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Subject: Initial Impressions -- Keyper rss

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Colby Brown
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Keyper got dropped off at my house yesterday, so I promptly started sorting the insane number of pieces and started a game with two of my roommates! Since the hype for this game is still very much alive, I wanted to share a few of my initial impressions. This will be a review more than a rules summary.

Background: I missed the kickstarter but was able to get in contact with Richard to order a copy of the character edition. It arrived in perfect condition, and I'm super pleased that I went in for the characters. They add a lot to the game, both in terms of adorableness and play-ability; the icons on the meeple can help differentiate between the sometimes very similar colors, even for a group of players who have no color distinction deficiencies.

I'll break this """review""" of sorts down into separate sections to talk about the really good and the weaker points of the game.

d10-1 How Does It Compare to Keyflower?
Ah, the question everybody is asking: is this game better than Keyflower? The answer is a resounding, "it depends". Keyper is significantly less tactical than Keyflower. There doesn't seem to be as many opportunities to make a game-defining move, and nearly as many "take that" opportunities. It's also not very strategic; sure, you can have a long-term plan, such as "I'm going to specialize in gems and get the bracelet maker", but a plan is not a strategy.

So, if Keyper isn't really testing your tactic or your strategy, then what is it testing? Efficiency. The winner will be the player who has played the most efficient game. How many actions were you able to pull off in each season, and how many actions did you enable others to pull off in each season? The winner will be the player who keeps that ratio as high as possible; taking all the actions, while also not enabling the other players at the table.

The result is that Keyper is much more "friendly" than Keyflower. There is a very high degree of player interaction, but the players are not necessarily in direct competition for most of the game. In that regard, it has the diplomatic benefits of a multiplayer-soltaire game without the feeling of isolation. If I were going to play a game with some friends on a Friday evening, I would be more inclined to play Keyper. If I were at a convention or tournament and wanted to flex my competitive muscles, I would always pick Keyflower.

d10-2 Components
Holy hell this game has a lot of components! There are 6 resources, 8 animals, 3 gems, and wheat. There's 36 meeples and a crap ton of tiles, and they are all very high quality. A few of my octagonal prism pieces ("finished goods") were miscut. The gems are a nice hard, slightly translucent plastic forming irregular concave polyhedra, but it was sometimes obvious where they were cut off of the plastic. The painted meeples were gorgeous, although a few of them have the facial expression of an existential crisis. Almost all the animeeples except for the goat and deer can be balanced on their noses if you have a steady enough hand.

The folding boards are the MacGuffin of the game. Is it a gimmick? Yes. Does it hold up? Hell yes. They feel very sturdy and durable, the folding is natural and easy, and the layout of the actions on the board is nothing short of genius. For example, gems can not be displayed before fall, no matter how hard you try. There is a progression form "basic" resources to more complex actions as the seasons progress.
I would strongly recommend giving new players a good, long look at the boards at the end of their first season to let them wrap their minds around how to fold the boards. The options available are significantly more numerous than I originally imagined, and there is a large element of discovery in looking for the perfect combination of actions. I definitely think the boards add a meaningful decision in between the seasons and applaud Richard for his creativity and ingenuity in designing them.

I'm a big fan of the "Meeple Like Us" accessibility reviews. Unfortunately, I don't see them rating this game highly in the color department. The grey is very light and easy to confuse with white, and the orange and brown are very similar. The colored boarders on the action spaces often times don't stand out strongly enough against the art on the board and cause a lot of "what specialty is that?" questions, and more than once we realized we had joined with the wrong color on the wrong space. None of the players at the table had any type of color deficiency, but we still sometimes had to rely on the picture of the tool being held by the meeple -- "oh this guy has a pickaxe, he's not a wild!", etc.

d10-3 Iconography and Terminology
To be honest, I'm pretty disappointed in the iconography / terminology of Keyper. There are a lot of icons on every tile, and their meaning is not always clear. The icons are not always consistent, either; for example, wheat can satisfy a white resource (finished or unfinished) but not a white gem. Slashes mean either/or, but are not present on boats. A collection of icons on some tiles with an "xN" means N of any of the above resources, but without means exactly one of each. Most of the rules explanation time was discussing the meaning of tiles and looking up clarifications in the rulebook.

