Friday, April 04, 2008

Review - Key Largo

I've previously written on the tale of Key Largo before which is the last game designed by Paul Randles one of the designers of Pirates Cove. Last night was my first chance to play Key Largo with my gaming group and we had a full five player game.

The Object
The object of Key Largo is simple have the most money by the end of ten days. You acquire that money mainly from sending divers down for buried treasure and selling them at the market. You can also make money by taking tourist Dolphin Watching but the real money is made through salvaging the wrecks on the ocean floor.

The Components
The game comes with some rather large wooden pieces to represent your boat, a number of chits of items you can buy like hoses, weights and Tridents. A nicely illustrated board, lots of fake money and then plenty of cards to represent the treasure you find on the bottom of the ocean. I didn't find any of the components cheaply made at all.

The Theme
The game is set around the islands you pillaged during Pirate's Cove, or at least it is loosely based on that concept. The theme of being a salvage captain and sending your divers down works pretty well. I found it odd that the obstacle chosen for the divers were Sea Monsters and that the Trident was used to fend them off, I would of expected possibly a spear gun and Sharks perhaps. It's not a big deal and the art of the divers and the board represent that fun, humorous family ton so it works.

How it Plays
The dynamics of Key Largo are simple enough to get up and going fast. A first time game with 5 players and rules explanation only took about an hour. I think this game can be played in anywhere from 40 minutes to just over an hour depending on the size and group.

Players start with $100, a boat and a single diver. They also have a set of cards which allows them to do various actions, more on that in a minute. Then depending on the number of players you place wrecks down around the board of varying depths (shallow, medium and deep) in a 3 player game for example there are 3 shallow, 4 medium and 4 deep wrecks. Wrecks are stacks of 5 cards placed face down.

So the game is runs over 10 days, that's how much time is left before the hurricanes roll in and wash out all diving for the season. Each day is broken into a morning and afternoon, so effectively you have 20 turns of game play.

Each player has a set of cards with actions on them, you must choose two of these cards and place them face down on top of each other. The top card is your morning action and the bottom your afternoon action. What this means is you can only perform one of your actions once a day. After ten days you count up your money and unsold treasure and whomever has the most is the winner.

The Action Cards
Search a Wreck Card
Your diver goes to one of the wreck decks and draws the top card. Each wreck can only have one boat so there is a start player token and it passes each turn. If more then one player chooses a wreck action then they place their boats clockwise from the start player. You can also hire up to 3 divers, so you could be drawing 3 cards from a diving expedition.

You might remember the different wreck depths? Well in order to dive at medium depth each of your divers needs a hose, to dive at Deep depths each of them needs two hoses. So if for example you have 3 divers and two of them have 2 hoses but one of them has none you can only dive at a shallow wreck.

The wreck decks consist of either treasure or a monster. Treasure comes in the form of goods, gold, artifacts and jewels. When you draw these they simply go into your hand, a monster card just means your diver found nothing. There is a way to counter a monster, it's called the Trident. If you have one of these you can simply ignore the monster card and then draw another card from the wreck depth.

Finally each diver can have a single diving weight which allows him to discard it to draw another card off the wreck deck. When that's a lot to cover, but its best to explain everything here as searching a wreck is the key to the game.

Go Dolphin Watching Card
This card has you take tourists out to see Dolphins and collect some meager cash, how much depends on the day of the week but Friday - Sunday pay the most. There is an optional rule that frankly must be used for this card or else the Dolphin watch card will almost never get played and it's called encounters. Each time you go Dolphin watching you draw an encounter card and can keep it to use later. All encounter cards are beneficial, for example you may draw a card that allows you to immediately sell the last card you drew from a wreck deck.

Buy Equipment Card
I pretty much explained what the 3 different pieces of equipment did under the Wreck card. Just know you can only buy two items on each visit to the shop and each diver can only have 2 hoses, 1 Trident and 1 weight each.

What I am going to do is use this spot to explain the one dynamic that is going to come into play for this card and the remaining two and the one that makes the game interesting and it is the changing market. The number of people who visit the shop at the same time determines the price of goods. A hose might be $30 if you're the only one there, but if two people visit its $40 and if 3 visit its $60. In other words try and shop when people aren't around.

Sell Goods Card (ie visit the market)
This is how you make your money and of course making money is the key to the game. Up top I mentioned the 4 types of treasure goods, gold, artifacts and jewels. Well of those four only three of them can be sold at the market, jewels are never sold.

Each treasure card with the exception of Jewels has two numbers printed on it. The number of crates and the end game scoring value. As an example I might draw a Gold card and it will say 5 crates of gold and have an end game value on it of $100.

Much like the shop, the markets values for selling go changed based on the number of boat captains selling their haul. Gold always sells for $30 a crate, Good sell for less when there are more people an oddly enough Artifacts sell for more if there are more people.

Getting back to my example if I went to the market to sell my card which had 5 crates of gold i would make $150, 5 crates multiplied by the market of $30. So whats the other value you ask, the $100? There is a good chance you will not sell all your goods at market instead of them not counting towards your final score you get the value on the card, in this case $100. Jewels only have a value on them and it is usually a nice sum like $200. I should also mention that you can only sell one type of good per visit. So if I sell Gold I can't sell goods, but I can sell as many gold cards as I want.

Visit the Tavern Card
This is where you can do any of 3 things, the most important of which is buy another diver. Much like the shop, more people here means it cost more to hire a diver. Each boat can only transport 3 divers and no more.

You can also buy the tavern a round of drinks for $20, this allows you to pick two treasure decks, look at whats in them and then reshuffle them. Finally another option rule is hiring a thief, which allows you to steal a card from another players treasure hand.

Key Largo is a decent enough game, there is a pretty good theme here and the rules seem well balanced. The one thing I really love about it is the lack of downtime, everyone is doing their things at once and the game moves. The optional encounter rule should always be played with, while the thief rule I could live without. The game lacks any kind of drama really short of pulling a monster card and most late game strategy revolves around trying to out guess your opponents and be the sole visitor at the market.

Who is it for?
Pirate's Cove fans, people looking for a nice family or dinner party game which plays fast and has no confrontation.

Who is it NOT for?
People looking for a very strategic or heavy game. If you scoff at games like TTR, Pirate's Cove or That' Life stay far away from Key Largo.


TMJJS said...

Great review, Dan!
One minor point is that if your divers don't have the hoses needed, then you can make a choice. In your example, 3 divers, 2 with 2 hoses and 1 with none. It doesn't mean you can't treasure hunt deep, it just means the diver with no hose doesn't go down, so you can only use the 2 divers with 2 hoses and only get 2 cards. If you go shallow, then you would be able to use all 3 divers and get 3 cards.

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