Designed by Richard Breese
Published by R&D Games
Reviewed by Ken Tidwell

£20 ($30)
2 - 5 players
45 - 120 mins

All of the familiar elements of the Key series are back. The game centers around tile placement. The theme is set in that industrious land we first met in Keywood. Component production is topnotch, featuring, once again, the very excellent artwork of Richard's talented sister.

Keywood explored the interaction between politics and local industry. Keydom highlighted the court intrigues of the wealthy. Here in Keytown we explore the local village politics as villagers vie to improve the status of their clan using their familial wealth, heritage, and industry.

Tiles represent villagers, who all begin the game with a status of one. The goal of the game is to improve the total status of your clan by increasing the status of individuals. In the final total, the individual status of each clan member is squared, so there is a strong motivation to pick a leader and get behind them.

There are only four turns in a game. On each turn, tiles are placed in one of three types of locations: resource generators, cottages (which are baby generators, so more specifically we are talking about the beds in the cottages!), and the village itself.

Any number of tiles can be placed at each resource location. Each tile at a resource location allows the player to collect a number of cubes equal to the total status of all of their villagers at that location. Each location generates cubes in a different color. Players may also choose to spend one point of their status to collect one of only two (or three) counters associated with that color. One counter doubles the value of cubes of that color and the other nullifies the value. A third counter is an optional addition to the game and has no effect when played. They are used to bluff and, hence, to hamstring anyone being tedious about micro-managing, particularly in the last round. Cubes are used to influence the outcomes at the other two types of locations: the cottages and the village. These cubes are placed on the tiles at those locations and are added to the individual tile's status when determining the overall strength of that tile.

Cubes are laid by color. The first player calls for one color then another and so on. Each player in turn lays all the cubes of that color that they wish to play. In the first two rounds this gives the first player quite a lot of power as each player tends to hold cubes in only a few colors. As players accumulate more diversity of cubes, this power diminishes.

In fact, my current thinking is that you really want to go last in the later two rounds of the game but first in the early rounds. Since this first player element is so important, players must bid to control who is designated as first player. To bid a player must give up a certain number of points from their final score. Once bid, those points are lost, whether the player actually gets control of the first player or not. Bids may be bumped at any time and take effect during the next phase. At ten points, the bids start to jump ten points at a time. I'm not sure this was called for, as I can't really see anyone winning once they have given up twenty points of their final score. Perhaps time will prove me wrong, however. But we were discussing the effects of the various locations. Let's continue.

Each cottage location can hold two tiles. If two tiles are played into a cottage then two new villagers will be created there. If both tiles are of equal strength then each tile gets one new villager in that color. Otherwise, the weaker tile gets both new villagers. That is, the children identify themselves with the more leisurely parent. (Are you listening, Jos?)

Five tiles can be placed in each of three village locations. The three weakest tiles at each location increase their status by one. That is, if you are too busy there simply isn't time to look important, whereas the idle, well, they've got nothing but time.

Once all locations are resolved, the players collect their tiles, including any cubes which have been played on them. So, if you get hammered in one round, you have increased control in the next round. And the later rounds are far more important than the earlier rounds but only if you manage to stay in the game during the earlier rounds. This creates the classic tension of wanting to do too much with too little and gives it a nice twist that maybe the right thing is to do less!

If the game has a flaw that leaps out, it is that a few habitual point counters could very easily drag the game out to an intollerable length. Aside from that, I was quite pleased. With both of the previous Key games, there was a bit of a feeling that just a few rules tweaks could unlock more of the games promise (witness Morgenland). Keytown feels complete in and of itself. It delivered on all of my expectations for the themes and mechanisms!

As with the previous Key games, this is a limited edition. This time there are 500 copies, all of which will go at Essen 2000. And judging from the number on mine, a fair number have been snapped up prior to Essen!

The latest in the 'Key' series from R&D Games (UK version) demonstrates that Richard Breese continues to grow as a game designer. Breese has clearly digested many of the lessons learned by working with Bernd Brunnhofer during the development of Morgenland. The only burning question in my mind is who will pick up Keytown for wider distribution?

Why wait? Buy it now from FunAgain Games!

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell