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Keytown is the third in the series of 'Key' games and contains the familiar mix of skill, constant interaction and decision making. Each player controls a team of townsfolk, which they promote as the new leaders of Keytown. In the 'olden days' (in the game Keydom) these teams specialized in different activities: mining, fishing, forestry, brewing and farming. With the passing of time, the townsfolk became skilled in each of these activities. They then aspired to gain further skills and experience as churchmen, councilors and tradesmen. With these new skills came seniority, prestige and high standing amongst their peers. Keytown is played over four rounds; each round represents a generation in the lives of the townsfolk, during which the townsfolk may work or study in the resource locations, gain new skills in the church, council or market, or start a family in a cottage. After four generations, one of these teams is destined to emerge as the new leaders of Keytown. The winner of the game is the player whose townsfolk are collectively held in the most esteem at the end of round four. Like Keydom, contents include full-colour board and counters, wooden cubes and counters. Rules and components are in English and German. Games are numbered and production is limited to 500 copies.
I like this game more and more each time that I play it. At first, the counterintuitive mechanics did indeed cause some confusion, but when a clearer understanding of what was being simulated finally emerged, I fell in love with Keytown.
There are so many clever things in this simple game, I don't know where to begin. The phase of openly laying tiles is interesting as players jockey for position. The rotating phase of allocating cubes is quite tense as you realize the cubes that you're placing on opponent tiles will possibly be used against you next turn! The 'distraction' (harlot) purple tile gives you a one-time chance to hamper another player. The multiplier counters offer an opportunity to create uncertainty and to bluff. Cottages, where tiles can procreate and thus increase your pool, add yet another strategy element. The option to change the player turn order, at an ever increasing VP cost, is intriguing. The fact that tiles are worth VP's equal to their squared value, not just their added value, encourage players to attempt the difficult task of advancing their higher-numbered pieces. I could go on....
Sure, the board did not lay flat, and the box was a bit flimsy, but do not judge this title based on a single play. KEYTOWN has been a big hit with my group, and is easily one of my favorite Euro's of the past year. As mentioned, the rules (with examples) are seamless, as is the flow of play.
I cannot rate this item against the designer's previous efforts in this series (Keydom and Keywood) as I have never seen, let alone played, those rare games. Nonetheless, Keytown stands tall on its own merits--this is a terrific package, and well worth your time and money.
Some games feel like they were cut out with a cookie cutter. Another wargame with the same mechanics as hundreds before it, or the latest makeover of Monopoly. It isn't often that a game feels like a labor of love.
Keytown is the latest in the well-received Key series by Richard Breese. Each of the games has been better than its predecssor, if the newsgroups are to be believed, and even the first was quite good for a first-time design.
Keytown, as described elsewhere on this page, is a competition for prestige over the course of four generations of Keytowner life. Players start with identical clans of peasants, and devote them one at a time to various pursuits around the beautiful board. Some clan members may try to gain prestige directly in the three main town sites, or engage in somewhat more 'entertaining' pursuits, which lead to new family members. Or they can work the fields, forests, mines, and so on, gaining the materials needed to further their goals.
Each turn takes a number of rounds, each devoted to a different activity, and players feel constantly involved, as they must react to the placements of each other player. There is a very real ability in this game to mess with another player, but this usually allows the other player to return the 'compliment' on the next round. Keytown can turn very, very nasty.
At first glance, the game does not appear to be a cutthroat gaming experience. Indeed, it looks like rather light fare. Do not be fooled. This is backstabbing at its best and most blackhearted. This is definitely a think piece, too, with tough decisions every turn. It is for this reason that I do not give it full marks. If it were a bit lighter and more family-accessible I would have no qualms about giving it 5 of 5.
Oh, yes, and the board would have to lie flat, too! :)
I totally disagree with the previous review. I found the artwork to be very pleasing, and often humorous if you looked closely enough. We also had the problem with the board not laying flat, but that's not a big deal.
As described in the summary, the theme of the game involves making your family the most prominent and powerful in the village. Maybe the bidding doesn't make too much sense in the theme of the game, but then again it's basically an abstract game. How many other great German games have loosely fitted themes?