The terminology also fails to reveal the intention of parts of the game. There are three types of "keyps": A keyp on the village board where your keyper starts, a keyp on each country board where your keyper goes, and a keyp tile where leftover keyples hang out. Your workforce starts in the village keyp, but leftovers stay in the keyp tile. When your keyper moves from village keyp to country keyp, your keyp tiles keyple lay down. Feeling overwhelmed yet? The fact that the word "keyp" can be used to describe three completely disparate parts of the game can be very confusing. Additionally, the "winter" fair tiles can be played in any season except spring. I understand that they are called "winter" tiles because they are the only tiles that can be played in winter, but the name still fails to reveal their true intention.

d10-4 Rules
So, ignoring the above grievances, I would say that the rules are very straightforward and easy to understand... after you've started playing. The flowcharts for joining and laying down actions on the box and the rulebook are deceptively complex and make explaining the rules very difficult, when the gameplay is in reality very intuitive. I even confused myself a few times while explaining the rules, but there were no problems understanding who could do what after about ten minutes into the game.

There are, as in Keyflower, several "fiddly" rules that need to be remembered (eg, tiles can only be scored four times, whites on a non-specializing tile can only be joined by white, but by the color-specialization on other tiles, etc.) but they all serve well thought-out purposes in the game.

I would say that Keyper seems significantly more complex than Keyflower on the surface, but is about the same complexity in reality. The rules are harder to explain, but about the same difficulty to follow.

d10-5 Joining and Laying Down
Joining and laying down are incredible mechanics. They absolutely define Keyper as a game even more than the folding boards. It absolutely changes the way the players have to think; a typical worker placement mindset just won't work here!

For example, worker placement games tend to be defined by getting more workers in an engine-building way. I'll give up a turn now to get another worker that I can use from here on out. This is the defining characteristic of Agricola, Viticulture, and yes, even Keyflower, where the "get all the meeple" strategy is difficult to pull off but devastating when it works.

But with Keyper, having too many meeple can be a huge detriment. Remember, the point of Keyper is efficiency above all else, and laying down meeple is significantly more efficient than deploying them. So, running out of meeple early is actually one of the best things that can happen. My strongest season was the one where I had 7 meeple, one short of a full team, and my weakest was the one where I had 10 meeple and had to keep two in my keyp. The other players were the same; they were devastated by their lack of laying down when the last to deploy and reaped huge benefits of waiting for everyone else to finish and laying down in the meantime. Placing our keyper was often decided by where we wanted to lay down more than what types of meeple we desired for the following season.

Following other players helps you run out of meeple faster. There is a fine balance to be had in choosing when to follow; you are helping the person you follow, but you too will get the benefit. You could pass and try to use the initial meeple as a follower, denying the original owner the benefit, but that's risky. Or, you could follow at a slightly less opportune time, which would help use all your meeple faster and help get to those invaluable lay down actions.

The combination of these two mechanics completely turns the "worker placement" trope on its head. In a world saturated by Rosenburg knockoffs, Keyper is a much needed breath of fresh air to the genre and not so subtle reminder that Richard Breese is both the creator and the true master of the worker placements.

d10-6 So, how was it?
In this section, I'll try to give a brief overview of our specific session.

We started out without a clue what to do. I started by getting some chickens before remembering that I actually needed sheep for my fair. I joined to pick up some more building and farm tiles that would help me convert animals and score said animals.

At the end of spring, the distribution of meeple was very unbalanced, giving me an upper hand with only 7 meeple and devastating the player with 9 meeple. In fall, I had the abundance of meeple but was able to follow very aggressively, putting me once again in the lead for lay-downs. However, I got greedy and took too many meeple at the end of fall and missed out on the critical lay downs I needed at the end of winter to help me ship and get the goat I needed to present.

Our strategies were varied enough that we didn't step on each others toes too much. I focused mostly on fairs and, towards the end, gems. Somebody else focused mostly on animals and. Another player hoarded all the wheat which allowed him to build often and also did a good amount of shipping.

I ended up losing. The final scores were 79/85/85, with the tie being broken in the first tie breaker. The tight scores were a promising sign for me; since we all took different strategies, it seemed to be fairly balanced. I won't be able to say for sure if the game is actually balanced until I have a good number more plays under my belt.

It was a very satisfying game. I felt proud of the village I had built; I felt like I had enough agency to pick a strategy for myself and pursue it, but also that there were few enough actions and seasons that I had to hurry. There were bumps and times I had to re-evaluate, but never felt betrayed or attacked on purpose.

d10-7 Conclusion
Keyper is loyal to its Key heritage while also being a completely unique game. It scratches a different enough itch that neither Keyflower nor Keyper can ever crowd the other out. It's more friendly and less competitive, which can be good or bad depending on what you're looking for. I won't be giving Keyper a numeric score until I have played it several more times, but I can already say that it will be a high number.

At the end of the day, I believe games should always be rated completely on how much fun they are to play and how much I want to play them again. And in the case of Keyper after one play, Keyper satisfies both of these tests with very high marks.

