Players: 2 to 6
Game Length: 90-120 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 2 to 4 players up for an intense and unique strategy game
Keyflower is a unique and deceptively cutthroat game where each player is trying to build a town using groups of settlers arriving on boats. Players will use these settlers to bid on and use buildings, which will start to be added to the players’ respective towns over the course of four seasons, with scoring taking place at the end of Winter. Despite seeming like a low-conflict European-style game, Keyflower has a number of subtle mechanisms that throw a spanner in the works, and force players to start playing aggressively if they want to win.
Keyflower starts off innocently enough – players will have a collection of 8 Keyples (the game’s name for the settler pieces) and a number of tiles in the middle to bid on or use. However, once a Keyple has been used on a tile (either by bidding or using), all other bids and uses must be of the same colour as the original Keyple. In this way, players will need to carefully manage which Keyples they use and plan what to use them for, as they could end up short if they find themselves needing to win an important bid in the closing turns of a season.
At the end of the season, the players will take the tiles they won, add them to their town, and – most importantly – add any Keyples on those tiles back to their collection. Once a tile is added to your town, there is nothing stopping any other player from using it, but those Keyples will find their way back into your supply at the end of the season. You’ll also want to upgrade your buildings, as upgraded buildings are worth extra points and give a greater in-game benefit, but you open them up for use by your opponents as well!
There is a good sense of progression throughout the year – Spring tiles tend to provide some resources, Summer tiles tend to provide more resources but at greater cost, Autumn tiles tend to reward points for upgrading or moving resources onto them, and Winter tiles all award conditional bonus points for adding them to your village. The buildings used each game are random, though – it’s possible that you won’t get many buildings that allow upgrades or moving resources, maybe resources themselves will be scarce, or some other combination – forcing players to adapt their strategies as each game unfolds.
Keyflower strongly encourages cutthroat behaviour. Frequently, a player will upgrade one of their vital structures, only for the next player in turn order to use that structure immediately, sometimes preventing the original player from using their own structure at all! Similarly, players will often bid highly on structures that are worth nothing to them, just to prevent another player from gaining a large chunk of points.
Keyflower can be fiddly to learn, and it’s recommended that at least one player understands the rules in full before attempting to play the game. Players will also need to understand that the first game will be more of a ‘teaching’ game – decisions made early on will dictate your plans later in a way that can only be appreciated on repeat plays. Keyflower can also be prone to arguments – if you don’t have a thick skin, it’s easy to get annoyed at players taking advantage of your settlement’s buildings. However, it is a compelling and rich strategy game for those who don’t mind some occasional meanness, and rewards clever strategic play.
Keyflower works well with any number of players from 2 to 6, but works best with 4 or less to keep the game flowing smoothly. If you want a deep and elegant strategy game with a lot of player interaction, it’s hard to beat Keyflower.