Saturday, March 14, 2020

Board Game Review - One Key

One Key is a co-operative deduction game from Libellud with a feel and mechanic similar to a couple of their other games: Mysterium and Obscurio. In One Key, the concept is that “the key” has gone missing and it’s up to the group to find it. In this case, the “key” is linked to (or is represented by) a piece of odd and whimsical artwork.

To setup the game, one player is selected as “the Leader” (the clue giver) and they draw/deal 11 of these whimsical cards then randomly decide which of those cards is THE “one key.” Over the course of 4 rounds, the Leader will draw and reveal 3 additional cards.

The Leader uses a token to tell whether each card has a “strong”, “weak” or “uncertain” affinity to the key card. The other players (the “Travelers”) choose one of the 3 cards and looks at the token to decide if the Leader felt it was a strong or weak (or uncertain) link to the key card.

Based solely on this information, they discuss amongst themselves which of the 11 available keys should be eliminated. In the first round they must eliminate 1 card, the second round they eliminate 2, the third they eliminate 3 and the final round they eliminate 4 cards to (hopefully) leave the One Key sitting by itself. If at any time the players choose to eliminate the One Key, they immediately lose. They win by making it to the final round of the game and not eliminating the key during the final selection process.

The game had a number of elements that made me feel like it could be a step above Mysterium and Obscurio. The biggest bonus I saw was that the game is meant to play very quickly with each round taking only ~3 minutes. Libellud produced a mobile app that can be used as a timer and to provide background music but any timer would work. Setup is quick and easy and each of the 4 rounds is played very quickly. While I don’t mind the length of time for Mysterium and Obscure (usually just under an hour), One Key is meant to be taught and played in less than 20 minutes which can make it more accessible for some groups.

We were impressed with the art from Mysterium and Obscurio. That precedent carried into One Key and we were equally impressed with the cards in this game. I really liked that the cards were each of different sizes and shapes. This added to the whimsy and unique feel of the game and was just a lot of fun. I felt like this artwork was a bit lighter and more whimsical but I think part of this was just the art design in having each card image portrayed on a card with a white background. Still, the light background made the game feel “lighter” than the dark and forbidding feeling that we get from Mysterium and Obscurio.

I was intrigued to see that the game came with an app but I found the app somewhat counterintuitive as well as lacking in features that would have been helpful. As a timer with nice background sounds for the game, it was fine but the functionality of the app just didn’t work for us. After inputting the correct card ID into the app, there was no way for the Leader to review it at a later time to perhaps look closer at the images. We also found that, because the icons had no instructions or labels, it was very easy for a player to tap the wrong button and immediately fail the game. In the end, we only used the app for the timer and not for the functionality.

The other games of this ilk simply ask the clue giver to identify the card(s) or portions of cards that best relate to the card they want the players to guess. In One Key, the clue giver has no choice of which cards to show the player and they just have to say if they think it’s a strong/weak/indifferent relation. This twist in thinking is very interesting and resulted in lots of intriguing debates among the players.

Unfortunately, with our group we felt like the gameplay fell a little flat. The problem is that the nature of the card art means that you can always (almost?) find a viable strong relation if you get into the right frame of mind. Normally this wouldn’t be too bad because in the other games if you guess incorrectly in some of the earlier rounds, you may get a slight disadvantage but you can move forward with some added knowledge gained by knowing you were wrong.

In One Key, if you guess correctly, you haven’t necessarily identified the Leader’s train of thought but if you guess incorrectly, you immediately lose the game. This huge penalty eliminated the ability to learn from mistakes and also left a little bit of a bad taste to players, especially in earlier rounds where they’ve had fewer clues given. A single “bonus” token could be used once per game to look at a second clue card in a round to try and get more information. A couple of times this paid off but most of the time it just added to our confusion.

The short play time means you can quickly reset and play again if you fail quickly. Our group did win a few times but we also lost a few times. We did some quick resets and replays but after half a dozen plays, most players agreed that the wins did NOT feel satisfying and the losses felt entirely beyond our control.

So while there was excitement for fun new art, a shorter setup/play time and some intriguing new mechanics (and an app), in the end this was poorly received in our game group and it’s a game I’m not likely to pull out or recommend. It might work better for other groups, but for my taste, I’ll likely return to Obscurio or Mysterium and just be ready for the longer play time.




2 out of 5 stars



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