15th Movember 2016

It was another very quiet night thanks to work commitments and illness, so we started late.  Our numbers were bolstered by the return of Yellow, who visited back in July when he was in the area for work.  Clearly we hadn’t frightened him too much last time and he made a return visit, bringing us up to a total of six.  This gave us two possible options: split into two groups of three, or play something with six players.  With six players, Keyflower is usually in the mix as it plays very well with that number, and indeed it had been part of the “possible plan” for the evening.  However, the “Feature Game” was Key to the City – London which also plays six and is a slightly more streamlined re-implementation of Keyflower.  Since everyone was keen to try it so we decided to give it a go with with the full complement.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic structure of both Keyflower and Key to the City is actually fairly simple, but the strategy behind the games is much more complex.  Both games are played over four rounds with players bidding for tiles to add to their village/borough.  The bidding is particularly unusual as the currency is “Meeples” and, although bidding must increase and “follow suite”, it is free-form, i.e. all the tiles are auctioned simultaneously.  So, players take it in turns to bid, but as the round progresses, players have to decide whether to “spend” Meeples on bidding for other tiles, or whether to keep an emergency supply in case someone tries to out-bid them on a tile they really want.  Tiles are generally worth points at the end of the game, but most also provide some advantage when they are activated during the game.  This could be the provision of a resource, or it could be the opportunity to convert one resource into another.  Any tile in play can be activated by any player placing a Meeple on it.  So players can get a benefit from tiles belonging to other players, or even tiles that are still being auctioned.  Tiles can be activated many times, but each time, the cost goes up and the player must use an extra Meeple.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

When activating tiles, players also have to “follow suit”, so Meeples must be the same colour as any others already there, or, if the tiles is being auctioned, the colour should match any previous bids.  At the end of the round, any Meeples used to activate a tile are returned to the owner of the tile, thus, player’s are effectively paying Meeples to activate other players’ tiles.  And Meeples are valuable, very valuable.  The disadvantage for the tile owner, however, is that once their tile has been activated, they may not have enough Meeples in the correct colour to use the action themselves.  The round is over when every player has passed consecutively, at which point, all losing Meeple-bids are returned to their owner, all winning bids are placed back in the Meeple bag, all tiles are handed to the winner (or removed from the game if there were no bids) and any Meeples used to activate tiles go behind the owners player screen.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Three of the players were familiar with Keyflower, but only one had played Key to the City before, as it was only released at Essen this year.  Although the basic structure of the game is the same, it is slightly simpler and more streamlined.  For example, in Keyflower, green Meeples are “special” and can only be acquired by activating certain tiles making them much rarer.  Thus, players with green Meeples have a big advantage when bidding and activating as it is much harder for other players to follow suit.  In Key to the City on the other hand, there are no green Meeples at all.  Similarly, in Keyflower, tile placement is very important as resources must be located where they are to be used and can only be transported by road (which needs activation in itself).  This is not a consideration for players of Key to the City, however, there is a different positional aspect to the game.  The octagonal wooden resource cylinders that feature in Keyflower are replaced by wooden utility “connectors”.  These are placed across the edge of a tiles and used to link tiles together.  At the end of the game, tiles that are connected together can score points for players with the correct corresponding scoring tiles.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Another significant difference between Keyflower and Key to the City is the way the rounds end.  In Keyflower, players can continue taking it in turns to bid or activate tiles until everyone passes.  In addition to the village tiles, players can also bid for boats which determine the turn order as well as the number and colour of Meeples they get in the next round.  These are not present in Key to the City, instead, players have an additional, one-off option of “sailing”.  When a player passes, they can, as in Keyflower, rejoin the bidding in later turns if they wish.  In Key to the City, players can instead choose to sail, which finishes their round.  This is potentially dangerous as it leaves the player without the option to counter-bid if someone else outbids them.  However, there is an incentive to sail earlier as the first players to sail can choose to take the river tile (which give scoring opportunities) or start the next round, with the earliest adopters thereafter getting more Meeples to use in later rounds.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

