Tag Archives: Key to the City – London

Essen 2017

It is that time of year again when the gamers’ minds turn to Essen and – The Internationale Spieltage.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid/late-October every year and is the one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions with many new releases and timed to coincide with the end of October.  This year the first day will be this Thursday, 26th October and games, publishers and their wares are all making their way to Germany for four days of fun and games.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag-en.com

Last year several of the group went, and they came back with a lot of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, and Orléans and picked up some new games like Key to the City – London, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails and Cottage Garden.  This year, new games include Queendomino, Indian Summer, Altiplano and Keyper, with expansions to old favourites like Isle of Skye, Imhotep, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars and Splendor as well.  Once again, several locals are going and they are sure to bring back some interesting toys to play with over the coming months.

Keyper
– Image used with permission of designer Richard Breese

16th May 2017

Since Red had been hankering after playing the “Feature Game” for a year or so, the first thing we had to do was work out who was going to play it.  With Burgundy starting his pizza, and Red and Blue’s still to come, we decided to play something to keep Pine occupied while we waited to see who else was coming.  We were just setting out Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen) when Purple and Black arrived closely followed by Green.  Pine was sure Ivory wasn’t coming, so with two copies of the “Feature Game” to hand, we then began a debate about how to divide the group into two.  At this point, the matter was sort of settled by Ivory’s arrival, so the four player comfortably ensconced at “the wrong table” continued setting up their “goaty game” while the others migrated back to our usual, now vacated table.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen) is a simple little “push your luck” game, based on Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un), but with a moving target.  Thus the idea is to collect cards up to a limit, but exceeding that limit yields a score of zero and the player is “bust”.   So, players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round a score equal to the total number of goats heads on the sides of the cards.  Unfortunately, they get to lead again and worse, the player in last place gets to add a card to “Goat Island” and choose whether to contribute the larger or smaller number to the limit.  Burgundy went bust first taking the first two hands, followed by Red.  When Blue dumped a nice large card onto a trick Pine was winning he went out too, leaving Blue to take all the final trick.  The only question was whether she had managed to stay within the limit, but finishing with twelve, and given a limit of twelve she just squeaked in to win.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With that done, and the pizzas also taken care of, it was time for Keyflower, the “Feature Game”.  This is one of the group’s favourite games, but has been someone neglected of late.  On checking back, we found it was two years since we last played it, though we had played Keyflower’s little brother, Key to the City – London (released at Essen last year), more recently.  Both games have the same general flow, using the same tile laying and auction mechanism, but with different tiles and resources used in different ways.  The basic mechanism is quite simple, though the resultant game is much deeper.  The game is played over four rounds or Seasons,  with players taking it in turns to bid on a tile, carry out an action or pass.  Once everyone has passed in succession, the round is over, and the tiles are are added to the winning players’ villages.  After four rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is that the bidding and actions are both carried out with Keyples (which is what meeples are called in these games).  So, on their turn, the active player can bid for one of the tiles.  If that tile already has a bid against it, then the active player must follow suit by bidding with the same colour and with at least one additional Keyple, thus increasing the bid.  Only winning bids are paid for at the end of the round, with loosing bids are returned to their owner, which is just as well because Keyples are scarce, very scarce.  In fact, losing bids belong to their owner during the round too as players can move losing bids and use them elsewhere adding more Keyples if necessary.  On their turn, players can also activate tiles by placing Keyples on the tile which gives a resource or an action.  These resources are then placed on the tile or, in the case of skill tiles, placed behind their player screen.  There are several different actions available, but one of the key things players will want to do during the game is upgrade tiles.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles are double-sided:  when a tile is first added to a village, it has a corresponding action, but upgrading and turning it over will make it more useful.  For example, the Workshop tile gives either one coal, one wood or one stone, but when upgraded gives one of each. Tiles can typically be activated three times each Season, but players must follow colour suit and the cost increases by one each time; tiles can hold a maximum of six Keyples.  One of the more unusual things about Keyflower is that players can activate the tiles in other peoples’ Villages.  This is interesting because the first player to activate a tile dictates the colour for the rest of the round, so if an opponent activates a tile with “the wrong colour” it can make life very difficult for the Village owner.  On the other hand, since all Keyples working in the Villages return home and go behind the owners’ screens at the end of the Season, activating a tile in someone else’s Village is effectively giving them valuable Keyples.  Perhaps one of the most interesting thing about the game is that strategies almost never turn out quite the way people plan.  Other players can innocently make a tile too expensive or even completely unattainable by starting bidding with “the wrong colour”.