In the first phase, you place tiles throughout the different sections of the board. This is where you can help yourself by deciding what aspect of the game to focus on for this round.
Later, in the cube placing phase (or bidding) you put cubes on the previously laid tiles. This is where the game really stands out. In order to climb your way up the social ladder, you have to step on everyone else! For the most part, you can't really place cubes that help you, only cubes that hurt your opponents. Unfortunately, any cubes you place on an opponent's tiles are kept by that player for use against you the next round. This makes for some bitter rivalries and sneaky backstabbing, much like real social climbing. For any gamers who have complained about games not having enough player interaction, this is the game for you.
Overall, I found it to be a fascinating game of checks and balances, with far more things you want to do in a phase/turn than you are able to do. Both of these are hallmarks of a good game.
Keytown is the third [page scan/se=0856/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]"Key" series game from Richard Breese, following the limited release of Keywood and then the more popular Keydom (tweaked and republished as Morgenland or Aladdin's Dragons). Keytown is the shortest of the three and the least complex, yet it feels somewhat similar in play despite using completely new mechanics.
The good folk of Keydom are several generations older, and rather than fight for basic resources as in that game they are now focused on their own development. Each player begins with six tiles representing their population, each with a '1' value. Through the game, players attempt to develop their tiles by upgrading from one to two, two to three, etc. all the way to five if possible. They also add to their original stock of six tiles by raising family members. The winner is the player with the highest total as measured by the sum of the squares of each tile less any payments they've made to the town treasury along the way.
This goal is accomplished through a simple mechanic that works well enough though has a few problems. The board of Keytown contains four areas: five resource locations designated by color, three town locations, five cottages, and the common treasury area. Each round begins with players placing tiles on the resource, town, or cottage locations. The town and cottage spaces are limited, but the resource areas can take any number of tiles. Placing in the resource area means that you want to take some resources (cubes or counters) of that color. Placing in the town means that you want to try to have that tile upgraded to the next level. Placing in a cottage means that you want to add a tile or tiles to your collection by raising a family.
After the placements are made, each resource area is resolved. Typically everyone gets everything they ask for, but if cubes run short then those who wanted the most or played the highest value tiles take first. There are two counters for each resource area, placed face down, that contain a '0' or a '2' value and these can be taken instead of a resource cube but only one per turn per player. With the tiles placed and resources gained, the cube placement phase begins.
By resource type (color), players place cubes on the tiles in the town and cottage areas, with the goal of ensuring that your tiles will be the ones upgraded or the ones to give birth. This is the central mechanic in the game, as once all the cubes of each color are placed only the lowest value tiles in each location will get what they desire. Lowest value means their value compared with those competing for the same space, and the value is determined by counting the number on the tile itself plus the value of each resource cube placed on it. So, you spend most of your time putting your resources on other players' tiles in an attempt to force their values up, making yours the underdog. In the towns, only the two or three lowest value tiles are upgraded (depending on the number of players), and in the cottages only the lowest value tile (of two needed to create a family) procreates. In the town, if multiple tiles tie for lowest above the maximum that can be upgraded, no one gets upgraded. In the cottages, tiles of the same value will produce one offspring each, but if one tile is lower value it will produce the two offspring for itself. Offspring from a cottage means additional '1' value tiles for use in the next rounds.
The counters mentioned in the resource area add a strategic dimension to the cube values. While there are five different types of resources designated by color, there is no difference in how each affects the value of the tiles on which they are placed except for the effect of the same color counter. During the resource placing phase, a counter can be placed face down in the town area and it will affect every resource cube of that color, either neutralizing it ('0') or doubling its value ('2'). Thus, having a stock of different color resources is essential since any single color may not have the effect you intend.
After the chosen tiles are upgraded or give birth, players take back their tiles including every cube that was placed on them during the round. Thus, a small compensation for having your tile value increased beyond upgrade potential is a stock of resource cubes for the next round. The game takes place over only four rounds, through, so this value is limited and only helps in rounds two and three.
It should be obvious that the player order of these events is quite significant, and it is here that Keytown introduces an interesting idea. The game begins by auctioning off the right to choose a start player; the winner of the auction pays this amount by marking a spot of the Treasury with a cube of their tile color. At any point in the game, however, any player can stop the action and change the start player by paying a higher fee to the Treasury. At game end, payments to the Treasury are subtracted from your score, so manipulating the start player is a carefully considered decision.
There are values to being both the start player and the end player per round. On balance, being the end player is most valuable since you place each of the resources cubes last and can thus have your influence hold. On the other hand, playing earlier gives three distinct advantages. One is the ability to first place a color counter in a town area, since only one counter of each color can be placed per round. If, as the last player, I'm planning on pummeling your tile with a hoard of yellow resources cubes, it won't help if someone earlier placed the yellow '0' counter in that town area. Second, the first player will be able to get more of their tiles in the places they want them, namely the town spaces and secondarily the cottage spots. In several games, the first player won by fact of being able to get more tiles upgraded in the last round. The third and final benefit of going first is that the start player determines the order that the resource cubes are placed on the tiles. This allows the start player to bias the placement for their largest holdings later in the placement round for best effect.
Overall, this is an interesting set of mechanics that results in fairly fast play but with some definite downsides. The most significant comes from the fact that the Treasury allows donations from one to ten singularly, then the bids jump by tens up to 50. In practice, it is punitive to bid higher than 10 since the value can almost never justify the expense. It also makes little sense to bid 7 or eight, however, since it will cost incrementally little for someone to outbid you and reclaim the order they desire. It's possible that the higher values of the treasury could make sense in a game where several tiles are upgraded to four or five, but that seems rare. It is not uncommon for the start player decision to be frozen by mid game because of the aggressive bidding scale on the Treasury. The fundamental mechanic here works, but it seems that it should be tweaked in some way to adjust for this likely undesired effect.
The next consideration is the evolution of play over the four rounds. In round one, the emphasis is on getting some resource cubes and counters, but with only six number one tiles there aren't too many options. Thus, tiles are upgraded fairly easily and babies are born without conflict. Rounds two and three become more interesting as the resource tally goes up as do the number of tile placements, but by round four it is an all-out cube fest that defines 'fiddly' at its extreme. Imagine five closely spaced tiles each with 10-20 cubes on them vying for contention with each other, and it should be clear that no one can sneeze until the round is over. On top of that, it is often difficult to read the base value of the tile.
The last drawback--and others may heartily disagree with this point as a drawback--is the completely transparent strategy that is revealed with each tile and cube placement. The game takes on a decidedly negative tone as people pile cubes on to your tile to ensure that your three does not become a four, allowing other players to upgrade easily as a result. This leader bashing is hardly unique to Keytown, but it so consistently in-your-face in this game that it brings this to a higher level. In addition, each player begins the game with one purple tile, and during the tile placement this can be used to knock a previously placed tile out of its spot and into a cottage with the purple tile. The purple tile player can then place their tile, typically in the spot just vacated. This feature is well designed, but in combination with the leader bashing I wouldn't recommend playing this game on a date!
The game has a number of naturally balancing effects. Not only do the lowest value tiles advance, but by definition higher value tiles begin with a disadvantage versus lower value tiles. In practice, this makes upgrading your tiles to a five or even four value extremely difficult. To get to a five, you need to successfully upgrade each round and it is unlikely that the other players will let this happen. The Treasury payments and cube-keeping are other examples. Typical winning scores with five players are in the high 30's to mid 40's.
Keytown shares the beautiful artwork and quality production that R&D spoiled us with in Keydom. The game includes a variant that adds a bluffing element in the form of an additional counter labeled '1'. In this variant, two of the three counters (0, 1, and 2) are randomly chosen and placed in the resource locations. This adds a good deal of randomness and unpredictability to the contest but it works. This is likely one of the stronger Essen releases, but like Keydom it probably needs to be reworked a bit before it's ready for a mass audience. I like Richard Breese's design ideas, though, so dealing with the issues mentioned still make playing the game a worthwhile effort.