Shem Phillips and S J MacDonald of Garphill Games fame, seem to have a side job in addition to designing great games.
They are the Adepts of Alliteration!
That’s why all of their expansions have brilliant alliteration.
Works of Wonder, Age of Artisans, and now the Viscounts of the West Kingdom expansions, the first of which (at least the first of which I’m reviewing) is Keeper of Keys.
That has to be intentional!
Both of the expansions, Keeper of Keys and Gates of Gold shipped with the same Kickstarter, though I’m going to review them separately.
Because that’s how I roll.
That and it would be kind of pointless to review both at the same time.
Keeper of Keys adds chests to the game, as well as the ability to have more than one Hero in your deck and Public Buildings.
It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t.
So with that all being said, let’s take a look!
I’m not going to go into the “how to play” for the entire game, as my review of Viscounts of the West Kingdom does all that for you.
Instead, I’m just going to talk about the additions to the game and how they fit into the base game.
The first edition is Chests (pictured above).
Whenever you see the “lock” symbol on a card, that means that you can take one of the three chests that is available to you.
The picture above also shows the Heroes that are available for hiring, but I will get to that.
For Zesiro, his ability shows that when he drops off of your player board, you get to either take a Debt and a Chest or take a Deed.
What do Chests do?
You place them underneath one of the three spots on your player board, and they will give some effect depending on the card that’s in the space above it.
The above is a Kickstarter promo because it’s a Chest that interacts with a King’s Order from Gates of Gold. However, that this means is that if a King’s Order is in the space above it, you are considered to have one of the other action symbols (except for a blue bag) when you take an action. Whatever action you take (except for the market bag action), you have one more symbol
Chests are worth 2/5/9 points depending on how many chests you have (a maximum of 3 since you have 3 card spaces on your board) but they also give you an ability depending on what the chest says.
The rightmost chests will give you a gold or a stone if you have a Criminal in the space above where the Chest is, for example.
The expansion also has recruitable Heroes. At the beginning of the game, Heroes and a starting card are placed out and you choose which one you will add to your deck (and which starting card will give you your starting resources and starting space).
When you are using Keeper of Keys, the rest of the Heroes will be available to hire at certain points.
Some cards will have an icon that will let you take a Hero for free and add them to your hand. This means you may have multiple Heroes in your deck (though some Heroes that let you recruit other Heroes will go away when they drop off your player board).
This will strengthen your deck because, you know, Heroes are pretty good.
The final addition to the game is public buildings.
What this allows you to do is replace one of your buildings that you have already built with a public building.
Your building goes back onto your board (meaning you won’t get the effect of having built that building anymore) but the public building will get you points as well as ongoing effects that will probably be worth it!
One will give you a permanent Criminal icon (for better or for worse). Another will let you ignore one Criminal icon when it comes to collisions. A third will let you flip a Deed/Debt every time you recruit or destroy a Hero. All three of them have immediate effects as well.
There’s a public building for each type of building that you have. All you need to do is have enough hammers/stone to build the public building, as well as be in a position where your building is already on the board.
Then you bring your building back to your board and place the public building out. It’s still considered your building and you don’t get the building connection bonus again.
But the ongoing effect is pretty damned good!
Is Keeper of Keys a treasure chest of wholesome goodness for Viscounts of the West Kingdom? Or is it a chest with a poisoned needle just waiting for the first unwary passerby?
First, my compliments to them for including new player boards with recessed holes for the corruption and virtue markers. The mats in the original game were kind of annoying sometimes if they got bumped.
I really enjoy this expansion for Viscounts of the West Kingdom.
Of the two, I’d say it’s my least favourite, but that’s because the other one is so good (spoilers!).
But the chests are a nice way to add some endgame scoring as well as some nice ongoing effects depending on your card strategy.
Want to concentrate on building so you recruit a lot of Hammers? Maybe you want some chests that let you turn Hammers into other icons. Just in case you might also want to transcribe some manuscripts or put some people in the Castle.
Or maybe you just want some free resources and you are going for the Criminal strategy.
Then those chests will be very valuable to you.
The chests are dependent on the cards you recruit and the cards you play, so you have to focus them at least a little bit.
By themselves, they will only get you a maximum of 9 points (if you have 3 chests) so you aren’t getting them just for their scoring.
If they’re not helping your engine, then they aren’t really doing their job.
The variety of Chests is very good, giving you a lot of options.
Having a Castle symbol (don’t make me spell what it really is) count as 3 bags for a Market action is amazing!
Just like everything else in this game (and most of the Garphill Games), it does depend on what comes out and is available to you.
It’s very tactical in that you have to deal with what’s available.
Maybe none of the Criminal chests will come out?
The ability to add Heroes to your deck is also pretty cool, especially when you don’t have to sacrifice Heroes in order to do it.
The expansion comes with three new starter cards to replace the other ones, and these three will interact with Keeper of Keys (though they are useable even if you don’t use the expansion, since they still have the original basic abilities).
The Hero aspect is pretty good (as well as having starter cards that let you start on the inner row) but the public buildings definitely add some spice to the game.
Yes, you are costing yourself an ability (until you build that building again) and possibly points if you don’t get it built.
But the effects of the public buildings are actually very cool.
Even more so if you’re going Criminal!
Getting a free Criminal icon and allowing you to ignore a Criminal for collisions is great! Assuming you build both buildings, of course.
That being said, you will get more corruption when you play Criminals to your board (you will get two corruption instead of just one) but you will have a wild symbol for the rest of the game!
That’s quite powerful.
The ability to flip a Deed/Debt when you recruit/destroy a Hero is also pretty cool.
The expansion also adds a bunch of townsfolk cards that take advantage of these abilities.
Other new townsfolk cards will do other basic things but adding variety to the available townsfolk is pretty cool as well.
Some of the new abilities are really cool, though. Like the Overseer letting you discard a card or trash a card when you take the Castle action.
Or the Ferryman who lets you do a Market action before moving! Or lets you get 3 coins if you’d rather or aren’t in a position to do a Market action.
Finally, let’s get to the Heroes.
Between the base game and both expansions, a bunch of new Hero possibilities are added to the game.
It only makes sense to include a way to actually recruit more heroes into your deck.
Some of these Heroes are powerful enough that it’s a good thing they go away permanently after they slide off of your player area, but those abilities are worth it.
Especially when you can get more!
Delphine lets you transcribe a 3/4 cost manuscript for free when she leaves your board. Mariam lets you put out a brand new building.
How good is that?
I like this ability, as well as the new starting positions (3.5, 4.5, etc) that let you start on the inner row.
All of it comes together in a great match, giving you more options while not really negating your other options.
I like expansions that do that. There really wasn’t a weak strategy in the base game (some are just harder to implement than others). Keeper of Keys just enhances what was already there, as well as adding a few other things to help.
Really, 2/5/9 points for how many chests you have probably isn’t going to make that much of a difference if you’ve playing your strategy well.
The public buildings can give you a bunch of points, which does enhance the building strategy, but at the cost of having to bring three of your buildings (if you manage to build all three) back onto your board. If you’re managing to build a lot, this may not be that big of an issue.
All in all, I really like what Keeper of Keys adds to the whole Viscounts of the West Kingdom universe.
If you’re a fan of the base game, this is definitely recommended as well.
If you’re not a fan of it, it won’t really change your mind. It doesn’t “fix” anything that would have kept you away from the game to begin with.
Check it out and see what you think!
This review was written after 3 plays with the expansion