Posted by: gschloesser | August 4, 2011

Key Largo

Designers: Paul Randles, Mike Selinker & Bruno Faidutti
Publisher:  Titanic Games
Players: 3 – 5, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Originally published in three foreign languages by Tilsit back in 2005, the late Paul Randles’ Key Largo has found renewed life with a new, revised edition released by Titanic Games. This spiffy new edition has received an artistic facelift, as well as some rules twists and modifications. The end result, however, is not much different from the original, which may be good news to some and disappointing to others.

The theme has players scurrying to obtain divers and equipment in order to pillage ancient shipwrecks for the treasures they contain. There are dangers, however, as monsters lurk in the deep, and greedy thieves lay in wait for the opportunity to pilfer players’ hard-earned goods. Further, only ten days remain before the hurricane season begins, thereby making it impossible for further diving expeditions. Victory goes to the player who recovers the most treasures and sells them at the market for the greatest profit.

The board depicts Key Largo from above, with its variety of houses, shops and features. The key areas are the market, tavern, equipment shop, and Dolphin Cove, where players will send their ships during the course of the game. Four wreck sites are established, with three decks of cards at each site. The cards are divided into shallow, medium and deep decks, with the rewards – and possible perils – potentially greater at increased depths.

Each player receives a set of five action cards, four of which correspond to the four island locations while the remaining one allows the player to search a shipwreck. Players begin with a small treasury and one diver in their employ.

Each turn, players secretly select two of their cards, one for the morning action and one for the afternoon action. Morning actions are revealed, and players move their ships to the location matching the card they played. In turn order, each player then executes the action. Once these actions are completed, players then reveal their afternoon actions and repeat the process.

Possible actions include:

  • Search a Wreck: A player moves his ship to one of the four wreck sites. He sends his diver or divers to a depth of his choice. Divers with no hoses can explore only shallow wrecks, as hoses are required to investigate wrecks located further below the surface.

The player takes one card from the appropriate deck for each diver sent to explore a wreck. If the card shows a treasure – goods, artifacts, gold or jewels – the player keeps the card. If a monster is revealed, the diver is frightened away and removed from the game – unless the diver possesses a trident, in which the diver continues exploring, but the monster and trident are removed from play.

If the diver possesses a weight, he may discard the weight to select another card. Each diver may possess only two hoses, one weight and one trident, so players cannot overload their divers with equipment to ransack a wreck all at once.

  • Go to the tavern: Players may hire a diver or purchase drinks for the patrons for $20, which allows the player to look at two decks at a wreck site. The cost for a diver varies from $80 to $120, depending upon the number of players present at the tavern.

Players may opt to use an optional rule that allows the purchase of a thief. This allows the player to steal a treasure card from an opponent. This adds a healthy dose of nastiness to the proceedings, but it also ratchets up the frustration level as there is no defense against the vile criminal.

  • Shop for equipment: Divers need hoses to go to the wrecks located at a greater depth, and tridents to fend-off the nasty monsters that lurk in the deep. Weights are also useful so a diver can potentially grab multiple treasures when exploring a wreck. All of these items can be purchased at the Equipment shop, but the cost for each is more expensive when more customers are visiting the shop.
  • Sell at the market: When a player collects treasures, he will ultimately want to sell them at the market. Three types of treasures can be sold at the market — goods, artifacts, or gold – and each treasure will contain one or more crates. Jewels do not need to be sold, but rather grant their value to the player at game’s end. A player may sell only one type of treasure per visit to the market, and the price for all but gold will vary depending upon the number of customers at the market attempting to sell their wares. Occasionally, a player will visit the market, only to decide not to sell due to a reduced price. The risk of not selling is not that great unless playing with the optional thief rule.
  • Go dolphin watching: An alternative method of earning cash is to visit Dolphin Cove. The amount of money earned is not dependent upon the number of players visiting the Cove, but rather is based on the day of the week. More money is earned on weekends – up to $60 – with only a paltry $30 being earned on weekdays. Thus, it is usually wise to visit the Cove on the more popular weekends.

Another optional rule allows players to have encounters while visiting the Cove. This allows the player to draw an encounter card, each of which depicts a character that grants the player a special ability. These abilities include drawing an extra treasure card when exploring a wreck, avoiding a monster, selling a treasure for a set price, treating areas as if more players were present, etc. These cards definitely add spice to the game and give players a bit more control over their fate.

The game is played over the course of ten turns (“days” in game parlance). With each passing turn, the start player rotates, which can be an important factor when choosing which wrecks to explore, and when the thief option is being used. After ten turns, the value of unsold treasures (as listed on the cards) is added to a player’s cash, and the wealthiest player becomes the toast of the Keys and wins the game.

Randles was obviously enamored with the mechanism where players secretly choose their actions, then simultaneously reveal them. This method was used in his only other published title, Pirate’s Cove. While it can be entertaining, this mechanism does tend to create considerable chaos in a game. The chaos here is not of the potentially devastating variety, as it mainly will affect the income a player can earn when selling at the market, or the amount that must be paid when purchasing equipment or divers. It can also affect the wrecks a player may explore, as only one player may explore a particular wreck at a time.

There really isn’t a lot of strategy present here. Outside of the thief – and that is an optional rule – there is not much a player can do to affect an opponent. There also isn’t any danger of losing one’s treasures, so success is really dependent upon lucky explorations and simple money management. There is not much here to challenge or excite folks who seek deeper fare. Key Largo is clearly designed to be a light, frolicking affair and is not something targeted to strategy gamers. Viewed in that light, the game is just fine and offers a pleasant experience. It seems to be suitable for gaming with the family, at a church group, or in other light, social settings. For those desiring something deep and challenging, however, I would suggest that you stay out of these waters.



  1. Light family game. The English version is very pretty. Plays quickly after you learn the rules. There is luck involved so beware. 6/10

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