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KEY HARVEST

Reviewed by Jeff Feuer

(R&D Games/Abacus Spiele/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 60-90 minutes; $49.99)

 

One of the things we love about Euro Games are those tiny little side rules and exceptions that go along with the basic rules. Some games are like Puerto Rico (Spring 2002 GA REPORT) and all the players need to know every last one of the rules and exceptions in order to actually play. Other games are like Power Grid for example (Fall 2004 GA REPORT) and only the table leader needs to know EVERY one of them. For example, knowing that during step 1, you put the highest remaining power plant left after the auction to the bottom the deck to save for step 3. Do you really need to know this when planning your moves for the game? I don’t think so. When you boil it down to brass tacks, the rules that a player needs in order to play it are not that bad when compared to how much the table leader needs to know. Key Harvest falls into this latter category.

Key Harvest was authored by the same designer (Richard Breese) that gave us Reef Encounter (Winter 2005 GA REPORT) and is the latest in the “Key” series (with Keythedral [Fall 2004 GA REPORT] probably being the most popular of these). There are a few similarities of thought process to Reef Encounter (more so that Keythedral, which is the only “Key” game I have personally played), while in the end, I think it becomes an easier game to learn (fewer choices of action) and perhaps just as hard a game to master. Due to the fact that I found the game closer to Reef Encounter than Keythedral, I will make a few comparisons during this review to that popular game for those of you that are familiar with it. If you are not familiar with RE, then just skip the references.keyharvestbox

In KH, each player has their own board. The boards are identical until the game starts when each player gets a random pair of starting tiles (the tiles are paired, once you get one of the pair, it’s predetermined which matching tile you get). The boards all have hexes on them with a letter and number. The letter is the row (A-F) and the number marks the position in the row (1-9). A field tile will have a matching letter and number, like F3 and must be placed on this spot on your board. There is only one F3 in the game…if an opponent gets it and you want it, you’re most likely out of luck for ever getting it.

RE has many different actions to choose from and most of them can be chosen only once, however, in the end, you will most of the time place tiles on the board and take new ones. KH has only 4 actions to choose from (you choose two of these 4 and perform them only once), however, in the end, most of the time, you will place tiles on your board as one action and take new ones as a second action.

In both games (RE and KH), you cannot score points in a single turn. In RE, you take tiles in front of you and put them on the board in one turn. You can only eat them for points in a subsequent turn, thereby giving opponents a chance to destroy some of your hard work. In KH, you take tiles from the common supply, but can only put them on your board for points (which are tallied at the endgame) in a subsequent turn, thereby giving your opponents a chance to buy the tile(s) you wanted.

At the start of the game, tiles are chosen randomly from the cloth bag and put onto a common supply board at the start of the game until there are six tiles to choose from. The supply of six tiles is called the registry. During the course of the game, as these tiles are taken to a player’s store, they are replaced by drawing tiles from the cloth bag. However, in the bag are also event tiles that will be discussed later.

The 4 actions are (in no particular order):

1) Place a worker (these let you get things like crop counters without using up your crops, but the more powerful the worker, the harder it is to get on the board).

2) Harvest crops (take barrels and turn over the tiles so they cannot be used without using a worker to turn them back over).

3) Put tiles from the registry into your store

4) buy tiles from a store to your board. You cannot do action 4) AFTER action 3). So you cannot go in one turn from registry to board.

One interesting mechanism is the interaction of workers and tiles. What happens if you have a worker on F3 and then you buy the tile F3? The worker comes off and then you get to replace it (subject to the worker placement rules) and take the benefit of the worker immediately as a free action (it doesn’t count as action 1). Suppose F3 and E5 are available to be bought and you can afford them (or will during the course of this turn). You can put your worker on F3 with your first action (take its benefit) and then buy the tile F3 as your first buy of the second action. Move the worker to E5 (take its benefit again for free) and then buy E5 as your second buy of the second action. Move the worker again and take its benefit for the third time of this turn! It’s rare that you can have two tiles like this but setting up one isn’t that difficult.keyharvestcomp

What does a typical turn feel like? Most of the time, you’re doing action 4 and then 3. For your first action, you want to put tile(s) on your board (you can buy up to 2 with the action). So you look at what’s in your store and in opponents’ stores. If it’s in your store, you can put the barrels (called crop counters) in the general supply and take it onto your board. If it’s in an opponent’s store, you have to match their barrels. There are ways to not have to match it exactly (you can overpay by 1, match with different barrels or pay with only 2 depending on which worker you use…the less you want to pay, the harder it is to get the worker fit onto your board). If you do not find a tile you like to buy (either the tile doesn’t exist or costs too much), you are forced to use one of the other two actions (harvest or place worker). Then you look at the registry and see if there are any good tiles to put in your store. A good tile could be one you want or one an opponent wants. You put a number of crop counters (barrels) next to the tile in your store. If it’s a tile you want, you have to balance how many barrels you’re willing to give up against not doing too few so someone else will buy it from you (perhaps just to stop you from having it!). If it’s a tile someone else will want, you have to balance how many barrels you think they’re willing to pay. You want them to give you as many matching barrels as possible, but not so much they’ll give up. Again, if no tiles in the registry meet either criterion, you take a different action. It’s important to note that barrels are HIDDEN behind a screen, so you have no idea what people can pay with or how many they have. It’s not really trackable either, since there are 3 random barrels given secretly to each player at the start of the game.

