To celebrate the start of the first official International Online Keyflower Tournament organized by Tabletopia together with R&D Games, we are glad to publish an interview with Richards Breese (Keyflower, Reef Encounter, Keythedral, Inhabit the Earth).
Keyflower is one of the most popular euro-style board games in the world, ranking 27 on Top 100 on BGG.
Richard Breese is a financist by profession and has been designing and publishing games through his own company R&D Games since 1989. Richard is known for his Key series of games as well as other games such as Aladdin’s Dragons, Fowl Play!, Inhabit the Earth, Reef Encounter.
Hi Richard, can you tell us a bit about the origin of Keyflower? How did it begin?
The story of Keyflower started in 2007 when Sebastian was trying to develop a prototype game called Turf Wars. The idea for that game was that you spent money to hire gang members, who were then used to acquire victory cards and to regain money.
I had the opportunity of playtesting Turf Wars with Sebastian and afterwards wrote to Sebastian to say that I saw the potential for a much bigger game, which would fit into the Key series of games I was publishing. Sebastian was happy with the proposal and we then met regularly to playtest and develop Keyflower and exchange our separate play-test experiences.
The game converged into a finished state more smoothly than we had anticipated so we brought forward the target release date from 2013 to 2012, with Inhabit the Earth slipping back in the queue.
In your opinion, how did Keyflower benefit from having two authors and not just one? Is it easier or harder to co-design a game?
A co-design benefits very much from two designers sharing their ideas and solutions. Often one of us would have a proposal that the other might not have considered.
Also it was very productive to playtest the game at regular intervals with us both having a full appreciation of the development process that had got us to where we were.
In many ways it was easier as two brains are better than one, but on occasions it also meant it was necessary to compromise.
Keyflower has a surprising level of player engagement and interaction, which is rather unexpected in a euro-style game. Was this intentional and did you make efforts to accomplish this? Or it’s just the nature of the mechanics used?
My own designs incorporate the mechanisms which I enjoy the most and are aimed at the heavier end of the family market. I think player interaction is important, but that it should be indirect, i.e. through the game mechanism, not of a ‘take that’ nature.
So in Keyflower you do interact, but it is primarily for your benefit and not destructive to an opponent, although you may increase the cost of the action to an opponent or deny it to them. However their village will not be damaged in any way.
The main mechanism for this in Keyflower is Sebastian’s bidding mechanism, which is the main feature which attracted me to the project.
By the way, Keyflower features tile-laying, worker placement, and auction in a somewhat uncommon way. Where these some mechanics you wanted to use together?
An earlier game in the Key series, Keydom, is recognised as the very first worker placement game. It was re-implemented as Aladdin’s Dragons/Morgenland and I have used that mechanic subsequently.
It was a natural extension to the bidding system as were the six sided tiles which then acquired connectivity. I often describe game designing as going on a journey and never being quite sure where you are going to end up. It is a very creative hobby.
Keyflower has some powerful strategies and multiple courses to winning. What is your favourite strategy to use? 😉
I don’t start a game of Keyflower with a particular strategy in mind. Each game is very different depending on the tiles which come into the game, including the winter tiles. So it is very much a “thinking on your feet” type of game and adjusting to what is available.
Which of the expansion for Keyflower would you recommend to players and why? Did you include in the expansions anything you had to cut from the base game previously?
The game plays differently with each of the expansions and I particularly enjoy The Merchants expansion which makes more objectives achievable and reduces the luck inherent in the tile draw.
The Farmers expansion is more appealing in a visual way with the animeeples and offers some extra decisions.
Both Key Celeste and Keymelequin will also bring interesting new interactions into the game.
Nothing was cut out of the base game, which I think has plenty already going for it. But the ideas for the Farmers expansion were already sewn before the base game was published.
On a greater scale, what inspired you to create the “Keydom”? What unites the games in this series? And why exactly “Key”?
