i played two games of Keyflower this past weekend. i played both with a group that was very familiar with the game and both were full on 6 player games. for the first time in these games, we decided to embrace randomness and mixed both expansions and all promos together. our one caveat (more on that later) was to force contract tiles into each season. so in a 6 player game we had the new spring / summer / autumn tile from merchants along with 9 other tiles. additionally we used the farmers turn order tiles which provide extra resources along with the farmers winter tile rules - that meant each player got 3 winter tiles at the beginning of the game.
i was honestly quite skeptical about how these games might go. i figured it was possible that a player might not have a winter tile to effectively chase or that a lack of one particular resource could really make the game dull. as it turned out though that was not the case at all. while both games were quite different both were a ton of fun and really interesting because of what they lacked as much as what they had.
in the first game i looked at my 3 winter tiles - i had the Granary (2 wheat = 3 points), the Truffle Orchard (pig fields = 5) and the mercer's guild 5 points per iron / stone / wood. In spring wheat production came out and i figured i'd focus on that. late in the round i was outbid and realized i need to either pivot or use a back-up strategy. in summer pig production came out but i was bidding 4th and by the time it made it to me it was bid with a color I could not compete on. from there i punted winter and went full on meeple & contract production. i snagged a green keyple contract and turned it in to grab the only green produced all game. i used that to lock down first player in winter and went hard for the white wind boat (1 point per meeple). along the way i tried to generate small amounts of points here and there - a few extensions, two fulfilled contracts, 2 sheep fields, one cattle field, etc.
in the end several players had the same experience as me, they had winter tiles they couldn't chase and they adapted by looking for smaller point returns in a number of places. the high score was only in the mid-eighties but the game was very competitive and winter was active with competition for tiles like the Keythedral, the Beekeeper, the Hillside & the Artisan. i threw in only one winter tile - the one that seemed like it would help others the least. i realize that might not be a fun game for some folks but i actually really liked how many times i had to pivot during the game.
our 2nd game was the same setup except that we added in the Key Celeste promo. this game was memorable for its combination of extreme meeple production & poor resource generation. when the dust had finally settled in winter, there were ZERO meeples in the bag and only 2 green meeples not in circulation. despite the population explosion, the resource trays were nearly all full. this game was crazy with players placing meeples all over other villages. players built extensions on tiles that were worth zero victory points to reduce their chance of getting locked down - all 3 green meeple extensions were grabbed up for this.
boat selection tile #2 was one of the first bids in each season in this game. getting an extra wood, iron & stone was very important. as luck ( or misfortune) would have it, the contracts that came up were almost exclusively resource contracts. many a player grabbed random contracts in the hopes of generating meeple contracts but few came out. those resource contracts were subsequently turned in for resources so they didn't go to waste but they were constantly met by groans around the table.
in the end i secured the victory thanks to my old nemesis - Scribes. I was able to get Storyteller in the Spring and the hiring fair in the summer. it was tough to get these upgraded but i was able to do so in Autumn thanks to turn order tile #2 and it's three resources. i had others play on these tiles a few times but i returned the favor on their meeple production / skill production tiles and was able to gather 6 sets of skills tiles before winter. when i lost the bid for 1st player in winter late in autumn my heart sank but fortunately for me the new first player was immediately to my right and so i bid 2nd in the round. i quickly placed my bid on scribes in yellow - a color in which I was 15 meeples deep. I held 6 in reserve all season and was happy I did when the Ghost popped out and locked down a 5 meeple yellow bid on the Keythedral. Realizing the the sudden influx of yellow could tip the scales, i defensively bid the Scribes up to 6 and was able to hold on to it.
after the game as we were cleaning up, everyone pretty much agreed that full randomness was a lot of fun. we all realized that having 6 players & 3 winter tiles really reduced the chance of getting locked down in a lot of areas but both games featured at least one shortage that made the games really interesting. we also decided that there was no need to force contracts in the future and agreed we'd go with fully random setups in all future 6 player games.
so for any of you out there that have been apprehensive about such setups, i encourage you to try it out. similarly if you've heard that 6 player keyflower bogs down, i would disagree. our game finished in under 2 hours. certainly you need a group that commits to planning ahead and staying engaged but players nearly always had a plan & a back-up plan if that move wasn't available - things really moved along. i'm sure this type of setup won't be for everyone but it does make each game feel pretty different & potentially more memorable. i know we'll all remember the game that featured an empty meeple bag.
Roel van M.
Most of my games are 2-player and we play full random most of the time. It is even more scarce with the setup for two, but it makes the games more fun and keeps replayability very high. No game feels the same.