After taking a tile from the registry (again up to 2 can be taken with a single action), you draw a replacement tile from a bag. It could be an event that affects everyone and a few of them will offer the option to perhaps take a tile off someone else’s board (without their permission). It should be said that several events let people have the choice of swapping tiles, but only one lets you take a tile without permission and only if the tile is a single tile unconnected to any other field tiles. If an event is drawn, you draw again from the bag after resolving the event so that there is always a full supply of field tiles for the next person to choose from. VPs are scored in one of 4 ways:

1) 1 pt/tile in your largest connected set.

2) 2 pts/tile in your second largest connected set.

3) workers earn points=number on the tile (higher numbers are more powerful workers and are harder to place on your board in the first place)

4) majority of each type of barrel at the end = 1 pt for each color. 1 pt for the majority of brown barrels (unfriendly ties).

So how do the workers work? There is a number on the worker tiles. You have a supply of workers that are 1, 2 or 3 (there are two of each that are different) and there are 3 each (all different powers) of 4 and 5 in the general supply. The number on the tile represents three things: 1) how many adjacent hexes must have a field to place it (this is a minimum so you can place a 2 when there are 4 adjacent field hexes) 2) the relative strength of the worker 3) the VPs earned at endgame if the worker is on the board. You can place a higher number worker on top of a lower number worker, freeing up the worker. If it’s from your supply, it returns there (you do not replace it like you do when placing a field tile on a worker hex). If it’s a 4 or 5, it goes to the general supply (where someone else might take it). You can (in most cases), place the worker and skip the action (e.g. just to get the VPs on the board at the endgame). You can also use the worker action to remove a worker so that you can place it again elsewhere on a subsequent turn.

Generally, higher numbers are more powerful. 1’s let you harvest one or two adjacent unharvested tiles without turning over the tiles. 2’s let you take any two crops you want from general supply or turn adjacent harvested tiles back over to the unharvested side. 3’s let you buy an opponents’ tile out of their store for one more barrel (but you do not have to match the exact type of barrels in their bid) or remove a tile from you board (and out of the game). This latter 3 is the only worker whose action is mandatory. Why would you want to remove a tile? You might have one huge connected set of field tiles and want to separate it into two separate ones since you earn 2 pts for each tile in your second largest field. This might give you a larger second field than you had previously.

The general supply workers are even more powerful and harder to place! 4’s let you match the number of barrels when buying from an opponent’s store without matching the type or put a tile from the registry in your store (as action 1, thereby allowing you to then buy the tile with your second action!) or pay three crops to an opponent and take an unconnected field tile from their board. 5’s let you reuse a worker already on your board (you do not reposition the worker, just use the benefit again) or take a blind tile from the bag (and position it on their board or discard out of the game) or take a tile from the registry directly to their board (and bypass the store). 5’s are powerful, but hard to place and unlikely you can place more than 1 on your board.

What kind of events are there? Some are mandatory and some are optional. There are events that let you swap tiles. You can ditch one of your tiles and draw one blind from the bag. You may swap an unconnected tile with an opponent’s unconnected tile. Each person has the option to swap with someone else and the other person has no choice. If I decide to swap my unconnected F3 with someone else’s A5, they have to do the swap. They can then swap with someone else. Each person gets to do one swap that they choose. There is an event that lets you can pay 2 crop counters to draw blindly from the bag to choose a field tile. There are a few mandatory events, but these are generally good or neutral. One has you clear out the registry, putting the tiles back in the bag and drawing new ones. One has the person who drew the event tile give a crop of their choice from general supply to each player (including themselves). There aren’t really any bad events, but as an example of the worst it gets is that there is an event that forces each player to pass a tile to the player on the left. The person who drew it starts it off by passing a tile to the left. Each subsequent player can choose to pass that tile to the next person or take it and pass a different one to the next player. The circle ends when the starting player (who drew the event tile) gets a tile from the player on their right.

So that gives you a feel for the types of decisions you have to make, the level of competitiveness, interaction and luck in the game. Only the events and the choice of tiles in the registry are random.

Do I like the game? I do. It’s not the best game of 2007, but it’s definitely worth trying for yourself and a fun game to play, especially with the right crowd! – – – – – – – Jeff Feuer


 

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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