I’m a big fan of logic puzzles. I even have an old book of them that I take on vacations with me. My friend calls it my book of “SAT questions”. Personally, I think they are just a fun way to stretch those mental muscles. Taking a few bits of information and extrapolating out further details is just a great skill to develop.
Which brings me to today’s review of The Key: Theft at Cliffrock Villa. There have been a series of robberies and players take on the role of investigators trying to piece together the information. Designed by Thomas Sing and published by HABA Games, The Key plays in about 15-20 minutes and is appropriate for players ages 8+.
In his review of The Key: Sabotage at Lucky Llama Land Review, Dylan gave a pretty solid overview of how the game is played. You can hop over to the review there if you want the full details. Since the gameplay is largely the same, I’m not going to spend time rehashing the gameplay overview. There are a few differences between this game and that one, but the main mechanics are the same.
Draw cards in real-time from the center of the table and use the information you get to try and piece together the details of the crime. Players will need to deduce the perpetrators, time of the crimes, stolen items, and escape plans. The winner will be the player who not necessarily finishes the quickest, but the one who is the most efficient.
As a fan of deductive games in general, I enjoyed The Key. Is super easy to get to the table—just spread the cards on the table, pick a key color and say go. If you are playing with new players, it does take a bit to explain how the cards work and the system, but after a few minutes of play they should easily be able to wrap their heads around it.
One of the great things about The Key is that the winner is whoever solves the puzzle the most efficiently. Each card you grab has a number on it (which you see before you take it) telling you how many points it will cost you (from 2-4). The higher point cards are going to give you more pieces of the mystery, but the trade-off is the point cost. You may finish the fastest, but if you have the most points, it doesn’t matter. This helps players who might not enjoy real-time games stay competitive even against faster players.
The 4 point cards in The Key: Theft at Cliffrock Villa also work differently than in Lucky Llama Land. Here, you are sent to the lab with evidence. There are three possible options: a security camera video, where you have to match up a tiny piece of a line art image; fingerprints where you have to match to a series of them; or luggage items, where you have to find one item in a jumble of each person’s things. The nice thing about these is that they help break up the gameplay from being just a straight deduction of text to something more visual.
There are probably going to be questions of how much replay value is there in The Key. Honestly, I think it will be fine for most people. The Key comes with 9 different solutions, and unless you have an eidetic memory, chances are you are going to forget the solutions in a short amount of time. I’ve played quite a few games of The Key and I honestly couldn’t tell you any pieces of any of the solutions. They are all pretty similar, so as long as you aren’t playing back-to-back games with the same color key, you should be fine.
Which does bring me to one of the knocks against the game. For the most part, you are playing the same game each time you play. Sure the solutions might be different, but there is no difference in theme or gameplay when using the red key vs the blue. I get that that’s how the system works, but each game is going to feel pretty much the same as the previous one.
The Key: Theft at Cliffrock Villa was a fun game that definitely appealed to the logic puzzle lovers in our group. It’s an easy game to get to the table and plays very quickly. We were almost always able to finish in under 20 minutes. The hardest part is just explaining the rules to new players and walking them through how the cards work. But this definitely a game that can be played with anyone no matter their gaming experience. While it would have been nice for there to be some kind of variety from key to key, that’s probably more than the system is capable of, especially for a 20-minute game.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A fun deduction game that’s both very accessible and plays quickly.
• Games are the same from key to key