I decided during Orkfest this year that Keyflower is another game that will be getting a place among my favorites. In total, I have played the game three times, twice last week. And let me say right now that your first play through is gonna be a learning experience. Anyway, onto the review!
Keyflower is a 2-6 player game, and takes 90-120 minutes on average. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game, wins. It has a lot of interesting mechanics that you see in other board games, including worker placement, city building (tile placement), bidding, and resource management. You play Keyflower over 4 seasons, beginning with spring and ending in winter. You will definitely feel like you do not have enough time to do all the things you want to do.
During setup, each player gets a little cardboard house where you can hide your people and any tools you get during the game. Resources do not get hidden. The “Starting Hexes” for all the towns are shuffled and dealt randomly to each player. All the blue, red, and yellow people are placed in the drawstring bag, and each player draws 7 randomly and places them in the secret house.
Depending on the number of players, you shuffle the spring hex tiles, remove some randomly, and place the others in the center of the table. They are now up for auction.
Additionally, 4 hex tiles representing who gets to bid first next round and boat choice are available for bidding. These tiles are not taken by the player who wins them, they just have certain affects. Below is a shot of the boat tiles. If you win first boat choice, you get to choose which set of people and tools you take for next round. All players at the table will receive items from a boat by the end of the round.
During the bidding phase, players go around the table placing people on their assigned side of whichever hex tile they wish to bid on. In a six player game, all the sides will be used. Consistency is very important here or people’s bids can get screwed up. The first color that is used on a hex tile is the color that must be used by all subsequent bidders. Players can also use the tiles during bidding – some generate resources, some allow you to create rarer green people, etc. To use a tile, you place a person of the appropriate bidding color for the tile on the center of it. Tiles can be used three times, and each time it costs one additional person, so the third time a tile is used, a player must put three people on it. The player who wins the bid for the tile receives any people who are standing on it at the end of the bidding round. The people who stand around tiles for bidding are either (a) put back in the bag (in the case of the winning bidder) or (b) returned to their owner at the end of the round. When someone outbids you on a tile, the next time it is your turn, you can either (a) add more people to the tile (you must have 1 more than the highest bidder to be winning), (b) move your people to a different hex tile (assuming it is of the appropriate bidding color), or (c) leave the people there and you will get them back at the end of the round.
In the picture below, whoever’s hand that is bidding is doing it wrong, since a yellow person is already on that tile and the bidder is using red. O.o
When players run out of things to do or decide they are done for the round, they pass. Passing once does not mean you must pass the next time it gets around to you. Once all players have passed, the round is over. Based on who has bid on the turn order / boat order tiles, the first player token is exchanged. Players choose boats and receive the people and tools on them. Then the summer hex tiles are placed in the center of the table for the next round.
Before the next round begins, players must place any hex tiles they acquired in their city, connected to their home tile (or any other tiles in their town). All tiles have roads on them, and the roads must be connected properly.
In the picture above, you’ll notice there are people on my tiles. Once tiles are in someone’s city, they can still be used by any player during subsequent bidding rounds. The first player to use the tile declares the color of use. Just like in bidding, tiles can be used three times. At the end of the round, the people on the tiles belong to the player who owns the tile, and they go back to that player’s house.
To win this game, you must collect points. Many tiles have gold circle symbols with numbers on them (you can see some in the picture above). This is their point value. Tiles also have two sides – their initial side, which shows their current use and the upgraded side, which typically has better use and is worth more points. The initial side of the tile tells you what you need to upgrade – it is typically either resources or a tool.
However, in order to upgrade tiles, resources must be located on the tile. Tools, however, do not need to be moved to a tile to be used for upgrades. Most resources start on the home tile (those generated during bidding or from other people’s towns), though those generated in your town from a particular tile start on the tile that generated them. Each player’s home tile can be used as a transport and upgrade tool, and other tiles in the game also provide more transport and upgrade capabilities. Below, this player’s upgraded people generating tiles are being used frequently.
And that is the general gist of the game. Bidding & using round, collect people and tiles, buy stuff from a boat, rinse and repeat 3 more times. There is a special mechanic for the last round of bidding, but I’ll let you guys read about that in the rulebook.
Over the course of my play throughs of this game, I’ve made a short list of tips:
1) Early in the game, begin generating resources, even before you own any tiles.
2) Conserve your workers as much as possible. A great way to do this is to use tiles where you are winning the bid.
3) Buy tiles that you think other people will use – it will help you to generate people.
4) Have more than one strategy. By the nature of the game, your strategy WILL get screwed.
5) Transportation and upgrading is important.
6) Upgrading early has benefits and draw backs. The tile is likely to get used a lot, but you will not be able to use it as often as you’d like. On the other hand, this means more people for you.
7) In the final rounds of the game, you will care way less about giving players your people, and care more about what you can get that helps you get points.
Above is a shot of us playing during Orkfest. For me, this game is like a weird combination of worker placement, resource management, and city building (like Suburbia). But it has some tweaks on the standard use of these mechanics that make it pretty unique. It’s not an easy game to learn, but it is very fun and strategic. If you are willing to give it two play throughs, this game is very worth owning. I’m trying to figure out where to place it in my gaming favorites list. I can’t decide a particular spot, but Keyflower is ranking up there with Stone Age and The Manhattan Project.