I met American gamer Keywood Cheves at Essen and his unusual name was just what I was looking for when I was searching for a name for my new game. Happily Keywood didn’t mind and bought three copies of the game. He is now even happier as he recently sold one of three copies for almost $700! 🙂
I submitted Keywood to the Sumo competition and was delighted when it won the competition. I then took my hand made copies to Essen in 1995 where the game was well received, getting a top rating in the German Spielerei magazine. Keywood was a character in the Keywood game and the land was named after him. So Keydom became title for the second game in the series.
Keydom and all the later Key games feature a common family friendly theme (except Key to the City – London) with plenty of indirect player interaction and a minimal amount of luck. Player actions are constructive, generating a positive feeling, not negative, conflict driven or destructive. Players are offered plenty of choices as I try to allow players to do things and not to restrict options.
Why do you think Keyflower received so much acclaim compared to other games in the Key series? What makes it special?
Each game of Keyflower is different depending on the tile mix, it scales well from 2 to 6, there is a lot of player interaction and it can be purchased fairly easily. Being a top 30 ranked game on the Boardgamegeek effectively acts as a permanent advert to new gamers and increases visibility.
Two of my earlier games Reef Encounter and Keythedral reached the top 50 and 100 respectively, but there were far fewer games available then and far fewer gamers also!
We knew at Spiel when the game topped the Fair Play scout action list that the game was likely to be very successful and it is very pleasing that this positive reception has been
Richard, which among your Key games is your personal darling child? Why do you think people need to pay it more attention?
It is a difficult question — a bit like being asked to choose between your children. But Keythedral is always a favourite as a gateway game. Keyflower is a little more involved and offers more to gamers.
It doesn’t get much better in gaming for me than a duel with Sebastian at a two player game of Keyflower with The Merchants expansion included.
If you had the possibility to re-edit some of your early games would you change them?
The possibility is there. Keythedral in particular. But at the moment I prefer to focus on new titles which is more challenging for me creatively.
Tell us a little about your newest game Key to the City —London. It’s not surprising that this game gets compared a lot to Keyflower. What is common and what is different between these games? Why did you choose London, by the way?
Key to the City – London is a shorter game as there are no tiles generating keyples, there is no requirement to transport resources and the tile upgrading is more straightforward. Players can also drop out of an era (a season in Keyflower) to set sail and gain priority in choices for the next era. Key to the City – London demanded a number of logical ‘connections’ to be made between the hex tiles, which could more readily be related to a modern day scenario.
The similarities to Keyflower suggested that the game should also be a Key game, so ‘Key’ was worked into the game title. As I have spent the majority of my life living in London, this city became the logical and favourite choice for the theme.
Tell us a little about your game designing plans. Are there any games in the making that you could tell us something about? Will we see any more Key games? Maybe some other cities but London?
In 2017 I am planning a new Key game called Keyper.
Keyper is a worker placement game. Each player starts with their own village board and will also claim a country board during each season. The country boards are special folding boards which enable gamers to choose from four different options at the beginning of each season. Each player also starts with their own team of keyples.
There is a high degree of player interaction. If a player uses a country board then another player can join that player on the first player’s turn to both player’s benefit. It’s not a co-operative game in the true sense, but co-operative play can be beneficial.
At the end of each season, a player claims a board and the keyples on it. So in subsequent seasons a player’s team of keyples is likely to be of a different colour mix and a different number.
It can be advantageous to play all of your keyples quickly. All keyples have the capacity to work twice. So if you run out of keyples, a player can continue playing until all players have played all of their keyples by ‘laying down’ keyples (to denote they are working for a second time) in their village or in their country board. If a gamer has enjoyed Keyflower then I think it is likely they will enjoy Keyper also.
Other Key to the City games are possible but are not currently in the schedule.
Thank you for your interest on Keyflower and R&D games!
Thank you Richard for this interview! Good luck with all your games, we hope to see many more of them on Tabletopia soon 🙂
To take part in the official International Online Keyflower Tournament, fill in the Player Registration form. The registration ends on February, 1. See you at the table!