Saturday, May 31, 2014


Unplugged Dilintia: Key to the Kingdom

When I was a kid, there was a movie I taped off of the TV called Flight of Dragons.  It was a wonderful fantasy romp about a man from the 20th century who gets caught up in a magical medieval world filled with wizards and dragons.  The movie as a whole really struck a chord with me, but there was an early scene in particular where the man is demonstrating a board game of his own invention to a potential investor.  I remember watching them rolling dice and talking about ice caverns and dragon breath and being sorely jealous.  I've always been fond of board games, and the one they were playing sounded so rich and interesting.  For years afterward, I longed to find a game similar to the one they described.  And I think I found it in Key to the Kingdom.

Key to the Kingdom is sort of this perfect little box of fun.  It's a fantasy adventure board game that's completely appropriate for 8-year-olds, yet the setting it creates still has its hooks in me all these years later.

As fantasy board games go, setup is refreshingly quick.  You shuffle one deck of monster cards and one deck of treasure cards, then give each player eight "equipment" cards, each one representing an item that will help them cross the game's many obstacles.  There aren't a million pieces that need to be arranged or dozens of decks of cards that need to be sorted out as you see in many games that attempt to be D&D Lite; you open the box, and you're playing in under a minute.  Seems like a small thing to get excited about, but so many games in this genre get so bogged down in their setup.  It amazes me how much game they get out of an idea with so few pieces.

Gameplay is also very simple.  You roll and move, deciding your own way through the game's winding and branching paths.  As you adventure, you'll frequently find your path blocked by obstacles, and you refer to the "Hazard Handbook" to see how to cross them.  These little challenges often require you to be carrying the right piece or pieces of equipment -- things like food, a sword, a grappling hook, a shield, and so on -- and do something special with the die, like roll an even number or cross a part of the path without landing on a hazard.  Succeeding will allow you to continue on your path, and failure carries any number of interesting consequences -- getting stuck for a bit, losing a piece of equipment, or being forced down an alternate path.  Crossing obstacles is mostly a matter of luck, but savvy players will start to catch on to which paths have the best odds and plan their adventures accordingly.

Your ultimate goal is to reach the six "Key Locations", where the game's six treasures are kept.  You draw a monster card and, much like the fixed obstacles on the gameboard, you must have the right equipment and roll the right numbers to defeat it.  Beating a monster wins you a treasure card, one of which is the Key to the Kingdom.  If you can get the Key and one other treasure and return to the start space, you win.

It's great.  It is so fun.  It's a game that's filled with monsters and dungeons and luck and turnabouts.  The world it takes place in is cool and vividly illustrated.  It's a game that a teenage nerd can play on an even footing with his six-year-old sister to their mutual satisfaction.

The game also sports a modest gimmick in the way the gameboard folds.  The board is put together in two pieces, each folded in half on a hinge like the doors of a cupboard.  There's a hole in the middle of each side -- a "Magic Whirlpool" -- and stepping into the holes allows you to open that half of the gameboard outward, revealing new territories to explore inside and subtly altering the connections between different paths on the board.  It's a cute trick, but especially because of how it's used in the game.  Board games for kids tend to get kind of hung up on their eye-catching gimmicks.  While triggering a whirlpool is kind of a major game event, it doesn't detract from the more sort of normal adventuring elements.

In the end, this is a kids game.  Adults will see through to the randomness of it all and eventually tire of obstacles that require very little real strategy.  But it's a class act in general, a perfect family game for kids who are too young for D&D.  I'd call it a keeper.


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