Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele

Keltis (German version of Lost Cities: the boardgame) was a game that surprised me. I didn't have much expectations, and wanted to play it only because it finally won Reiner Knizia the Spiel des Jahres award. I was surprised that I quite enjoyed it, despite the simplicity and the abstractness. So when I found out about the expansion, I decided to get it.

The Game

The expansion is basically a new board and some tokens. Instead of five straight paths, the board now has crisscrossing paths, and the 5 colours are mixed up among the various paths. Like in the base game, to move a pawn one step, you still need to play a card of the same colour as the next space that the pawn will move to. But now the paths are interconnected and are made up of sections of different colours, so things are not so straight-forward anymore. Also now there is no one-path-one-pawn restriction. You can get all 5 five pawns to follow the exact some path if you want to, and if you are able to.

The tokens in the game are replaced with smaller, round ones. There is a new type, showing a card. It allows you to discard one card from your hand or from among your topmost played cards. This can be very useful under the right situations. The lucky stones now come in five colours instead of just green. They score in two different ways - how many colours you collect, and whether you collect three of the same colour (a little like the monuments in Ra).

The new board. This is a starting setup. Notice that for the coloured stones there is always one stack plus one single stone for each colour.

The Play

Michelle and I have played a few games of Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele. I was quite surprised how the game changed. It suddenly became much more complex, more so than I expected. The decisions became much tougher. Some are downright painful - what to gamble on and what to give up, what goals to target and what opportunities to sacrifice.

The set up of the game board can change even more dramatically from game to game, more so than in the base game. At the start of the game you already need to analyse the board, together with your starting hand. Sometimes there are very attractive paths with many one-free-step tokens. Sometimes there are paths allowing you to collect many stones, sometimes of the same colour, sometimes of different colours. Some spaces are "joker" spaces, which means you can play a card of any colour to move a pawn onto them. They can be very tempting to use at times. They can also give you some flexibility, but of course at the cost of committing a pawn.

At five fixed spaces, stacks of stones are set up. Each stack has 5 stones of the same colour. There are 5 other stones (each in a different colour) which are randomly distributed for each game. The distribution of these stones can affect your strategy on how you want to collect stones.

In the games that Michelle and I had played, we tried various different approaches - emphasising on collecting stones, making use of the one-free-step tokens to advance our pawns quickly, emphasising on the bonus points tokens, etc. I was surprised that the decisions in the game were much tougher that I had expected. The possibilities had increased a lot, and quite often I felt very very stuck - not in the way that I was completely stuck and had no choice, which would mean I didn't need much time to make my next move, but in the way that I had many unpleasant choices to make, and I was forced to choose one. Should I sacrifice the cards of one colour? Should I give up collecting some specific coloured stones?

The race element is very much still in. The single stone spaces drive this. Also towards game end, it can be a race to get your pawns to cross the safety line (i.e. game end triggering condition). However I do find that in this expansion (at least with 2P games) it is harder to get 5 pawns in total to cross the safety line. We often run low on useable cards, or pawns in useful positions, and we more often end the game by exhausting the draw deck compared to the base game.

Two of my white pawns, one tall and one short, have reached the same 10pt spot. In this expansion you are not restricted to one pawn per path, because the concept of 5 independent paths does not exist anymore.

I played a 3-player game with Chong Sean and Michelle, and it's very different from the 2-player game. It is much tougher to move many pawns to the end of the paths. You simply don't have much time to do this, because the game end is still triggered by 5 pawns in total crossing the safety line. In our game, I moved 4 (out of 5) pawns, while Chong Sean and Michelle only focused on 2 each. They quickly moved all their pawns to the end area, while I struggled with my 4 pawns all far behind still on negative point spaces or on low points spaces. Eventually Michelle moved one more pawn. At game end none of my pawns crossed the safety line. I kept them on the line exactly (8pt spaces). I realised it wasn't such a bad idea, because even if I moved those extra spaces to the end, I'd get only 10pts. This is one interesting aspect of the game, the points along the paths go up and down, so it is desirable to stop your pawns at the peaks. You'd only want to move it further if you are confident that you can reach the next peak, or if there are some nice tokens along the way.

To my surprise, I actually won this game narrowly, because I had been collecting many stones.

The Thoughts

Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele is definitely not just another simple variation of Keltis. It adds many excruciating decisions to the game, and feels very different from the base game. I would even say this is not a game for casual players, unlike the base game, which is quite non-gamer friendly. I highly recommend the game, even if you have tried and did not like Keltis.

No comments: