a Richard Breese "Key" game
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The object of the game in Key Harvest is to score the most points. Players score points by placing tiles on their own country board. One point is scored for each field tile in the player's largest group of connected field tiles and two points for each tile in their second largest connected group.
Points are also scored for the worker tiles a player places on their country board. The number of points scored for each worker is equal to the number on the worker tile. Worker tiles do not count as connecting tiles when calculating the largest group of tiles. When played, a worker enables a player to take a special action. Each player has their own team of six workers, known as farmhands. There are also six townsfolk who can be acquired by any player.
I thoroughly enjoy many of British designer Richard Breese’s creations, and count Reef Encounter and Keythedral amongst my favorite games. I have been quite impressed how he has weaved the “Keydom” story through a series of fine games. The latest in this series is Key Harvest, which has players obtaining fields to grow and harvest crops. It isn’t exactly the most exciting theme, but success depends upon careful planning and clever manipulation.
I must admit that the game’s components and artwork didn’t exactly excite me. There are a lot of cardboard present, as well as wooden cubes representing the crops. The artwork on the player “country” boards is muted gray and very, very bland. The fields do come to life when the crop tiles are placed, but the numbered grids give everything a mathematical feel that will likely primarily appeal to those with a scientific or engineering background. The central “town” board is only slightly more attractive, as it does contain some color. The saving grace, as in all “Key” games, is the characters, which are always appealing.
Each player receives a “country” board, which depicts a hexagonal grid, each with a unique letter / number combination ranging from A1 to G7. Two tiles are placed onto this board to begin a player’s fields. In addition, they each receive a general store, whereupon they can place in reserve up to two tiles. Players begin the game with a set of six farmhand tiles, each with a special ability, as well as three crop counters. More worker tiles are available from the town board, which also displays six field tiles from which players can select during their turn.
The objective of the game is to build fields, and strategically use the workers to maximize crop production and the growth of the fields. Ultimately, points are earned for players’ largest two fields, as well as the farmhand and worker tiles they have employed in their fields.
Each turn, a player may perform two out of four possible actions:
Players must be judicious when selecting tiles to place in their general store. The only way to remove them from the store and free-up valuable space is to either place them on your own country board, or have an opponent take them. Taking an undesirable tile can clog a player’s general store and severely limit a player’s options.
It is important to note that the above actions can be performed in any order – except that action #4 cannot be performed BEFORE action #3. This prevents a player from taking a tile from the town board and placing into his field on the same turn.
Whenever a tile is taken from the town board, a replacement is immediately drawn from the tile bag. The mix of tiles contains a dozen event tiles, which ultimately trigger the end of the game. When an event tile is drawn, it is resolved immediately, and a new tile is drawn until there are six field tiles on the town board. Event tiles trigger a variety of occurrences, and often provide players with the opportunity to purchase tiles or crop cubes. When the tenth event tile is drawn, the game enters its final stage, with each layer taking two more turns.
There is a potential delay to the game ending, however. When the seventh event tile is drawn, a check is made to see how many field and worker tiles are in play on each player’s boards. If any player has fewer than seven field and worker tiles in play, two event tiles are returned to the bag, thus extending the game a bit more.
The event tile / end game mechanism is bothersome to me. In the games I’ve played, the event tiles have emerged quickly, and the game speeds to what feels like a premature conclusion. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to develop a long-term plan or strategy. When playing with four players, twelve of the fifty-four tiles in the bag are events, which equates to more than 20%. Since tiles are drawn from the bag frequently, the game does go quite fast. Knowing how meticulous Richard Breese is, I am confident that the game has been carefully play-tested and that he is satisfied with the length. For me, though, it just seems to end too quickly.
When the game does end, players score points as follows:
Of course, the player with the most points is victorious.
The game certainly provides decent latitude for clever play and tactics. As mentioned, properly utilizing workers is a key, as is collecting tiles so as to grow two fields of approximately the same size so as to maximize points. Players should try to employ as many workers as possible to take advantage of their special abilities and to earn victory points. Being able to subsequently re-position these workers is also important.
While the game does have significant strategic elements, it just fails to sufficiently excite me. It is a good game with interesting challenges, but it just seems to lack that special spark that elevates games to a higher level. I have enjoyed it a bit more with subsequent playings, but not as much as I enjoy others in the “Key” series. That’s not meant to be a condemnation, but rather a compliment on just how high the bar has been set by Breese’s previous designs.