Dale Yu: Review of One Key

One Key

  • Designer: L’Atelier
  • Publisher: Libellud
  • Players: 2-6
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA

I was pretty excited to get a copy of One Key as I liked the idea of a cooperative art guessing game.  If you have played any other Libellud game – this will feel pretty familiar… (Dixit, Mysterium, Shadows: Amsterdam, maybe even Fabula)  All of these have a common theme – that is, using pictures to somehow convey meaning; though each one has some sort of twist/new mechanic to set it apart.  And, as I was reading up on this, I did see that there is even an upcoming game called Obscurio which will use my least favorite mechanism of all time: the traitor.

In this iteration of that game, One Key asks players to work together to choose the “one key”, i.e. a picture card, out of a selection of eleven.  In this game, one player is the Leader while the rest of the group works together as the Travelers. Each side is crucial to the team’s success, but the jobs are quite different.

The game is played over four rounds.  It is recommended that you play the game using a free phone app, but it is also possible to play the game with a piece of paper, pen and a three minute timer. At the start of the game, the 84 cards are shuffled, and 11 cards are randomly chosen.  One of these is chosen (also randomly) to be the “One Key”. The number on the back of this card is then inputted into the app, and then all of the cards in this game are shuffled and placed on the table. The rest of the cards are shuffled to become the clue deck.

In each round, the Leader starts the round with the Clue Reveal phase.  In each of the four rounds, one clue is given to the Travelers. In the first round, the Leader simply draws the top card from the deck and then assigns it to one of the three clue areas: Green for cards with a strong link to the key, Red for cards with a weak link to the Key and Yellow for cards in between.  In the other rounds, the Leader will reveal the three cards which he prepared from the prior round and then the Travelers choose which one of the three cards they would like to use. That clue card is taken and the red/yellow/green marker underneath it is revealed. The clue card is then put in the appropriate clue area.  The Travelers could choose to use the bonus token (which can be used once all game) to take a second card.

The next part of the round is timed (3 minutes), and each part of the team has their own job.  The phase is started on the app… The Leader must prepare the clues for the next round. The Leader turns the screen towards himself, and discards all unchosen clue cards from the first phase. Then, he draws the next three cards from the clue deck and assigns a colored clue token to each.  The token is placed facedown on the base and the clue card is stood up behind it. When the Leader has done this for all three cards, he hits the Leader button on the app.

While this is happening, the Travelers look at all of their clues, and they must eliminate cards from the table.  On each turn, they must remove a number of cards equal to the turn number. Thus, by the end of the fourth round, they will have eliminated ten cards (1+2+3+4).  The Travelers are free to discuss and then move around the cards as they wish on the table to organize them – usually putting them in columns in the Green / Yellow / Red areas.  Before the end of the three minutes, they must remove the prescribed number of cards, and once this has happened, they hit the finished icon on their side of the app.

The final part of the round is the resolution – hopefully both sides said they were done before time ran out.  If not, the team automatically loses. Assuming everyone is done in time, then the Leader must hit the green checkmark if the Key is still on the table.  If so, the next turn will begin in 20 seconds. If the Key has been removed, the Leader hits the Red X and the game ends with the team losing. If the Key is the only card left on the table at the end of the fourth round, the team wins!

My thoughts on the game

Well, when I read about this game, I was excited to find a version of this picture choosing game that I really liked.  I have always been intrigued by the ideas in Dixit, Mysterium, etc – but the scoring systems of the previous games have simply left me cold. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played Mysterium and I still have to have someone try to explain the whole clairvoyancy thing at the end to me again and again…)  In One Key, the players have to work together for a common victory, and this seems to work better for me. It is asymmetrical in the job that each side has to do, but I have found that I equally enjoy being the Leader as I do being a Traveler – and that’s a nice balance to have. There are many of these co-op games or all-versus-one games where one side is clearly much more fun to be on.

The cards are the typical jumble of ideas with multiple subjects and colors. There are plenty of things that you could possibly focus on in each card, and it is hard for anyone to narrow a card down to a single meaning.  These sorts of cards work out perfectly as they give the players multiple things with which to make relationships between. Sometimes it’s a predominant color, sometimes a theme, sometimes a word play – a character with a huge beehive hair-do might be strongly linked to a rabbit (hare).  In any event, there are enough features on the cards to give the people plenty of things to talk about.

But… you can’t talk too long.  The team automatically loses if either side can’t finish in time.  The app keeps track of it all, but annoyingly, it does not give you a running clock.  Instead a super annoying Waltz plays from the app – which our group hates. We need to have it loud enough to hear what is going on, but when we do, it’s distracting to our conversation.  The colors of the icons do change to yellow, and then red, and then blinking red – and blissfully the music stops when the warning time starts… I like the time pressure, but not knowing how much time is left is just super annoying – to the point where we just pause the app as soon as we start it, use a sand timer or phone timer, and just unpause when we’re done and click the finished icons.

you’ll have to pretend this is blinking

There is a fair amount of cleverness in the clue giving as well as the clue choosing.  As the leader, you have to try to focus in on what you think the Travelers will see in each card, because you can only give a global green/yellow/red assignment to the entire card…  Will it be the character in the foreground? Will it be the overall picture? Will it be the most dominant color of the card? As the Travelers, in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds, it is important to pick a card whose answer will give you useful information.  If you have too many cards that you think are the Key, then maybe you want to try to choose a card which is similar to only one or two of your candidates – as hopefully they will either be Red or Green to help you narrow down your choices…  Choosing when to use your Ticket is also a crucial decision. Sometimes there are two cards you really need to know the color of… You could always wait to use it on a later round, but if you end up eliminating the Key because you didn’t have enough information, then the whole game is lost and you never get to use your Ticket!

Component-wise, everything is great.  There is a nice custom vac tray that holds all the bits, and the tiles keep everything in place.  As I mentioned above, the artwork on the cards is colorful, varied and very attention grabbing. I was a little worried that the tray would pinch or crease the cards as you put them in the stand, but thus far, that has not been an issue.

Overall, this may be the picture game that I enjoy the most.  Does that mean that I love it? Actually no. Far from it. This honestly is just more then neutral – but given that almost all the others are Not for Me – that still says a lot.  This is the one game in the genre that I’ll keep, and I can already tell you just based on description alone that Obscurio will post no threat to One Key for supremacy in my game collection for the read-my-mind-about-what-I-see-in-this-picture genre.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Craig V.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of One Key

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