Turn a key and twist your fate. Based on the bestselling graphic novel series from author Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key The Game lets players set foot in Keyhouse mansion, where a collection of hidden keys serve up a variety of game-altering effects. A unique blend of competitive and cooperative gameplay forces players to work together in overcoming challenges, but the power of the keys will have them climbing over each other's back for individual success. Read on for the full review:
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment
Game Designer: Matt Hyra
Release: February 2012
Locke & Key The Game is all about using strength cards from your hand to defeat a variety of challenges as faced by the characters in the comic book: psychological problems, otherwordly events, and creature attacks. All strength and challenge cards are numbered, and are either white, blue, or black, to respectively denote the three types categories described above.
The core concept of this game is players working together to defeat challenges by contributing strength cards of the matching color from their hands. If the sum of the players' contributions can tie or beat the number on the challenge card, it is overcome.
Yet although teamwork may have been needed to overcome the challenge, only the player with the largest contribution will gain victory points. Second place contributors get some smaller reward such as additional strength cards or a key card, but only victory points count when it's time to see who won the game.
Game setup is quick and painless. Each player starts with a hand of four strength cards, and the challenge card deck is set up with a "game over" card mixed in as one of the last seven cards. Remaining strength cards, as well as a deck of special key cards, are placed in the center of the table.
At the start of each round, each player receives one strength card, and the top card of the challenge deck is revealed. Players will then have to select one of three possible actions:
- Play: Contribute up to three strength cards from your hand (usually face down)
- Pass: Draw a strength card
- Search: Discard two strength cards from your hand to draw a key card
Once all players have taken an action, the played cards are revealed, added, and compared to the challenge's difficulty number. Regardless of whether the players have overcome the challenge at this point or not, each player is now given the opportunity to play a key card. These fifteen key cards have a wide range of potential effects on the game, such as turning a lost challenge into an overcome one, or vaulting a player from last to first on an overcome challenge, letting them scoop up the victory points.
The last twist seen in Locke & Key The Game are special abilities printed on the bottom of some strength cards. They're all self explanatory and start with an activation condition such as being the only card you play this turn or as part of a "1-2-3 combo" set of three sequentially numbered cards. The abilities triggered by these conditions serve to shake up the game by letting players steal keys from each other, fill their hands with strength cards, or even score the number on a strength card as victory points.
- 150 Strength cards
- 19 Challenge cards
- 15 Key cards
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Omega Lock initiative marker
- 1 Decorative standee
Cryptozoic Entertainment got their start by publishing the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, so they know their way around the block. It shows here are there are no complaints with card stock selection or print quality.
Another example of experience put to good use is Locke & Key artist Gabriel Rodriguez. The artwork is a hallmark of the Locke & Key comic series, and Cryptozoic wisely chose to dedicate as much space on the cards as possible to display this art. You will spend a portion of each game turn admiring these scenes pulled straight from the comic's pages.
Letting the camera flash hit the key cards a bit demonstrates their foil shine
What really screams for attention in this game is the key cards. Without these key cards, Locke & Key The Game would be a rather bland abstract strategy card game. The key cards are quite special, just as they are in the books, and they have been treated as such with a beautiful foil print. When you get to draw a key card, you feel like you are gaining true power in the game.
The rulebook is also a strong point here. The actual game only takes about three pages to explain, but six more pages include a generous helping of in-game examples and a full index of the key cards and their powers.
The only puzzling component is the inclusion of a cardboard standee of Keyhouse with the Locke & Key The Game logo on the bottom. Perhaps there was just leftover room on the punchboard needed for the lock token? Or maybe it's there for when you play at conventions, so you can set it up and let it scream "HEY EVERYONE, CHECK OUT THIS COOL GAME I'M PLAYING!" In any case, I can't knock Cryptozoic for tossing in a freebee, although I did spend a few minutes poring over the rulebook to make sure it didn't overlook some in-game purpose.
Cryptozoic did just about the best possible job of taking a 30 minute card game and giving it a Locke & Key theme. For fans of the comic, there is a lot to love here. Locke & Key: The Game does pass that all important litmus test: it is fun to play, and more importantly, you absolutely do not need to be a "hardcore" gamer to enjoy the game. If that describes you, then you can pretty much stop reading here, as we're about to break down the gameplay for the veteran crowd.
While Locke & Key The Game may present an easy-to-digest card game experience that fans of the comic will love, its mileage may be limited with those unfamiliar with the series. If you have no investment made into the theme, Locke & Key The Game may come off a bit long in the tooth. With a low player count, there is less of a chance to see some of the interesting twists, so the core mechanics really only warrant a 10-15 minute warmup game that winds up dragging on to 30 minutes.
Locke & Key The Game does start to show some legs with higher player counts of 5 and 6, where key cards will be flying around the table a bit more. After my first read-through of the rules, I was hoping there would be plenty of opportunities to bluff strength card players or screw other players over with unexpected key cards. This still isn't a major part of the game with 5 or 6 players, but is at least more prevalent than in 3-player matches where those gameplay elements are almost nonexistent.
Appropriately for its role in the books, the Omega Key allows you to pretty much flip the table on your fellow players and steal big points for yourself. Unfortunately, there can be only one Omega Key!
Let me be clear here: this is not a bad game, it just isn't going to be in the running for "Game of the Year 2012." If the rules rundown describes a game you think you'd enjoy, then you're probably correct. Having a love for the source material definitely helps, but that leads me to my next point. You should be reading this book!
I am only an occasional comic book reader, but I picked up the first volume of Locke & Key in preparation for reviewing this game. I'm at a loss for words in describing how much I enjoyed it, and cannot urge you enough to go pick it up yourself. Yet as much as a love for the books helped me enjoy this game, they also made me yearn for something that scores a bit higher on the thematic scale. I can't think of anything cooler than a Locke & Key take on Mansions of Madness-style gameplay, but unfortunately this game doesn't scratch that particular itch.
If you're still on the fence about Locke & Key The Game, go give the books a read and come back when you're done.
MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game