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Matt
United Kingdom
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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Key to the City – London is best described as a streamlined version of the hugely popular game Keyflower. However, in this game you are much more likely to bump into a city banker using his mobile to clinch a multimillion pound deal than a farmer looking for his lost cow. You see the keyples have had enough of their medieval mythical Keydom and have decided to try their luck in the modern metropolitan city of London.

The aim of the game is to acquire London landmark tiles and then use them to construct your own remodelled borough. If you think the Queen deserves a nice stroll around Kew Gardens with her corgis before dinner than you can arrange to build Buckingham Palace right next door. Tiles provide connectors and skill tokens that can be used for upgrades resulting in higher productivity and more points, sadly you don’t get extra points for providing Her Majesty with a more scenic view.

Thankfully, the brilliant bidding system first seen in Keyflower has survived intact. A player has a secret store of different coloured keyples that they use for bidding on tiles and acquiring resources. If the tile is already occupied by keyples then further bids and resource gathering actions must be made by adding ever greater numbers of keyples of the matching colour.

Players can gather resources from tiles in their own borough, in an opponent’s borough or even from tiles that are currently on the open market. The advantage of using tiles in your own borough and tiles that you have the winning bid on is that at the end of the turn you can reclaim the keyples for future use. The resources themselves come in the form of connectors and skill tokens. Each connector is one of six different colours, representing water, gas, electricity, sewage, telecoms and the underground.

Location tiles with an arrow can be upgraded, this works in a simpler way to Keyflower. If a player meets the upgrade requirement then they can place a keyple on the tile in their borough to activate the upgrade. Upgrades require a tile to contain specific coloured connections and/or skill tokens, representing architects, financiers and builders. In addition there are eight special landmark tiles that can be upgraded a second time. When this happens the corresponding 3D landmark building marker is placed on the tile. Not only does this score bonus points at the end of the game, but it also gives your borough a satisfying third dimension.

There is no escaping the fact that upgrading and flipping the tiles is a pain. First you have to slide off all of the connectors, being careful not to mix up the edges that they were connected to. Then you have to flip the tile without dislodging its neighbours and finally replace the connectors. It’s a faff, but one that I guess couldn’t be avoided without considerable cost. Keyflower had a similar fiddle-factor when upgrading and shifting around resource cylinders but not quite as bad as this.

In this game you simply draw keyples form the bag rather than selecting a set from a specific ship, this may mean you have less control over planning your actions but it also means that those with a photographic memory no longer have the advantage of having a fair idea of their opponents’ bidding potentials. For me this is a definite improvement, as is the fact that you no longer need to worry about transporting resources around your tiles, you simply place your connectors on a vacant tile edge as soon as you acquire them. Another difference is that you know what the end game scoring tiles are from the start, so you can plan according, whether or not you will actually be able to win the tiles you have planned for in the fourth and final era is another matter. These end game scoring tiles usually earn points for collecting sets of keyples, skill tokens and connectors.

The distinctive Juliet Breese art style may have been replaced by the work of Katherine Baxter but she has done a wonderful job of illustrating London’s immediately recognisable landmarks. The 57 location tiles can even be arranged to create a representation of London, with the landmarks approximating their real life locations. The enclosed information booklet is a nice idea and showcases the illustrations, but sadly because each entry is accompanied by text in so many different languages the information given is a mere snippet. Much like Keyflower the tile icons feel a bit cluttered and confusing, as each tile has to show benefits and victory points for both tile sides and the upgrade costs.

It is probably inevitable that a game designed for up to six players is going to suffer when played with only two. I need to play a few more times at this player count but initial impressions are that there are so many tiles on the market in the first couple of eras that there is little incentive to lock horns in a bidding war. I haven’t played Keyflower for ages but I remember it being a bit tighter and better suited for just two. In the first couple of eras two players are spoilt for choice with 10 tiles to bid for, whilst at the other end of the spectrum six players only have 12 tiles on the market. The game is still a fun puzzle, but interaction is a key feature of the bidding and this is sadly diluted with fewer players.