Edit 11/10: Fixed a few typos.
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Thomas Leitner
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I played last night for the first time as well, and had a similar reaction. A few things I didn’t like, but lots I did.

This won’t replace Keyflower for me (nothing can), but Keyper seems to be a terrific game in its own right.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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I would argue that all games are efficiency games, so calling Keyper an efficiency game isn't of value. I would say that Keyper is more focused on forcing your opponents to make difficult decisions when they don't want to make them. Which to me has been difficult to accomplish in game design but I think Richard has done that here.
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Colby Brown
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jschlickbernd wrote:
I would argue that all games are efficiency games, so calling Keyper an efficiency game isn't of value. I would say that Keyper is more focused on forcing your opponents to make difficult decisions when they don't want to make them. Which to me has been difficult to accomplish in game design but I think Richard has done that here.


Well, sure, but every game requires some amount of strategy, but we certainly don't label every game as a "strategy game". Every game requires efficiency, but Keyper places a much larger emphasis on it than other games, and efficiency is much more important in Keyper than tactical one-off moves or long term strategical posturing.
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Juan Crespo
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jschlickbernd wrote:
I would argue that all games are efficiency games, so calling Keyper an efficiency game isn't of value.
I don't see the point of getting argumentative over definitions. This is a somewhat blanket statement that is just not true for many types of games. What about bluffing games? Or pure dice games? All I'm trying to say is that I do appreciate and see the value of this review. I get what OP is trying to convey by efficiency in the context of other similar Euro games.
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Sebastian Frostie
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juanma99 wrote:
I don't see the point of getting argumentative over definitions. This is a somewhat blanket statement that is just not true for many types of games. What about bluffing games? Or pure dice games? All I'm trying to say is that I do appreciate and see the value of this review. I get what OP is trying to convey by efficiency in the context of other similar Euro games.


In my opinion, as long as it does not drag on and on, or turn into toxic, such argument provides another perspective to readers who might have the same question (even though I am on the side agreeing to what OP means by "efficiency game"), and should be encouraged.

At times, it may seem unnecessary to someone, but meanwhile maybe a useful insight to some other.

The OP had an opinion on something, another argued that every game is an efficient game to an extent, then OP responded with an explanation to his point of view. I think it is a healthy argument.

Just like your opinion on how argument on definitions is not necessary, and I argued that, provided the conditions are true (not toxic and not dragged-on), different point of views should be encouraged instead of turned down, is a good form of argument. We don't have to agree, but we try to convince others, while providing values to readers. Isn't that the beauty of it?

Besides, regarding to arguing about definitions, is that not what the people working on Oxford dictionary, or animal classifications, do every day?
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Richard Breese
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brobo wrote:
I missed the kickstarter but was able to get in contact with Richard to order a copy of the character edition…
Going quickly, but still a few in hand (12-Nov-17).
brobo wrote:
Almost all the animeeples except for the goat and deer can be balanced on their noses if you have a steady enough hand.
Made me smile. Good to know!
brobo wrote:
There are a lot of icons on every tile, and their meaning is not always clear. The icons are not always consistent, either; for example, wheat can satisfy a white resource (finished or unfinished) but not a white gem.
Correct. Other comments follow:
brobo wrote:
Slashes mean either/or, but are not present on boats.
They are not on the boats as in the boats it can be ‘and/either/or’ and additionally ‘work on a boat’ for payment in resources’ or ‘sell a resource’. So the meaning on the boats is not a simple either/or.
brobo wrote:
A collection of icons on some tiles with an "x N" means N of any of the above resources, but without means exactly one of each.
Which hopefully clarifies the difference?
brobo wrote:
The terminology also fails to reveal the intention of parts of the game. There are three types of "keyps": A keyp on the village board where your keyper starts, a keyp on each country board where your keyper goes, and a keyp tile where leftover keyples hang out.
The ‘intention’ was that these are three different representations of the same keyps. In the distance (top right) on the player board where your team hangs out. A separate board to house the ‘resting’ surplus keyples so the keyples are not on the player board (which would cause confusion) and the keyps shown in their situational context on the country boards.
brobo wrote:
The fact that the word "keyp" can be used to describe three completely disparate parts of the game can be very confusing.
Apologies for any confusion. I couldn’t find a better way to describe the three occurrences and wanted them to bear the keyp name for thematic reasons. But they are consistently described the ‘keyp field’ (country board), keyp (player board) and ‘keyp tile’.
brobo wrote:
Additionally, the "winter" fair tiles can be played in any season except spring. I understand that they are called "winter" tiles because they are the only tiles that can be played in winter, but the name still fails to reveal their true intention.
Noted. This name betrays their origin as winter only tiles. I accept that the title ‘seasonal’ fairs may have caused less confusion.
brobo wrote:
… ignoring the above grievances, I would say that the rules are very straightforward and easy to understand...
Phew!
brobo wrote:
… the gameplay is in reality very intuitive.
I do hope and believe this is the case once you are familiar with the ideas.
brobo wrote:
We started out without a clue what to do…
My suggestion is, if in doubt, focus initially in the two resources required by your spring fair. It’s only two points, and not therefore critical, but it can guide you through the initial couple of turns. Second tip is to get at least a couple of the spring building tiles, as these will shape your strategy for the game. A little bit like the different character attributes in Marco Polo.
brobo wrote:
… And in the case of Keyper after one play, Keyper satisfies both of these tests with very high marks.
I’m please you enjoyed the game and thanks for your time setting out your thoughts, including the criticisms. It’s always helpful and rewarding to get feedback on the published game.
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Colby Brown
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Wow... feeling a bit star struck that my humble post was read by THE Richard Breese! I'm really glad you're active here on BGG, and thank you for reading and commenting!

