Posted by: gschloesser | August 4, 2011


Design by:  Richard Breese
Published by:  R&D Games
3 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

(Revised 9/18/99)

I was fortunate to acquire one of this limited edition releases from Richard Breese.  I had first played the game (courtesy of Frank Branham) at Gulf Games II, but we didn’t complete the game as dinner interrupted us about 3/4 into the game.  At that time I found the game had some interesting mechanics, but feared it had some problems which could potentially be devastating to the game.  However, without completing it, I reserved final judgment.

Well, after subsequent playings and seeing them through to completion, my initial fears were well founded and, indeed, compounded.  The game, although having many enjoyable elements, has some serious problems and is prone to be quite lengthy and repetitive.  One of our games lasted nearly three hours and that was using the ‘short version’ of only having to collect three artifacts before entering the final chamber.  To be sure, not all games have this duration, but it is quite possible.  I don’t normally mind lengthier games, especially since I cut my teeth in this hobby with Avalon Hill and SPI war games, but the repetitiveness of the mechanics used in Keydom can cause boredom to set in the lengthier matches.

Now let me say that my opinion seems to be in the minority.  Most other reviews I’ve read and other groups I’ve corresponded with highly praise the game.  It’s not that I don’t like it … I do.  I find the mechanics unique and some of the card play and tactics clever.  However, I find the game has some problems which can seriously mar the enjoyment of the game.

The game is set in a medieval town.  Players are vying to become the new leader of Keywood by acquiring four key artifacts:  regalia from the goldsmith; a safe from the blacksmith; a key to lock the safe from the locksmith; and knowledge of the keylore from the old master, Keywood.

In order to acquire these four ‘artifacts’, players must accumulate sufficient resources in order to pay the necessary costs.  Resources are earned by sending workers out into the fields, which are represented by five different areas on the board:  the harbor, forest, quarry, farm and brewery.  When workers are successfully ‘paired’ in these areas, they earn cubes of the appropriate color, which can then be spent on various other tasks and, ultimately, acquiring the artifacts.

In addition to the five resource areas, the board also depicts the town, which has various areas in which players can vie for the services of a town official.  There is the soldier, who has the power to arrest a token, thereby removing it from contention in an area. The priest can demand donations of cubes from the other players.  The traders can swap one resource cube for another.  The outlaws can steal cubes … or even artifacts … from opponents.  Finally, the midwife can deliver a ninth token (a value of 1) to the player to use during the game.

Then there is the castle area.  In the tower, there are three areas where players can solicit the aid of the wizard and acquire various spells.  Inside the castle itself are the four areas where the four artifacts can be purchased.  Finally, there is the chamber, which can only be entered once a player has acquired the four artifacts.

Each player begins the game with eight numbered markers (2 – 8). After determining a ‘starting player’ via a secret bid using one (or more, if necessary) of these tokens, players then begin placing these tokens face down in various areas on the board.  Since they are being placed face-down, the value of the markers being placed is unknown, so it is somewhat of a guessing game as to what your opponents are up to.  Aside from the five resource areas, the other areas all require the expenditure of resource cubes in order to utilize that area’s ‘power’ or purchase the spell or artifact.  Since players begin the game with no resource cubes, it is usually a turn or two before these areas become contested.

Once players have placed all of their markers, they are revealed area-by-area and conflicts resolved.  Higher numbered tokens get to play first in the resource areas.  Ties are broken in favor of the player who has the highest value of tokens remaining in the area.  If there is still a tie, the player sitting closest to the ‘starting player’ (which rotates each turn) gets preference.  The player may either place his token in one of the 10 ‘worker’ spaces or in the sole supervisor position.  Once a space is occupied, that token cannot be dislodged without the use of a spell.  In order to earn resource cubes in an area, the tokens must be ‘paired’ with another token, either your own or an opponent’s.  If it is not paired once all tokens are placed in that area, any lone tokens do not receive any resource cubes.

If the token has been successfully paired, then that pair will produce two resource cubes of the appropriate color, which is determined by the area.  If there is no supervisor, then each of the two ‘paired’ tokens receives one of the cubes.  If, however, there is a supervisor, the player controlling the supervisor determines the split.  He may award one to each player, or give both resource cubes to one of the pair.  Of course, if the player controlling the supervisor also has one of the two tokens in the ‘pair’, who do you think he will award the two cubes to?  Greed and self-interest usually prevails, although sometimes a ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ approach can be favorable down the line!