I would say that if you love Keyflower and its expansions then this version is probably not going to be for you. Without the resource logistics and with less variety in the scoring tiles this is going to feel diluted and less satisfying. Similarly, if you tried and didn’t like the mechanics of Keyflower then this game is too similar to convert you. This leaves those gamers new to the whole Keyflower experience and those gamers who like the central mechanics of Keyflower, but found all that shifting of resources and easily forgettable extra rules a turn-off.

In Key to the City – London the emphasis has shifted from resource management to the spatial puzzle of the optimum use and immediate placement of tiles and connectors. I really like this refocusing, it isn’t as demanding and unforgiving as the logistical resource planning required in the original. The fact that the available end game scoring Routemaster tiles are available from the start gives the game more focus and the random keyples draw gives a welcome dash of unpredictability. I think that the game is unlikely to become as a big a hit as its illustrious forbearer, but this streamlined version will definitely appeal to many gamers, especially if London has a place in your heart.


Here is a list of all my reviews, some with puns that I really should be ashamed of.
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David Janik-Jones
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
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designer
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Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
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Great summary. Breese games are insta-buys for me. This one is on my Secret Santa wish list but given it's current scarcity, I imagine I'll need to pick up a copy after it hits the streets in a few months time.
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Neil Horabin
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Hounslow
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Interesting piece and great summary of the differences. I claim that Keyflower is my favourite game but got hold of Key to the City as soon as I could and had the opportunity to play during the week. Maybe it's the London thing as I've lived and worked here for almost 30 years now but I adored Key to the City. There are more than enough differences in game play for me to want to play both. I'm similarly interested in how well it will work 2-player, for me Keyflower is excellent with 2. Anyway, definitely room for both in my collection and wouldn't hesitate to play either given half a chance!
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Matthew Sanchez
United States
chaska
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I am debating getting this one. I love keyflower. My only quibble is that it's a little long (with high player counts) and the resource management is a little hard to teach for some less experienced gamers. This keeps it at a 9 instead of a 10 for me. To be clear top 5 game for me these are minor complaints.


Point is I'm hoping that Key to the City London can provide that easier faster package without loosing too much strategy. I like the idea of the end round changes and the final scoring changes. I have hope for this one.


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Sara
Belgium
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I love Keyflower and its expansions and also own Key to the City – London.

I must say I think they're different enough to love both of them.
Because of the connections it feels different. I love having the both of them.

There is no transport element in the new game, but this also means that to upgrade a building you have to put a keyple on this building instead of on the transportation tile and you need more keyples to do actions then. Also the passing mechanism is totally different.

I'm definitely really glad to own both.

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Andy Leighton
England
Peterborough
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sancmat wrote:
I am debating getting this one. I love keyflower. My only quibble is that it's a little long (with high player counts) and the resource management is a little hard to teach for some less experienced gamers. This keeps it at a 9 instead of a 10 for me. To be clear top 5 game for me these are minor complaints.


Point is I'm hoping that Key to the City London can provide that easier faster package without loosing too much strategy.


We found it played significantly more quickly (and we played with 6) than Keyflower. Also some of the tricky bits of Keyflower (for less experienced gamers) like the transportation of materials to tiles for upgrading have gone completely - so it makes it easier to explain. Nevertheless there was a huge range in scores between those who did well in our game and those who didn't.

One thing that you should be aware of the hexes are larger than Keyflower, and Key To The City:London requires a seriously big table when playing with 6.
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Matt
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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That's a good point that I should have mentioned, it does take up a lot of table space.

Glad to hear that people are finding a space for both games in their collections.
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Shane Loader
United States
Ft. Collins
Colorado
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I played key to the city and I own keyflower. I liked the simplification of city for a faster lighter game with a similar feel. But I find it too similar to have both in my collection and with city costing significantly more I am inclined to adapt the city rules to keyflower to simply it.
It seems if you remove the extra worker and upgrade tiles and make the river tiles available similarly by passing keyflower would feel very similar to city without having to fit another game in my closet and I can play full keyflower when I want the meatier game.
 
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