Richard Breese wrote:

brobo wrote:
A collection of icons on some tiles with an "x N" means N of any of the above resources, but without means exactly one of each.
Which hopefully clarifies the difference?

In my mind, missing the "xN" symbol was translated to "x1". I see though that your particular usage probably makes perfect sense to almost everyone else and it's my own personal misreading.

Richard Breese wrote:

The ‘intention’ was that these are three different representations of the same keyps. In the distance (top right) on the player board where your team hangs out. A separate board to house the ‘resting’ surplus keyples so the keyples are not on the player board (which would cause confusion) and the keyps shown in their situational context on the country boards.

Oh, that's really cool! I always thought they were different keyps, but this is a much more fun and clever way to look at them. I'll try to incorporate this into my rules explanations because I think it will help other players as well to view the three "keyps" in this way.
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Richard Breese
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brobo wrote:
I'll try to incorporate this into my rules explanations because I think it will help other players as well to view the three "keyps" in this way.
Thanks for your enthusiasm and support for the game Colby.
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Adam (bukimi)
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brobo wrote:

I would strongly recommend giving new players a good, long look at the boards at the end of their first season to let them wrap their minds around how to fold the boards. The options available are significantly more numerous than I originally imagined, and there is a large element of discovery in looking for the perfect combination of actions. I definitely think the boards add a meaningful decision in between the seasons and applaud Richard for his creativity and ingenuity in designing them.


I'm still waiting for my copy, but felt I need to add something here.
Folding boards as such are a great idea, but when I saw folding boards options in manual, I was far from saying "numerous" there.
It's worth to know that every season has not more than 4 different possible layouts, so you cannot really combine chosen actions as freely as I understood from your review at first.

My nagging aside, it's an excellent review and makes me even more impatient in waiting!
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Caitlin Tracy
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bukimi wrote:
brobo wrote:

I would strongly recommend giving new players a good, long look at the boards at the end of their first season to let them wrap their minds around how to fold the boards. The options available are significantly more numerous than I originally imagined, and there is a large element of discovery in looking for the perfect combination of actions. I definitely think the boards add a meaningful decision in between the seasons and applaud Richard for his creativity and ingenuity in designing them.


I'm still waiting for my copy, but felt I need to add something here.
Folding boards as such are a great idea, but when I saw folding boards options in manual, I was far from saying "numerous" there.
It's worth to know that every season has not more than 4 different possible layouts, so you cannot really combine chosen actions as freely as I understood from your review at first.

My nagging aside, it's an excellent review and makes me even more impatient in waiting!


From my own initial play (I played 2 player but played as both players) I can say that, despite there being only a few choices each season, I was torn between two layouts each time. Once in a while I knew exactly what I wanted but usually it was tricky. Any more than 4 and it would have taken too long!
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Brian Frahm
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Quote:
My suggestion is, if in doubt, focus initially in the two resources required by your spring fair. It’s only two points, and not therefore critical, but it can guide you through the initial couple of turns. Second tip is to get at least a couple of the spring building tiles, as these will shape your strategy for the game.


Richard's comments are spot on in my early experiences with the game. It feels like a huge sandbox when you first look at the plethora of options, so that first fair tile has led me to often go "hmm, let's get some cows for the fair... then I need a place to hold them after the fair... hmm, then that country tile might be a good avenue to pursue..." Knowing what your fair requirements are gives just enough insight into how to start moving forward.
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