– Image by boardGOATS

Also, although the tiles are well balanced, depending on player count, some tiles are not introduced into the game which can make it difficult to get that resource that was essential to a that particular strategy.  This means that players tend to do best by keeping their options open for as long as possible and then trying to bring it all together at the end.  At the start of the game, each player is given some tiles for the final round, Winter and each player can choose which of these they want to make available to the highest bidder.  They can choose as many as they like to introduce, though they must include at least one.  This decision doesn’t have to be made until the start of the final round, so although they don’t direct players’ strategy exactly, they can give people a bit of a general steer.  The first group of players were Green, Black, Purple and Ivory.  Green, Black, and Purple have played Keyflower quite a bit over the years, and although Ivory was new to the game, he had played Key to the City – London, which has a lot of similarities.  This made the group quite experienced, but that is certainly no guarantee of success in Keyflower.  And how many points make success, was something Ivory asked before they started and received the reply from the other side of the room, “Over a hundred!”, to which, everybody laughed.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Spring is the Season for resources, and Purple led the way by picking up the Key Mine, Key Wood and Keystone Quarry tiles providing coal, wood and stone.  Although a strong start, sometimes it is easy to get carried away with bidding which can result in a shortage of Keyples for later rounds.  On the other hand, if the tiles are particularly useful, they can prove a valuable source of Keyples when other players are tempted to activate them.  Unfortunately for Purple, Ivory picked up the Workshop and quickly upgraded it making it a much more enticing tile.  Purple’s cause was not helped by Green who was being particularly parsimonious with his Keyples as he had the Craftsmans’ Guild as one of his Winter tiles and was hoping to make it pay at the end of the game.  Useful actions can be a double-edged sword however, as Black found out to his cost when everyone kept activating his tiles before he got the chance, and generally with colours that he did not have.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Going into the final round, everyone’s plans were on a knife edge.  Black’s plans fell apart when, after picking up the Stone Yard (which rewards players for getting stone), in a fit of enthusiasm he upgraded his mason tile.  This meant that instead of turning skills tiles into stone, he could now turn them into gold, which is very nice, but was worth about half the number of points to him as well as being a lot more interesting to everyone else.  As Winter progressed, the bidding got more determined and everybody had to fight their corner, but especially Green and Ivory.  Ivory took the boat tile Green was after, but failed to stop Green winning the Craftsmans’ Guild.  Ivory had been quietly collecting skills tiles and squirrelling them away behind his screen, and it was clear why when the Scribes tile appeared at the start of Winter.  Green made his move early, putting in a large bid to try to stop him from getting it, but when Ivory countered, Green couldn’t afford to increase the bid further.  In fact, it wouldn’t have helped if he’d been able to continue, because Ivory had a number of Keyples in reserve, just in case.  And it was those reserve Keyples that clinched it, with Ivory winning with seventy-six points, twenty-one points ahead of Green in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

On the other table, things went a little differently.  While Blue and Burgundy had played Keyflower a lot and it was one of their favourite games, Pine had only played Key to the City – London, and Red was completely new to the game, though she had been hankering after giving it a go for a ages.  In this game, Pine started off very strongly and then proceeded to build a very nicely balanced little village coveted by both Blue and Burgundy.  With both the Miner and the Gold Mine tiles as well as as the Smelter, Pine had access to coal and lots valuable gold and the others felt he only needed a couple of nice Winter tiles to top it off for a really high score.  Burgundy picked up the Keystone Quarry giving him plenty of stone once he had upgraded it.  As it was, Burgundy’s Workshop was in high demand for those who needed timber for upgrading their home tiles, but the almost complete lack of wood in any Village, became apparent when the Timberyard and Sawmill tiles both appeared in autumn and nobody had any wood to do anything with them.  Burgundy’s problems were exacerbated by the shortage of tiles that would give points for stone.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Having bid for a lot of tiles in the opening round, and won none Blue was left trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and cobble together a score from the Apprentice Hall and the flotilla of boats she ended up with at the end of Spring.  As she was completely new to the game, Red found herself a little overwhelmed by the amount the game gives players to think about.  While the mechanics are fairly straightforward, there are a lot of considerations to take into account when bidding and, unlike the arguably slightly simpler Key to the City – London, getting resources to the right location can be challenging.  Red started off with the Peddler tile in spring, which enabled her to swap yellow Keyples for special green Keyples.  This gave her an early start going for the Key Market Winter tile that she had in her hand (which rewards players for the number of green Keyples they have at the end of the game) with the added bonus that she would be in a strong position to bid with green Keyples if she needed to.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite having a fair idea what people had, somehow the Winter tiles were still a bit of a surprise and the scrap began as players tried to make they didn’t lose out.  With the other game finishing first, the others came over to spectate and see how their game had compared. Burgundy got his Craftmans’ Guild tile and, tried to stop Blue picking up both the Key Guild and the Scholar, but with both in the game, it was odds on that Blue would get one.  In the end she managed to take both and having a huge pile of skill tiles to go with them gave her a healthy number of points.  Pine took the Keythedral and decided to fight for his choice of end game boat tile, taking the Keyflower tile giving him points for his transport abilities.  As everyone was a little short on Keyples except Blue (largely thanks to having not spent any on bidding during the game) was also able to pick up the Village Hall (and score points for the large number of Red Keyples she had amassed) as well as picking up sixteen points for her sizeable river.  These gave her a total just shy of that magic hundred, and thirty-seven points ahead of Pine who’s lovely little village gave him an excellent second place.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