One more factor to consider is that if a player is able to pair two of his own tokens in the area of the same color that he is playing during the game, then the resource production for that pair is doubled to four cubes.  A virtual resource bonanza!  It is this battle for the resource cubes, and the resulting negotiation and nastiness which can occur due to the threat of the supervisory power, which is perhaps the most interesting in the game.

After all five resource areas are resolved, then each of the other areas on the board are resolved.  Again, the player placing the highest token in that area gets to exercise the area’s power (if he can pay the necessary resource cubes to do so).  Ties are broken in the same fashion as mentioned above.

Thus, the flow of the game usually follows a pattern of first competing to acquire resources.  Once sufficient resources are acquired, players begin competing more often for the various town spaces and the powers they convey.  Gingerly at first, players then begin entering the castle seeking to obtain the artifacts.  Once this begins occurring, all hell breaks loose and the nasty powers of the soldiers (arresting tokens), priest (‘stealing’ tokens from opponents) and the various spells begin flying.  This usually results in the interruption and destruction of the plans of the players.

In spite of its intriguing premise and unique mechanisms, the game has several problems.  Fortunately, none of them are truly fatal.  Although the mechanism of the game is interesting and very different, the length of the game is a big deterrent as the course of play is identical each turn.  Thus, the game rapidly develops a very repetitive feel and can become somewhat boring.

A few of the powers conveyed by the town officials seem way too powerful and, if properly executed, have the potential of dragging the game on and on.  For instance, once securing the priest location, a player only has to pay three resource cubes of different colors in order to force all players to give up all of their resource cubes they possess in excess of twelve.  This can continuously cause resource cubes to be removed from the game, thereby prolonging it even longer as player are denied the cubes they need to exercise powers or grab artifacts.

The soldier, too, can be very powerful.  He has the ability to arrest (remove) any one token from the board.  This cannot be halted by spell or any other method.  Far too often players are denied control of an area by having their most powerful token removed, thereby giving control of an area to another player.  Fortunately, there is a defense against this … fight for control of the police area or overload your key area with tokens so the player controlling the police has less of a chance at removing your valuable token.  However, one cannot defend against all possible assaults, a problem I discuss below.  Regardless, this power does have the potential ‘kingmaker’ problem and, indeed, proved to do just that in one of our games.

Third, the outlaws are also too powerful.  At first glance, it seems that the price to exercise their most potent power … stealing an artifact tile from an opponent … is very expensive.  It costs twelve resource cubes to exercise the power … eight of one color and one each of the other four colors.  In reality, however, this is not difficult to obtain.  Thus, if a player is approaching victory, it is quite easy to gain control of the outlaw section and simply steal a tile from him.  This has occurred in several of our games and in one game actually determined the winner … and it wasn’t the player who controlled the outlaws.  Yep, another ‘kingmaker’ issue.

Yet another problem I have with the game is that it is extremely difficult to protect oneself from the wide variety of assaults which can be directed at you each turn.  Only if one managed to acquire and hold the proper spells (and one can only hold two at any one time) AND be positioned to not only make a dash for the chamber but also gain control of the outlaw, priest and soldier positions at the very same time, can one successfully fend off the myriad of possible assaults. It is this ease in which players can be attacked and stripped of their resources, tokens and artifacts which tends to lengthen the game and cause it to drag on and on.

My final problem with the game is the potential for a huge ‘kingmaker’ problem.  It is quite possible, indeed, even likely, that several players will have all of the required artifacts and contest to enter the chamber at the very same time.  A player controlling the soldier may be forced, as he was in our latest game, with the choice of arresting one of the tokens.  Needless to say, this can easily sway the numerical values on the tokens and throw the game to an opponent.  This situation has occurred in two of our games, with an outside party essentially determining who would win.

If this ‘kingmaker’ situation was a rare fluke, I might be able to accept it better.  However, the chance of the same or similar thing occurring fairly frequently seems high, as the game seems designed to keep everyone fairly close and makes it easy to ‘gang-up’ on the leader.  Thus, the dreaded ‘kingmaker’ problem, which has ruined many a game, seems to be dooming Keydom as well.

That’s a pretty lengthy list of problems for a game to have.  I really, really want to like this game as   I do find the mechanics interesting and fairly unique.  However, the multitude of problems is in such a great quantity that the game will never rise much above being simply an average gaming experience.  What a shame.




  1. I never played Keydom but did play the reimplemented version called Aladdin’s Dragons. Since most will never see Keydom (300 copies produced), I suggest you try aladdin’s Dragons. It is based on blind bidding. I like that in this game but some don’t. 7/10

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