Keyper is the latest meeple-heavy, pastel-shaded, resource management title from Richard Breese, the designer of other “key” games like Keyflower, Keymarket and the astonishingly titled Keythedral. Thanks to Mr. Grogan of Gaming Rules! I got the chance to play an early copy of this Essen release and now, I get to tell you about it! It might be my favourite of the pun-y titles, but does the gameplay make it a… Keyper?
I’ll show myself out…
But wait! I can’t leave with out showing you something truly magical. See, Keyper is a worker placement game and, you know, here are two boards of worker placement spots.
But between rounds you pick them up and do THIS to them!
What!? How? What sorcery is this!?
It’s insane. A folding board that changes your available options between rounds to represent the changing of the seasons. Funky boards not-withstanding, the worker placement is itself nicely innovative with a follow mechanic that really gets you thinking about what others might want to do. You see, when you place out a worker on the central board, one other player will be able to follow you to that spot, gaining you both an extra use of that space, getting an extra resource say, or letting you build two buildings at once instead of three, it’s a good thing all round.
Of course, this might mean you run out of workers quicker, but that’s fine, because once you’ve played everything, either to the centre or to the action spaces you can construct on your board, you can start laying down meeples to use that space a second time. This can see you purposefully following even when you don’t need to because you want to re-use a building power, although this might be me not being very good at the game. It is certainly an interesting twist that having many meeples can see you “only” able to use each of them once, whereas having few will let you do those few things multiple times.
And you will see quite some variability in the number, and flavour, of the meeples you have available. Unlike many worker placement games, the number of workers in the game stays constant. But at some point during your turn you must play out the… *sigh* “Keyple” pictured above, to claim one of those folding boards where you have been playing your meeples. At the end of the round, the workers on that board will be yours for next round. The follow system all but guarantees the composition of your meeples will change over the game and this presents both risks and opportunities for you. The different colours restrict who you can follow and their specialisations lend them towards performing certain tasks (going to certain spaces) and that demands you think about what you’re doing this turn and in future turns, and grab opportunities before someone else takes it from you. It is one hell of a puzzle.
As with Keyflower before this, I found Keyple fascinating but thoroughly obtuse on the first play. I could play it and achieve some stuff, but had no idea how to manipulate this system to its fullest. It’s a title that deserves repeated play to figure out the nuances and I have a lot of hope that it will be worth the effort. My biggest complaint is that the astonishingly innovative folding board is so under-utilised. You each get to choose the orientation of the board you take each round for the next one, but there are only so many permutations and they mostly open up the same sort of options, so I didn’t find that choice particularly compelling. Yet physically manipulating the boards is a larger puzzle than picking an outcome. The worker placement scheme is the really interesting part, the boards felt like a wasted opportunity.
For now, I’m putting Keyper in the bucket of solid and intriguing euros I would like to play more of. The worker placement is fantastic. There are a lot of nice combinations to create on your player board, and oh my goodness, I almost forgot to tell you about the hundreds of animal meeples in this game! 8 different types! Sheeples, cowples, Deerples, … Wild boarples. This game is not kidding around when it comes to shaped wood! If you pick this up at Essen and get some games in, I would love to hear how you find it! I’ll be keyping my eye out for future chances to play.