Why this game?: Locke & Key came across my radar by accident. I am fairly new to the BGG community but have since made it my home (and home page) throughout every day - spending several hours reading reviews, keeping an eye on new-to-release games, and the like. The exact course of events that led me to purchase Locke & Key are quite dull (clicking one of the game banners on the side of BGG's home page), but the game is far from the same description. I have always been a fan of comic books, though not a collector by any means, and the artwork in Locke & Key instantly drew me back to my childhood of reading X-Men and The Avengers.
Play Time: 30-45minutes
Player Limit: 3-6
Game Weight: Light-Medium
Locke & Key prides itself in being a trick-taking card game with a twist. There's no element of deck building present for you never produce your own draw deck (every player draws from the same two decks for play cards), but it can have a marginal feel of a deck building game when a player decides to use strength combos and keys (to be discussed later). The premise is simple enough, go through 12 to 18 hands of play, known as challenges, and have the most VP when the "Game Over" card appears in the challenge deck.
The first thing that caught my eye was the quality of the cards for this game. All of the artwork for the cards is taken directly from the artwork from the graphic novel Locke & Key by Joe Hill, the inspiration for this game. There are three types of cards in this game: Challenge cards, Strength cards, and Key cards (to be discussed during Game Play section). Each deck of cards is of medium thickness and could find them subject to wear/tear from shuffling and handling if not sleeved, but that's a risk you take when you don't sleeve a card game's cards.
Challenge Cards: These cards contain a point value in the top right corner that is the number, specific to the color of the Challenge (white, blue, or black), that must be reached by played Strength cards during the hand. Each Challenge card has a reward for the player that played the 2nd highest cumulative Strength - so sometimes coming in 2nd place for that challenge is preferred! Also included in this deck is the "Game Over" card.
Key Cards: The key cards are finished with a foil to mimic the luster of a real key. There are two types of keys: reusable and one-shot. Reusable, when put into play, remain in play until they are removed from play or stolen by another player. The effects do not automatically apply to each hand after reveal, the player may choose to use or not to use each reusable key per play. One-shot keys may only be used once, and after their resolve, are discarded and no longer available for play for the duration of the game.
Strength Cards: These cards range from a value of 1-7 and are the primary means to complete the challenges you encounter throughout the course of the game. Some of these cards have special text that talk about combos or special effects should you place the card face-up instead of face-down.
There is also a cardboard lock that serves as the first player token. The rigidity of this token will prove to last a VERY long time and many uses.
The rule book is well done, but not perfect. As mentioned in the few reviews currently present in BGG, there are a few spots in the rules that leave you wondering "what if..." about certain situations; but as a whole, the rule book covers several common situations that you will most likely cover during play quite well in a step-by-step of how to resolve such situations.
The game setup is quite quick and easy. Separate the three types of cards into their respective decks (each has their own unique art on the backs so differentiation is simple) and shuffle. A caveat to this is the "Game Over" card that is considered a Challenge card. Remove this "Game Over" card from the Challenge deck prior to shuffling. Then, place the "Game Over" card randomly within the bottom six cards of the deck. The purpose of this mechanic is so that the end of the game is unknown and adds a sense of urgency to collecting points during the first challenges.
Deal four (4) cards to each player from the Strength deck, face down. The first player token goes to the player whose birthday is closest (looking forward) to the current date as per the rules, but in our group we just give it to someone randomly and each successive game move the token once clockwise to start the next game. When every player has 4 Strength cards and the first player token is assigned, you're ready to play.
The player with the lock token takes the top card of the Challenge deck and turns it face-up on the table. This will be the challenge that every player is vying to obtain. After the challenge is revealed every player draws one (1) Strength card, starting with the first player and continuing clockwise. In turn order, each player now has one of three options for play during their turn.
1) Play up to three (3) Strength cards from your hand and place them face-down on the table in front of you. The exception to this rule is any Strength card that has special text that states the effect requires a face-up play of the card. If such cards are placed face-down, the player forfeits the privilege of utilizing the special action of the card. The color of the Strength cards you play DO NOT have to match the color of the challenge - this is huge to note in bluffing that you will aid a player in defeating a challenge, then revealing that you have lied and no one wins the challenge.
2) Take no action and "pass" on the challenge to draw one (1) Strength card.
3) Discard two (2) Strength cards from your hand and draw the top card from the Key card deck.
Every player only gets one action per challenge. Once every player has made their choice of action, and has executed it, all face-down cards are turned over and revealed. At this point, players have an option to play any Keys they should have in their hand or to enact the ability of a reusable key currently in play. *NOTE* Keys can be played at ANY point during the hand which means they can be used during your initial action or during the reveal phase. This rule adds a whole lot of ambiguity to what other players might do and makes it uncertain whether you will win a challenge until the very end of the hand.
When all keys and any other such cards are played, the hand is resolved. The player that contributed the most Strength points of the SAME color of the challenge wins the challenge card. The player that played the 2nd most Strength cards of the SAME color claims the 2nd place reward. All spoils are resolved in turn order going clockwise from the winner of the hand. The lock token is placed in front of the winner of the challenge (if the challenge is failed, the token remains with its current player) and the cycle repeats.
Additions to Game Play:
Strength Combinations – Some Strength cards allow play of combos and these combos provide added benefits should you successfully play the combo (most do not require a victory of the challenge which provides a very nice option to collecting more Strength cards or keys should you not be able to win the hand or even 2nd place).
1-2-3 Combo: Play three Strength cards (the 3 card MUST be of the color of the challenge while the 1 and 2 do not have to be of the same color, but may if you wish).
2-2-2 Combo: Play three “2” value Strength cards (at least one of these MUST be the color of the challenge).
On the Money Combo: Your Strength cards played must EXACTLY equal the value of the challenge.
I love love love looooooooove this game! I have a lot of heavy-hitter games in my collection (especially Arkham Horror), so it’s a great relief to have a light-medium card game to play as a filler or to bring out with the less nerdy of my friends.
My exposure to this game has gotten me quite interested in the graphic novel series and I have since ordered the first 2 volumes of the series. I fully recommend this game for any fans of easy-to-play filler games, fans of trick-taking card games, or for people who enjoy board/card games but don’t quite feel brave enough to wander into BSG or Arkham Horror territory just yet.
An interesting factoid about the graphic novel series by which this game was inspired: Joe Hill, real name Joseph Hillstrom King, is the son of Stephen King (yes, the famous horror/thriller author).
- Last edited Fri Apr 20, 2012 10:24 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Apr 20, 2012 8:27 pm
Life is too short not to live it up a little!
Great review, Brian! Hope you enjoy the graphic novels as much as I have!
Great review, Brian! Hope you enjoy the graphic novels as much as I have!
Thanks! I am anxiously waiting for volumes 1 and 2 to arrive, I have no doubt they'll keep my attention as well as the game!