Sunday, 17 May 2020

Keyflower



I played Keyflower for the first time during the COVID-19 Movement Control Order period in Malaysia. It is not a new game. It's just that I never found a time to try it out. Since we couldn't go out to meet people for boardgame sessions, Allen, Han and I arranged to play online using BoardGameArena.

The Game

A big part of the game is the bidding mechanism. The game is played over 4 rounds, and the first half of a round is bidding for (mostly) tiles. Your currency is workers, and they come in four different colours. Red, yellow and blue are regular workers. Green is rare workers which you can only get under special circumstances.

The first person who bids on an item decides which colour will be used. Subsequent bidders trying to outbid him must use workers of the same colour. This makes green workers very powerful and valuable. When you use green, others may not have enough green workers to outbid you, or may not think it worthwhile.

Tiles that you win through the bidding are added to your village, which starts with one village centre tile. You also bid for player order. At the top left you can see three ships with workers and tools. These are resources which will enter the game next round. Based on player order, you will pick which set of resources to claim next round.

At the bottom are our villages. We had just started growing them. The tiles have various powers, e.g. producing resources, converting resources. To use the power of a tile, you just need to place a worker (or more) on it. You may already start using the power of a tile that is still in the common pool and not yet claimed by anyone. You may also use a tile already in another player's village, just that the worker you place there will become his next round.

The tiles are double-sided. You may upgrade them to the more powerful side by spending resources. Also you gain victory points when upgrading a tile to the other side. To do this upgrade, you need to not only have the necessary resources, you also need to deliver them to that tile. Some tiles generate resources. Sometimes you gain resources at your village centre. You need to perform deliveries to transport resources to the desired destinations. Deliveries are simply one type of tile power. The village centre has such a power, but it is not strong. You usually need more tiles with delivery powers if you want to be competitive.

Some tiles are for end-game scoring. Everyone gets three such scoring tiles at the start of the game, and they are kept secret from other players. You get to plan ahead based on these tiles. In the screenshot above, this scoring tile gives me 10pts for every set of three different tools. At the start of Round 4, everyone must pick at least one scoring tile from his hand to be added to the bidding pool. You have had time to plan to fulfill the scoring criteria, so usually you will be aiming for those tiles you add to the pool. However it is not guaranteed that you will get these tiles. You still need to win them through the bidding process. Usually you'll try to release tiles which are helpful to you but not to your opponents. This way they are less motivated to fight you for these tiles. However if some tiles are too good for you, your opponents may be forced to compete just to deny you, even if the tiles don't help them much.

After winning some tiles, your next problem will be where to place them. This stage of a round is a little like Carcassonne. The sides of the tiles must match up. Road with road, river with river, field with field. You want your village to be compact to minimise delivery distances. You want to be efficient. Sometimes tile placement affects scoring. Ideally even when bidding you should already plan where you'll be placing the tiles you will potentially win.

The village in the centre is Allen's. At one point he messed up his planning, and his village expanded in an unwieldy fashion.

This particular scoring tile gives you 12pts straight, without needing to fulfill any criteria.

I had added to the pool one scoring tile which was particularly important to me - the tile which would give me 10pts per set of 3 different tools. I had been saving up my tools for it. Unfortunately Allen competed for it and won it. That tile would probably have given me 30pts, and that would be about half my total score. When I bid for the tile, I was stingy and tried to win it with a low bid. Allen knew it was important to me, and he outbid me. I did not have enough workers to continue the fight. I lost the forest because I went cheap on one tree. Aarrgghh! Priorities!!

The Play

The bidding aspect in Keyflower reminds me of trick-taking games. Once anyone starts bidding for an item, the colour (or suit) for that item is locked. You may not have many workers in every colour, but if you are quick, you can protect your bid for a particular item by using your strongest suit or others' weakest suits. Managing your currency (workers) is an important tactical element.

From the beginning of the game you already have 3 scoring criteria in hand, and you can prepare to fulfill them as much as possible throughout the game. This is the long-term strategy aspect of the game. You do long-term planning. You develop your village based on some general goals. It is satisfying to grow and improve your settlement. There is a fair bit of optimisation. Min-maxing. You want to plan carefully and play efficiently, minimising delivery distances, fully utilising the delivery action, producing just enough resources for what you need.

There is also a worker placement aspect to the game, though not a "hard" one. During the bidding stage of a round, you can already decide to place workers to use tile powers. Being first to use a tile does not prevent others from using it. You just make it more expensive. Being first to bid for a tile does not prevent others from outbidding you, just that if you do your first bid well, you can make it expensive and undesirable for others to outbid you. The decision between bidding for a tile and using a tile is often a difficult one to make. There are many things you want to do, but you can only pick one on your turn. You watch your opponents and try to guess what they will likely go for.

The Thoughts

Player interaction is high. Complexity is medium to high. This is quite an involved strategy game that will give you a good mental exercise.

No comments: