Keyflower is one of a few games in the Key series by Sebastian Bleasdale and Richard Breese. It combines quite a few elements. visually it reminds people of Settlers of Catan with the village and boat piece shape and size. Mechanically it has auction and worker placement elements, as well as pick-up and deliver.
I mostly engage in two-player games with my husband but recently had a chance to sit at a table of 6 — 3 new players and 3 experienced players. Teaching games are always a mixed bag and Keyflower has A LOT of elements in it. It’s not as brain burny as Agricola, but it’s also no Ticket to Ride. You’ve got to have a strategy, be willing to change it as the seasons pass and keep track of what everyone else is trying to do.
The rules are pretty extensive, so I’ll just touch the basics:
The game is played in four seasons, starting with Spring. In each season you use your hidden stash of workers to bid on or use available community tiles. Starting in summer, you can also use your workers on your or your opponent’s village tiles. At the end of the first three seasons, you place the community tiles you won in your village, losing all the meeples you used back to the community bag. Meeples that were on the tile you won become yours, as do all meeples people placed in your village during the season.
You’ll also bid on starting player or first boat choice. Each season there are boats available with a variety in the number of workers and skill cards on those boats. The workers will go into your pool as will the skills. Those may be spent to upgrade things later or could come into play for victory points at the end of the game.
Workers come in three main colors: blue, red and yellow. Once a worker is used to work or bid on a tile, all other workers on that tile for that season must be of the same color. A tile can only have 6 workers on it; you can use a tile the first time with as few as 1 worker, but using it after that increments the cost each time. So, at most you can use a tile 3 times in a season: 1 worker, 2 workers, 3 workers.
Then there’s the green workers. These guys can only be earned during the game through tiles or being super lucky and grabbing one blindly out of the bag after one has been used and sent to the bag. Because they’re in such short supply, they become powerful bidding objects. Tiles generating these workers are often highly sought after, especially in early seasons so you can generate workers to more easily win more suitable tiles during the later seasons.
A nice touch to the strategy is that you will have a number of Winter tiles at the beginning of the game that only you can see. When winter rolls around, you must choose at least one of those tiles to go into the community bidding area. Will knowing that ahead of time help you with a strategy? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I’ve had games where the foreknowledge and the random tiles in other seasons worked well together. I’ve had other games where I paid no attention at all to what my winter tiles were and just focused on what came out during the game. Both strategies have worked.
I’m a huge fan of Keyflower for two people. It’s got a depth most two-player games don’t achieve. There’s some bonus in having a decent memory and getting an idea of how many of what color workers your opponent has, but it’s not a game breaker. For me, there’s the bonus that I can more easily track the other player’s village if I can see it and two players just take up a smaller space, making that easier.
For larger games, I wish there was more of a leveling out factor for that first round. First player is randomly chosen and starts off the bidding/tile usage. If you’re sitting in the 4th, 5th or 6th chair, you’re going to see a lot of the good stuff get bid on first, requiring you to use more of your meeples or bid on lessor tiles. A mechanic similar to how games like Manhattan Project balances out that bonus would be nice (in MP, each player after the first player gets a bonus either in additional money and/or starting with additional workers). Later round order is determined on tile bidding, making you pay if you really want to go first.
When someone comes into the shop looking for good worker placement and they’ve already tackled some medium- to hard-level games, Keyflower is at the top of my list (along with the above mentioned Manhattan Project). I’ve just picked up some of the expansions and hope to get to play them soon.