Keep Away

Alternate Title: "Keep It Up!" But that would presuppose that the game was good.

I’ve mentioned the Small Box Games Curse before: that for every three titles they release, there will be one I love, one I like, and one I hate. Well, with both Soulfall and Hordes of Grimoor having captured my fancy, there probably wasn’t ever much hope for Keep.

Though I can see that being a thing in Ladies & Gentlemen, Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, and Mice & Mystics for some reason.

The only game that has you drafting a royal wedding cake.

At the technical level, there isn’t anything wrong or broken about Keep. It’s a competent drafting game with a few minor tricks up its sleeve, sort of like slipping a nine of clubs under the table as your holdout card. Instead, the problem is that Keep is so simple, so straightforward, that it never quite inspires any particular feeling or excitement in the first place. It’s like someone wanted to make a deck-building game, took the Dominion template, and then stripped it into something even more bare-bones.

Here’s how it works. You’ve got a hand of characters and items, and your primary goal is to match your characters with the items that will earn the most cash. This being a drafting game, you’ll need to do this while swapping hands between players. For instance, you might be holding the Hoarder character, who gives you a lot of coins if you have the most vegetable trays when the game ends. You might also be holding a Master Thief, who lets you steal an item from another player’s cloister, the fancy-pants term for a tableau. Now, both of these cards are worthwhile, and might push you towards victory. But you can only draft one of them before passing your hand to the next player. So which character do you choose? Alternatively, maybe it would be better to just pick up another potions item, since your Alchemist gives you two coins for each of those.

Nicely, each character can be used in one of two ways, either being played hidden-side-up for their scoring bonus or discarded to let you take special actions, like selling items for extra cash. It’s a minor point, but it adds a bit of zest to the proceedings. Then, after a few rounds, everyone reveals their hidden characters, counts up their coins, and there you go.

Right when we finished our last game, we realized we had forgotten to take pictures. So this might not be the correct quantity of cards in a final tableau.

Adding up points.

It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s breezy. And really, there isn’t much more to say than that. Unlike Soulfall and Hordes of Grimoor, or most of the other games that have sprung from the mind of John Clowdus, you aren’t challenged with nail-biting decisions at every turn. You aren’t thrust into an imaginative world where you’ll appease feuding deities or assemble hordes of fishmen. Instead, you’re presented with a perfectly serviceable but uninteresting travel game. I’d say it’s a better traveler than UNO, but then again, I sort of like UNO.

In short, there’s nothing wrong with Keep; it’s just that there isn’t much right with it either.

Posted on February 5, 2016, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. No argument here. A part of me keeps waiting for Small Box Games to top the successes that made me a fan, namely Hemloch and Omen, but I’ve been left disappointed a few too many times now. I enjoyed Hordes well enough, and Soulfall was indeed imaginative and unique, but Keep is just dull. We’ll see if I continue to support John’s Kickstarters.

    • That’s how I felt after playing his The Nile Ran Red trilogy, where even the enjoyable games were a bit weak. But Soulfall and Hordes of Grimpants were good enough to convince me that John still has some good designs rattling around upstairs.

  2. And of course, the one game of the three that I backed.

    • Aw. Well if you want a cure for that feeling of buyer’s remorse, then get a pax game or go Greenland and Neanderthal. The replayability and immersive gameplay is astounding. I offer the Mark guarantee (which we can’t ensure with any substantive promises) that after one game of overthrowing Mexican tyrants or evolving your sub-species of human, you’ll have forgotten Keep ever existed.

    • Ouch! If you’re interested, I have a second copy of Soulfall I could send your way.

  3. Yeah. Plenty of stuff rattling around!

    Sorry that KEEP didn’t live up to you guys’ expectations. It’s definitely one of my lightest designs, but, it was designed to be that way. I know not every game is going to be every gamer’s favorite. My hope was that KEEP would fill a niche in my catalog (light, quick, multiplayer card game). A game that was light enough to play with non-gamers, but still fun to my base for what it is.

    • Well, you’ve convinced me, at least. Keep may not have been my cup of tea, but your explanation of what you were trying to accomplish makes perfect sense. Whatever your next project, I’m there!

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