With three players unfamiliar with both Keyflower and Key to the City we began with a rundown of the rules as well as highlighting the differences between the games for those who had played Keyflower.  Once done, as everyone looked at their final round tiles, Ivory asked what a winning score might be.  Simultaneously Blue and Yellow responded with “fifty” and “a hundred”!  A quick look through the book showed, much to Yellow’s dismay, that the group’s winning scores for Keyflower have generally been above seventy-five.  As everyone digested this and we began the first round rather tentatively as players were uncertain of the value of the different tiles.  Blue and Yellow were keen to avoid over-paying as they had knew how valuable Meeples could be later in the game when they can get scarce, consequently, they refused to couter-bid beyond their comfort zone and finished the first round with almost nothing between them.  Green, on the other hand, led the way and acquired a lot of tiles with Ivory, Magenta and Pine, all new to the game, following his lead.  It was towards the end of the round that the great rules debate happened.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Yellow and Green had both sailed and the question arose whether sailing counted as passing, because if so, everyone had passed, if not everyone else could continue bidding.  Blue checked the rules which said, “If a player passes they can play again later, unless all the other players who have not already sailed also pass.  If all the remaining players also pass then all players sail in the order that they passed.”  Green was adamant that this could be read either way, and started checking on the BGG rules fora to see if there was discussion on the subject.  By the time he had established that there wasn’t, everyone else had decided that bidding should continue, had done the bidding the wanted and the round was over.  We muddled through the second round in a similar fashion with Yellow and Blue finally taking some tiles and strategies starting to emerge.  Pine and Magenta struggled with the implications and wider objectives of the game, while Ivory (also new to it) purred quietly in the corner as he began to get his head round the game, collected tiles and started to build a strategy.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Magenta started out enticed by the monument tiles while Yellow, struggling to win bids started collecting river tiles and began connecting them and taking tokens to exchange for upgrades.  Ivory, still purring softly in the corner, managed to pick up tiles that required brown and red connectors as well as the Barbican which provided them.  Blue was trying to connect her tiles, but didn’t have the tiles to provide the connectors as they had mostly come out in the first round when she had failed to pick up any tile at all.  Pine was just starting to get his head round the iconography, but getting hold of connectors was proving challenging.  Meanwhile, Green was ominously winning the bids for the buildings that provide Skill tiles, including the Bank of England and the Senate House and seemed to be trying to re-implement his favourite Keyflower strategy.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

As we went into the last round and the final tiles were revealed, everyone looked round and tried to decide what they might get and how far they could to push their luck to get a few extra points. With everyone trying to upgrade their buildings, the need for Skill tiles was great and, since Green had a most of them, he received a lot of Meeples in return, most of which were red.  This inspired him to go for Lords Cricket ground which would give him two points for each one if he could secure it.  Green commented how much he hated cricket at which point he realised that he was winning both the Oval and Lords.  Blue took the Oval from him before Ivory went “all in” with a huge pile of red Meeples, with it taking about twenty points from her.  With their own projects to complete, nobody obstructed Green in his plans and he finished with a massive thirteen red Meeples (and the scoring tile) as well as a very large pile of Skill tiles.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

With the final round over, players began to add up their points.  Although six-player games can be epic, one of the disadvantages is that it can be very difficult to see what players at the opposite end of the table are doing.  Thus, it was only at the end when we went through the scoring that players could really see what everyone else had been doing and where they were getting their points.  Ivory, with his large pile of yellow Meeples, substantial sewage and underground systems finished with a very creditable sixty-six.  This score was exactly matched by Blue who had a vast telecom’s network and had picked up a couple of monuments which she had managed to upgrade to get the full twelve points. It was Green however who finished with the highest score, nearly twenty points ahead of Yellow and Blue thanks largely to a massive twenty-six points for his pile of red Meeples and much the same again for his Skill tiles.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

As we packed up there was the inevitable postmortem.  Magenta and Pine could both see how clever the game was and were keen to give it another try now they had a better understanding of its flow.  Ivory had really enjoyed it too and was also keen to give it, or (Keyflower) another go.  The others focused on the comparison between Key to the City and Keyflower.  Green said he strongly preferred the artwork for Keyflower, while Blue felt that the axonometric projection and sharper style was better suited to the London theme.  She also commented that if Key to the City had been released first, it would have received all the plaudits and Keyflower would have felt “more fiddly”, consequently, perhaps Key to the City was a better game to learn with.  The overwhelming consensus though, was that a typical game collection didn’t really need both, but we’d happily play either.  As Magenta and Ivory headed off, discussion moved on to the current KickStarter for Keyper, which it turned out, two of us had backed, but we won’t see more of that for another year.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

There was just time for a quick game to close with, and we settled on Isis & Osiris.  This was a another game picked up at Essen and had got its first outing two weeks ago.  Green was the only player who had been part of that game however, so we all needed a run-through of the rules, which were simple enough.  At the start, players are dealt a pile of tiles, face down, and get a handful of octagonal wooden blocks in their colour.  Game play is very simple: on their turn, the active player can either place a tile face down, first showing it to everyone else, or they can place a block.  At the end of the game, all the tiles are turned face up and players score points for those tiles orthogonally adjacent to their blocks.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

As players played their wooden blocks, the following players turned over negative tiles and placed them next to them, ensuring lots of negative scores.  As more and more negative tiles put in an appearance, we were all wondering what had happened to the positive ones.  By about half-way through we were were certain they had to appear soon, but with four players, some of the tiles are removed from the game, and we were all coming to the conclusion that those tiles were all the high scoring ones. As it turned out, that wasn’t quite the case, though the balance of the tiles in the box was definitely on the positive side.  Once all the spaces had been filled, we turned over the tiles and it became clear that one wooden block made all the difference.  With three of us finishing with negative totals, it looked a lot like the score line from an episode of QI, but it was Pine that finished with a massive “plus seven QI points” to win the game.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some games need to be played more than once.

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