Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Stadens Nyckel

Design by:  Dan Glimne
Published by:  Casper
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

I first played this Dan Glimne title in December.  I had been eagerly anticipating his follow up to Svea Rike, as I thoroughly enjoy his award winning game on the history of Sweden.  The premise of constructing and developing a medieval city sounded fascinating and what I had seen of the components appeared top notch.

Unfortunately, my first playing left me very disappointed.  The game had quite a few flaws, especially in regards to the monetary situation.  Money was EXTREMELY tight in the game, and the cash that players begin the game with was drawn randomly as opposed to being distributed in equal amounts.  This left some players in a HUGE whole which they were never able to dig themselves out of.

Further, there are several ‘The City Grows’ cards which are shuffled into the development deck and then these cards laid along a track, representing the nineteen turns of the game.  These ‘City Grows’ cards trigger the auction and placement of a new city district, which is where much of the actions of the game are centered.  Since these are randomly shuffled and placed, it is quite possible (and it did occur in our first game) that most of these cards did not appear until very late in the game.  The result was very few districts in play and a very stale, very dull game.

But the game still held too much promise to abandon.  I toyed with it and developed several modifications which I hoped would solve these problems.  Upon play-testing the modifications, I am pleased to say that these modifications have helped turn Stadens Nyckel into a much more balanced, exciting game, one which I will readily play.  The modifications turned out to be a BIG improvement on the game and I would heartily recommend it to anyone.

Here were the modifications we used:

1) Each player is given an equal amount of money to begin the game. We gave everyone the following amounts:  1) $400   1) $300   2) $200    3) $100  – totaling $1400.

2)  Everyone was given one ‘City Grows’ event card.

3)  The Development cards were divided into two stacks and an equal number of City Grows cards shuffled into each half.  These were set on the spaces on the board so that there would be an equal amount of ‘City Grows’ development cards during each half of the game.

4)  We modified the ‘Fire’ card as follows:  Roll the dice and divide by 2 to determine the number of developments destroyed.  At least one development is destroyed by a fire.

These modifications resulted in a much more balanced game, which made the enjoyment level increase dramatically.  I wouldn’t want to play it again without these changes.

The game, like its predecessor Svea Rike, is gorgeous.  The artwork on the cards is sensational, and the board overlays and markers all top-notch.

The premise of the game is that of the expansion and improvement of a budding medieval city.  Each turn, a new event occurs, which causes such things as a new city district to go up for auction, awards Status Points to players controlling districts and/or high offices, cause players to gain or lose cards, etc.  After the event is dealt with, players each take their turn, which encompasses:

1) Playing an event card OR a development card on a city district. Development cards improve the district by adding infrastructure such as klosters, bakeries, prisons, hospitals, guild houses, etc.

2)  Contest for one of the four high offices.

3)  Pick an Event OR money card into your hand.

Most of the action of the game centers around the auction and development of city districts and the contesting of high offices.

When a Development card is reached by the turn marker triggers the auctioning of a new city district (‘The City Grows’ card), an auction is held.  Each player secretly bids money and ‘bid’ cards for the right to control that district.  High bidder gets control. Ultimately, he wants to play development cards from his hand to add infrastructure to his district, making it more valuable.  Opponents can, however, also play developments there which detract from the value and cause certain unsavory events, such as the dreaded fire.

Status points are earned by controlling districts AND by having consistency in the types of improvements which have been made to the district.  These points are triggered by certain event cards and awarded again at the game’s end.  Thus, ownership of city districts is vital.

High offices, of which there are four (mayor, bishop, Master of the Guild and alderman), also yield status points, as triggered by the event cards or at game’s end.  To acquire an office, a player announces his candidacy for a particular position.  If uncontested by his opponents, that player pays $100 and claims the position. Usually, however, his candidacy is contested, and an election (of sorts) is held.  This takes the form of a bidding contest.  Players alternate playing money and/or ‘high office’ cards.  There are also negative value cards which can be placed on an opponent’s hand. Ultimately, the high bidder earns the office (Still kinda works the same way today … money buys the office!).  Each player then gets to discard one of the cards their opponent played and takes all of the other cards they played back into their hands.

This same process can be used to contest an already occupied office in attempts to oust the incumbent.  It is fairly easy to lose an office.

The game does allow players to plan ahead.  The game has 19 scheduled turns, each of which has an event card on its space.  Five of these are face up at all times, so players can see the potential events which will occur (unless changed by play of event cards from a player’s hand) five turns into the future.  Thus, they can plan accordingly. For instance, if a card is coming up which will yield one Status Point for each High Office held, players can aim to capture one of the offices before that event occurs.  It is these upcoming event cards which drive the game.

The game ultimately ends when all 19 turns have occurred.  Players earn Status Points as follows:

  • 1 for each City District controlled
  • 2 for each High office held
  • n – 1 for each ‘unbroken’ line of improvement cards of the same ‘type’ on their city district.  There are four ‘types’ of improvements (wealth, status, piety and ill repute).  The more a player has in a row … and unbroken line … of the same type, the more points he will earn.  Thus, if a player has three ‘wealth’ improvement cards in a row, he will earn 2 SP’s (3 – 1).

The player with the highest total of Status Points wins the game and the congratulations of his opponents.

In my earlier experience with the game, we played with a full contingent of six players.  This is too many.  Our games with four players were much better.  Money was less tight, the city developed at a steady pace (due to the modifications we incorporated), and there was little down time between turns.  Players had enough cards to make contention for office more competitive and usually possessed enough cards to have options on most of their turns.  In short, Stadens Nyckel has now become an enjoyable game and one I look forward to playing again.

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