Posted by: gschloesser | August 3, 2011

Key Harvest

Design by:  Richard Breese
Published by:  R&D Games & Rio Grande Games
2 – 4 Players, 90 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

 

I thoroughly enjoy many of British designer Richard Breese’s creations, and count Reef Encounter and Keythedral amongst my favorite games.  I have been quite impressed how he has weaved the “Keydom” story through a series of fine games.  The latest in this series is Key Harvest, which has players obtaining fields to grow and harvest crops.  It is not exactly the most exciting theme, but success depends upon careful planning and clever manipulation. 

I must admit that the game’s components and artwork did not exactly excite me.  There are a lot of cardboard present, as well as wooden cubes representing the crops.  The artwork on the player country boards is muted gray and very, very bland.  The fields do come to life when the crop tiles are placed, but the numbered grids give everything a mathematical feel that will likely primarily appeal to those with a scientific or engineering background.  The central town board is only slightly more attractive, as it does contain some color.  The saving grace, as in all “Key” games, is the characters, which are always appealing.

Each player receives a country board, which depicts a hexagonal grid, each with a unique letter / number combination ranging from A1 to G7.  Two tiles are placed onto this board to begin a player’s fields.  In addition, they each receive a general store, whereupon they can place in reserve up to two tiles.  Players begin the game with a set of six farmhand tiles, each with a special ability, as well as three crop counters.  More worker tiles are available from the town board, which also displays six field tiles from which players can select during their turn. 

The objective of the game is to build fields, and strategically use the workers to maximize crop production and the growth of the fields.  Ultimately, points are earned for players’ largest two fields, as well as the farmhand and worker tiles they have employed in their fields. 

Each turn, a player may perform two out of four possible actions: 

1)      Harvest Crops.  When initially placed onto a country board, field tiles are placed un-harvested side up.  When selecting this action, players may harvest all un-harvested tiles that are connected in a group.  The player receives crop cubes of the appropriate types.  These cubes are used to pay for field tiles located in opponents’ general stores, as well as protect tiles in your own store. 

2)      Play or remove a worker tile.  A player may place one of his own farmhand tiles, or one from the central town board.  Each tile has a value, which indicates the number of tiles which to which it must be adjacent when placed.  This number is also the victory points the tile earns at game’s end.  Tiles can be placed on empty spaces, or displace a previously placed worker tile. 

Each worker tile has a special ability, which can include the ability to harvest adjacent fields, purchase field tiles, acquire crop cubes, re-plant fields, re-use a previously placed worker, etc.  Maximizing the use of these workers is one of the major keys to success in the game. 

3)      Transfer field tiles from the stores onto the country board.  These field tiles can be taken from the player’s own general store, or from the store of opponents.  If the opponent has protected the tile in his store with crop cubes, the player must pay the player a matching set of cubes.  The tile or tiles are then placed on the appropriate locations on the player’s country board.  

If the space where the tile is to be placed is occupied by a worker, the player may immediately reposition that worker to a new location, which once again triggers that worker’s special ability.  This is a valuable tactic that can prove extremely profitable.  Thus, wise players will attempt to place workers in locations that increase the likelihood of ultimately being repositioned in this fashion. 

4)      Place tiles from the town board into the general store.   The player may place one or two tiles in this fashion, provided he has room in his general store.  He may protect these tiles by placing one or more of his crop cubes on the tile.  Any opponent wishing to take these tiles must pay the player a matching set of crop cubes.  

Players must be judicious when selecting tiles to place in their general store.  The only way to remove them from the store and free-up valuable space is to either place them on your own country board, or have an opponent take them.  Taking an undesirable tile can clog a player’s general store and severely limit a player’s options. 

It is important to note that the above actions can be performed in any order – except that action #4 cannot be performed BEFORE action #3.  This prevents a player from taking a tile from the town board and placing into his field on the same turn.  

Whenever a tile is taken from the town board, a replacement is immediately drawn from the tile bag.  The mix of tiles contains a dozen event tiles, which ultimately trigger the end of the game.  When an event tile is drawn, it is resolved immediately, and a new tile is drawn until there are six field tiles on the town board.  Event tiles trigger a variety of occurrences, and often provide players with the opportunity to purchase tiles or crop cubes.  When the tenth event tile is drawn, the game enters its final stage, with each layer taking two more turns. 

There is a potential delay to the game ending, however.  When the seventh event tile is drawn, a check is made to see how many field and worker tiles are in play on each player’s boards.  If any player has fewer than seven field and worker tiles in play, two event tiles are returned to the bag, thus extending the game a bit more. 

The event tile / end game mechanism is bothersome to me.  In the games I have played, the event tiles have emerged quickly, and the game speeds to what feels like a premature conclusion.  There doesn’t seem to be enough time to develop a long-term plan or strategy.  When playing with four players, twelve of the fifty-four tiles in the bag are events, which equates to more than 20%.  Since tiles are drawn from the bag frequently, the game does go quite fast.  Knowing how meticulous Richard Breese is, I am confident that the game has been carefully play-tested and that he is satisfied with the length.  For me, though, it just seems to end too quickly. 

When the game does end, players score points as follows: 

  • Each worker / farmhand tile on their board is worth a number of points equal to their value
     
  • Each field tile in the player’s largest field grouping is worth one point
     
  • Each field tile in the player’s second-largest field grouping is worth two points
     
  • For each of the five crop types, the player who has the most cubes of a type scores one point. 

Of course, the player with the most points is victorious. 

The game certainly provides decent latitude for clever play and tactics.  As mentioned, properly utilizing workers is a key, as is collecting tiles so as to grow two fields of approximately the same size so as to maximize points.  Players should try to employ as many workers as possible to take advantage of their special abilities and to earn victory points.  Being able to subsequently re-position these workers is also important. 

While the game does have significant strategic elements, it just fails to sufficiently excite me.  It is a good game with interesting challenges, but it just seems to lack that special spark that elevates games to a higher level.  I have enjoyed it a bit more with subsequent playings, but not as much as I enjoy others in the Key series.  That is not meant to be a condemnation, but rather a compliment on just how high the bar has been set by Breese’s previous designs.

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Responses

  1. I am a big fan of Richard Breese. I have enjoyed all of his games. In this one, getting the right tiles at the right time is a challenge but it is one worth pursuing. Very good game. 7/10


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