubes (ironwork, stained glass and gold) become more important as you attempt to purchase the higher valued tiles.

A cottage may be converted (by paying a black and brown cube and flipping the cottage tile over to its “darker” side) into a house. A house potentially DOUBLES resource production since it allows for the placement of TWO workers on a turn instead of one.keythedralplay

Players begin with three fences in their stash and, at a cost of resources, may build a fence (preventing an opponent from placing workers in a bordering field) or remove a fence (to remove such restraints).

Lesser valued resources may be exchanged or traded to get the more valuable ironwork (white cubes), stained glass (purple cubes) or gold (gold cubes) crafts. Players may also trade resources on hand for resources needed (at a rate of 2 for 1).

Two laws cards are available each round. Law cards are usually very good things to have as they can bend rules to your advantage. A player may buy a law card at the cost of 1 resource cube of any color. Since a resource cube is worth, at a minimum, 1 Victory Point when scores are tallied, law card purchases cost you VPs so there is a sense of “balancing” here. And a law card purchase ends your turn. (No more trades or buys that round for you.) Of course, a player may always pass, keeping his resources secret behind his screen, to be used later.

Once everyone has finished all actions they can or wish to take, the starting player role shifts, in clockwise order, to the next player – unless someone buys the privilege.

The player who is now the starting player puts that privilege up for auction. Bids are in resource cubes. If no bids, the start player retains the privilege. If a bid is made, the start player may accept the bid (and take the offered resource cubes) OR pay the player who made the highest offer the same value in cubes from his stash. Whoever wins the start player role may then become the start player OR give that privilege to any other player. (It sometimes pays to give the role to the player on your right because, next round, the starting player privilege will shift to you and you can, once again, control the flow of play.)

When the last building tile in the Keythedral is purchased, the game ends immediately and Victory Point totals are calculated.

A player’s score is the sum of all the Keythedral building tiles bought PLUS the value of unused resources and crafts (black, blue, brown, green and red = 1 Victory Point, white = 2, purple =3 and gold = 4). The player with the highest total wins.

The play of the game can be divided into two distinct phases: creating the kingdom and using resources. But kingdom creation is key. Placement of fields and the subsequent placement of cottages determine resource production. Where cottages are placed vis-a-vis the cottages of your opponents directly impacts on production which, in turn, affects your ability to pick up Victory Point tiles as the game progresses. With skillful planning, you can create a situation where an opponent’s adjacent fields are already occupied when he wishes to place a worker. When that happens, your competitor places no workers there and receives no resources from them. This can be a killer, crippling attempts to buy tiles, houses and law cards.

Besides the improved graphics (courtesy of Juliet Breese), the significant difference in this new edition of Keythedral lies in the scoring. In the original 2002 edition, victory tiles would be worth 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 victory points and remaining resources worth nothing. Here, tile values jump to 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 with remaining cubes held in your cache added to your VP totals. This creates a new layer of decision making to the game as adroit handling of your “building blocks” – and timing – becomes much more critical.

In Keythedral, Richard Breese offers the key to unlocking an exceptional gaming experience. The result? A game firmly situated in the upper tier of this year’s releases. Highly recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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