Keythedral was first released at the Spiele Faire in 2002 by designer Richard Breese under his own R&D Games label. It was part of the continuing series of ‘Key’ and was easily the most lavish. The bountiful components were all professionally designed and of sturdy quality. No more thin paper player screens here!
Although I found Keythedral intriguing, the game had one major drawback: it ended too quickly. Earning seats in the cathedral was the only source of victory points, and there were simply too few of them available. The result was a mad rush to acquire those seats. Consequently, other aspects of the game were overlooked in this dash. This sapped much of the potentially interesting aspects out of the game, and relegated it to dust-collector status on my shelf. A shame.
The game has been re-released by Pro-Ludo and Café Games. Apparently, the designer recognized this problem, and has made the necessary corrections. There are more seats available in the cathedral, and their values have been adjusted to 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12. Further, resources not spent are worth victory points at the end of the game. After playing this new version several times, I am quite satisfied with the result, which is a much more tense, more satisfying game wherein a multitude of options can be explored.
Sine the original version of the game had a very limited print run, not many people have been exposed to it. So, an explanation is in order. This time, the hard working folk of Keytown have been charged with the task of erecting a cathedral, so they scurry about the fields collecting resources, trading them for materials needed in the construction and attempting to grab prestigious ‘seats’ in the new religious building. Seats of power are where the majority of victory points are earned, and these increase in value as the game progresses. They are also limited, but not as much as in the original version. Still, players cannot dally too long, as the game has a tendency to pick-up speed as the game progresses, with the end arriving faster than most players expect.
The board is modular, being formed by the players from 29 octagonal tiles representing four types of terrain: quarries, woods, lakes, farms and vineyards. Fewer tiles are used when playing with less than five players. When the tiles are laid, they form small empty square spaces at their intersections. Players will place their cottage tokens in these spaces and the inhabitants will issue forth into the adjacent fields to collect resources. Each player’s cottage tiles are numbered 1 – 5, which is very important in the mechanics of the game.
Once the board has been formed, play begins with the placement of ‘worker’ counters. These represent the inhabitants of the cottages trudging into the surrounding fields and collecting the resources. The order in which this is done is crucial, and a major part of the mechanics, as well as the players’ strategies.
The start player begins by selecting a particular cottage number (1 – 5). Each player will then place a worker from that cottage number into an empty adjacent field. If the cottage has been upgraded to a house (see the actions below), then the player may place two workers from that house into adjacent empty fields. If all fields are occupied by workers, then no inhabitants emerge as they decide to take the day off! Fences may also block access to a field (again, see the actions described below).
Acquiring seats in the cathedral require different combinations of resources and the placement of workers will ultimately determine the resources that each player collects in a round. Thus, careful analysis of the resources desired and the various placement options for the workers is very important. Placement of workers can also be quite nasty as it is possible to occupy fields adjacent to opponents’ cottages and block them from accessing particular fields … or any fields!
After the initial cottage number has been dealt with, the next player then chooses a remaining cottage number and the process is repeated. In this fashion, each player will choose one cottage number, with the last player in turn order having only one cottage number to choose. The player order potentially rotates each turn, but this is based on the outcome of an auction.
Once all workers have been placed, each player collects resources based on the terrain his workers occupy. This is done in player order as there is a strict limit on the number of resources available, but in reality this supply is bountiful and we never depleted the resources in any of our games.
Phase three of the game is the busiest phase as players spend their resource cubes on various actions. This is done in a ‘round-the-table’ fashion, with players being allowed to pass and re-enter the action sequence until they acquire a law card OR all players have passed in succession.
So just what can you purchase with your resource cubes?
1) Acquire a seat in the Keythedral. Seats begin with a value of ‘4’ and gradually climb to a value of ‘12’, increasing in increments of two with each new level. Each seat requires a different combination of resources to acquire and only the current row of seats are visible. Since only a handful of the available quantity of seats in the game are used, no one can be quite sure of the exact combination that will be required until a new row is revealed.
As mentioned, the primary method in which to earn victory points is by acquiring seats in the Keythedral. Thus, as the game progresses, there is a growing sense of urgency in acquiring the limited supply of seats, especially when the higher valued seats are revealed.
2) Covert a cottage into a house. As mentioned, a house allows a player to place two workers from that house into adjacent fields. This is VERY valuable and often players will use some of their cubes to accomplish this during the first several rounds.
3) Build or remove a fence. Fences are used to block a cottage’s access to an adjacent field and can be quite nasty. Their removal costs valuable resources and can cause your opponents must consternation. Unfortunately, the construction of fences also costs a resource cube, so the player considering the construction of this obstacle must carefully weigh the benefits of the fence versus the possible uses of that resource in the acquisition of a Keythedral seat.
4) Purchase from the blacksmith, glassmaker or goldsmith. The only away to acquire iron works, stained glass or gold (known as “craft” cubes) is to purchase them from the appropriate craftsman, the fee being paid in resource cubes. As the Keythedral develops, it will require these more advanced and precious items, so players must prepare for these necessary purchases from the craftsmen.
5) Trade with the Trader. Players can trade any two cubes for one other resource cube. Simple as that. So, if you’ve been shut-out of a particular resource on a turn, and desperately need it to accomplish your plans, trading can be a wise choice.
6) Purchase a Law Card. Two law cards are available each round, but they are face-down, so their specific powers are not known until purchased. These are relatively inexpensive, costing one resource or craft cube. However, once acquired, the player’s turn ends and he cannot execute any further actions. He may play the law card immediately or hold it for use in a subsequent round.
7) Pass. A player may opt to pass on a turn and re-enter the round later provided he hasn’t acquired a law card or all other players have not passed in succession.
After players have executed all of the actions they desire, the round ends and worker counters return to their cottages. The start player for the next round is then determined by using an interesting mechanism. It rotates to the next player, but then players may bid resource cubes in a ‘once-around-the-table’ method for the right to determine the actual start player for the next round. The winner of the bid must pay the resource cubes to the player holding the “start player” disk, who would be the start player if no one elects to bid cubes. The winner of the bid then chooses who he desires to be the start player.
Choosing the start player is not as easy as it seems. One would think it would be beneficial to declare yourself the start player, as you get first choice on which cottage will send workers into the field. This is true. However, since the start player disk rotates to the left at the end of a turn and the player winning the auction must pay the resource cubes bid to this player, it is often wiser to declare the start player to be the player to your right. This means you will get the disk at the end of the turn and thus collect resource cubes from the player winning the auction.
This procedure is repeated each round until the final seat in the Keythedral is purchased, at which point the game ends immediately. Players tally the value of the seats they have acquired, as well as the value of any resource and craft cubes remaining in their possession. Resource cubes are worth 1 point apiece, while craft cubes vary in valuye from 2 – 4, depending on whether they are iron, stained glass or gold. The player with the greatest total of victory points receives a place of reverence and honor in the new cathedral … and he wins the game, too!
While I was disappointed with the original version of the game, the new release has nicely answered my concerns. The game is a nice blend of mechanisms that forces players to carefully manage their resources and execute their actions with proper timing and an eye on future rounds. It also allows for some nasty interference with your opponents, avoiding a ‘solitaire’ feel. The addition of new seats adds the needed length to the game in order for players to pursue various strategies, while the adjustment of the seat point values and the addition of victory points for remaining resource and craft cubes provide additional methods in which to earn victory points. Nicely done, proving that all some games need are some minor revisions to improve substantially.