As part of the twice-monthly game night I run, I have a prize table. Back in December when Amazon was having a $10 sale on a bunch of Euro games, I picked up Gloria Mundi, Key Harvest, In the Shadow of the Emperor, and one or two others for $10 each for the prize table. One of my friends took Key Harvest for his prize in December. Last night he brought it over and we decided to learn how to play. We had 3 players.
First off, I found the rulebook a bit confusing. There were large paragraphs where things were worded very verbosely, making it difficult to quickly scan. Also, I think the fact that a worker can be repositioned and used again (for free) if replaced by a field tile needs to be called out MUCH more clearly, since it's a fundamental tactic in the game.
Anyway, we blundered through the rules and started off. The setup was a bit tedious, but after the game we bagged the components in such a way that I think it'll be easier in the future.
On the first turn, we sort of stared at our boards, wondering what in the world to do. In the end, we followed the rulebook's advice on placing our "1" harvester, getting another crop, and then putting some field tiles in our stores. At this point, we didn't have a good handle on the value of the crops or field tiles, and deciding on "bribes" (we always thought of them as "bribes" rather than "bids") to place in our store was difficult. In fact, over the course of the game, I came to think of the crop placement as a bit of a false choice in the sense that you don't really have the info necessary to choose "wisely". The fact that the bribe can consist of any number of crops of 5 different colors adds quite a bit of complexity to the bribing process, and I'm not sure the payoff in terms of game decisions or tactics is that great.
Early in the game we had an event that let us acquire another field tile for (I think) 3 crops. No one except me decided to take it since it was very early and all we had were 3 or 4 crops each (having all taken the recommended first actions). I decided it was better to be land-rich and cash-poor, and this ended up being the right call. Over the course of the game, my opponents over-valued having lots of crops, while I concentrated on getting good field tiles and not worrying about keeping any kind of a reserve stash of crops. In fact, I probably averaged no more than 2 crops behind my screen per turn over most of the game. But with the harvesting action, coupled with the worker allowing payment in any color of crops +1, I never felt like I needed a big stash of crops.
This strategic formula succeeded because both of my opponents put things in their stores that they knew I needed, for bribes of around 3, 4, or 5 crops, hoping to cash in on my desire to gain those tiles. I happily paid, and it wasn't long before I had far more field tiles than either of my opponents, and most of mine were spread throughout the middle of the board, so almost anything that came up in the display potentially helped me. My opponents, on the other hand, had smaller fields toward the corners and had trouble finding field tiles they really wanted.
This led to a recursive situation where the tiles on the board were not too attractive to my opponents, but useful to me, and they had little to do on their turns (since they had smaller fields, placing workers was harder for them), and I rarely put any field tiles in my own store since I was able to buy from them. They put things in their store for lower prices, knowing I couldn't afford much, but they wanted to continue to cycle through the field tiles available in the display in order to "mine" for the ones they needed.
Basically, the over-valuation of having lots of crops and the under-valuation of buying fields that don't immediately connect led me to reap the benefit of my opponents' actions while being able to be very efficient about my actions. In the end, I won with a score of 37, to my opponents' 23 and 22.
This was due to my larger two connected fields, and my ability to place more workers due to those large fields. We ended the game with no one having any unconnected field tiles.
Everyone enjoyed the game, and we all discussed what we should've done differently for about 20 minutes after it ended. That's the mark of a good game. I think it's very newbie-unfriendly because there was no way to value whether 3 crops was "a lot" or "not much" in game terms until we'd played it out. In the future I expect the asking bribes to be noticeably higher, on average, than in our first game (at least after the initial rounds where everyone is poor).
Furthermore, everyone finally recognized the importance of buying fiels that are a little spread out, to give more options and also potential interstices where high-valued workers can be played.
Someone mentioned somewhere that the game reminded them of Acquire, and I guess it's a somewhat apt comparison. I felt like it was Acquire with some more control over what locations you end up with, which I felt was very lacking in the one game of Acquire I played years ago.
The game initially felt very fiddly, but I think that was an artifact of the cumbersome setup routine and the poorly-edited rules. Once we got into the flow of the game, it moved along quite nicely and there was not a lot of downtime or fiddly bits manipulation.
I enjoyed the game and look forward to playing again, hopefully soon so I can build on my limited experience. I do not feel the need to buy the game for myself, since my friend has it and I'll surely be able to play it as often as I really want. I'm guessing it'll settle into the rotation at 2 or 3 plays per year, which is probably about right for this kind of title.
I rate the game an 8 right now, but I think it'll probably settle in at a 7 after a few plays and the novelty wears off.