With the other group not staying to watch the packing away, Pine, Burgundy, Blue and Red felt they needed something quite quick and fun to lighten the mood before bed, indeed a bit 6 Nimmt!-a-like.  With that in mind, we went for 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, which has a similar run building and picking up cards element as 6 Nimmt!, but a little more strategy, or at least, an illusion of more strategy.  The idea is that on their turn they play one card from their hand and add it to one of three rows, in its correct numerical order.  If it is the fifth card added to the row (in any position) they have to pick up cards and add them to their collection.  The cards they pick up depend on where the card was added however:  if the new card is the last in the row, the player picks up the first card in that sequence, otherwise they take all cards higher in number.  The cards come in seven different colours; at the end of the game one card of a colour will score one point while two cards will score five, but three will score minus three.  Thus, players are ideally trying to collect two of each colour, but three is one too many…

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first player to have at least one of each colour face up collects an intermediate bonus, which diminishes for players who achieve this feat later in the game.  Players with six or seven different colours at the end of the game receive five or ten bonus points respectively.  Each player starts with a hand of eight cards and a face down deck of twelve cards.  When they have played their hand down to the last two cards, they can draw back up to eight.  This introduces just a little bit of stress during the game, and prepares players for the inevitable stress at the end.  And stress there was a plenty.  Blue had played the game a few times with Pink and found it interesting, however, with four it has added spice, especially towards the end.  Blue picked up the first intermediate swiftly followed by Pine and then Red.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy is well known for his muttering, but this time he had Pine for company.  In fact, Pine soon surpassed Burgundy, muttering about how nasty the game was.  When it came to the end-game scoring it was clear that he had something to mutter about finishing with almost as many negative points as positive ones and he was only saved from the ignominy of a negative score by the intermediate bonus he had collected.  Perhaps she was too tired to moan or maybe she didn’t feel the need, but Red quietly just got on with the game and, with perfect timing, took the full ten point bonus at the end of the round.  With Burgundy doing the same, it was close at the tome, but Burgundy just sneaked in ahead of Red, finishing five points clear with forty-seven points.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It may be Nasty, but “The Nasty Game” is Good Fun!

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.

Essen 2016

It is that time of year when, the leaves fall from the trees and gamers visit Germany.  No, Oktoberfest isn’t the draw (that happens in September anyhow), this is an altogether different annual German “festival” – The Internationale Spieltage, which is held in Essen.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid-October every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Last year there was a bit of a paucity of new games and it seemed to be all about expansions.  This year, while there are still plenty of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, Orléans and Ca$h ‘n Guns etc., there are also a lot of new games based on old favourites.  For example, there is Key to the City – London (which has a lot of elements of one of our favourite games, Keyflower), Jórvík (an update and re-theme of Die Speicherstadt), X Nimmt! (a variant on the popular but chaotic 6 Nimmt!), and the latest incarnation of the Ticket to Ride series, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails.  There will be plenty of other interesting original games too though, including The Oracle of DelphiA Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden and The Colonists.  Several members of the group are going this year, and they’ll no doubt bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga