Overview: Welcome to Lovecraft. In Locke & Key: The Game, three to six players battle one another with cards and attempt to overcome challenges of a spooky, psychological, and otherworldly nature. The game is based on the ongoing Locke & Key comic book series.
Ages: 15 and up, although I think the game could be played with kids much younger. I suppose some of the images could be potentially frightening to very young kids, but I played this game with my 10 year old son, without incident concerning content or gameplay.
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Rating: A pretty fun trick-taking card game that has plenty of possibilities the more you play.
Who Will Like It? Fans of the comic book, of course. Also, gamers who enjoy a good trick-taking game.
Theme: Obviously, the game is based on the outstanding Locke & Key comic book, written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Eisner-nominated artist, Gabriel Rodriguez. In broad strokes, the story is about a family living in a home that is full of fantastical doors and glorious keys. The remarkable keys help open gateways to different dimensions and portals into the people living in the Keyhouse, as well. It’s a smart and sometimes scary story and if you aren’t reading it, you darn well should be.
Components: There’s not a lot to it, mainly cards. The game consists of 150 strength cards, 19 challenge cards, 15 key cards, a lock that serves as an initiative marker, and a rule book. The nice, heavy stock cards feature the wonderful artwork of the comic books and the key cards are especially beautiful with a near-metallic sheen to them. Like many Cryptozoic games, Locke & Key: The Game also includes a cardboard cutout with a stand to advertise what game you’re playing at your table.
Gameplay: Setup is easy. Separate the strength, challenge, and key cards. From the challenge deck, locate and remove the “Game Over” card before shuffling each deck separately. Next, remove six cards from the challenge deck and randomly shuffle the “Game Over” card into the six cards and place these at the bottom of the challenge deck. Last, deal four strength cards to each player and give the initiative marker to the player whose birthday is next (or however you like to choose first player at your house).
Each round begins by revealing a challenge card. Challenge cards consist of a color (white, black, or blue) and a numbered difficulty. There’s also some description text about the challenge, which relates to elements of the Locke & Key story, and another text block that details what second place in the challenge receives. It’s worth mentioning that there are no real spoilers in the game. While there are some images that allude to things that occur in the story, there are no images that reveal anything in a “Hey, Dil’s a dude” way. Deal each player one strength card to complete the first step of a round.
Next, players have three options for the next step. They can pass on participating in the round. Choosing this option will immediately end their participation in the round (and any chance of earning any rewards in the challenge), but they will be able to pick one strength card to add to their hands.
Alternately, players may play up to three strength cards from their hand toward the challenge. Strength cards contain a number and a color, with some strength cards also carrying effect text. Players select strength cards that match the color of the challenge and a number that can contribute to overcoming the challenge threshold. (More on that in a moment.) There are a few different combos and other opportunities, which are spelled out in the effect text. If a player can meet the requirements of the effect, it can give him a significant advantage.
The third option available to players is to search for a key. By discarding two strength cards, a player can draw a key card and end his turn. Key cards come in two varieties — the one-shot and reusable cards, self-explanatory descriptions, to be sure. All key cards have effects, such as changing the color of a strength card or adding to its value.
The group then decides if the challenge has been resolved. At this point, players who have elected to play turn over their cards (some cards may already be turned over if their effect text gives them an advantage for doing so). All of the strength cards with colors corresponding to the challenge are added up. If the number on the challenge card is met or exceeded, the challenge is overcome. The winner of the challenge is determined by the player with the highest total number that contributes to overcoming the challenge, but the round winner is not decided yet.
Players have the opportunity to play keys that will give them an advantage … or other players a disadvantage. Only after keys, if any, are played can a winner and second place be decided. The winner gets to keep and score the challenge card and second place gets a reward, usually additional strength cards or a key card.
Used strength cards are discarded and play continues with another round. It’s only when the “Game Over” card is revealed that play stops and score piles are added to determine a winner. With the number of challenge cards, games will last a minimum of twelve rounds and will likely be finished in less than 30 minutes.
Thanks to key cards and effects, the outcome of games can swing widely from round to round as players work to secure challenges while preserving the variety and power of their hands of strength cards.
Conclusion: I’ve only played the game a few times now, but I really enjoyed it, as did the other people I played with. Rounds and even entire games move quickly and there wasn’t a single game that felt like it dragged at all. The strategy is either light or a little deeper, depending on your opponents and the addition of the key cards can rapidly and effectively affect the game’s complexity, sometimes maddeningly so.
The impact of Rodriguez’s beautiful artwork can’t be understated. I’d often find myself studying the art, rather than reading the effect text. Still, while I enjoyed the game mechanics and appreciated the fantastic artwork, I felt like the game could have been based on just about anything. Unfortunately, the game didn’t really feel like it captured the plot or theme of the comic book. In the comic, the keys lead to all sorts of interesting plot twists and possibilities. Arguably, the key cards have the same result in the game, but beyond that similarity and the art, there’s no tangible connection between the game and the comic.
Nevertheless, the game is enjoyable and one that will likely be included in our weekly rotation for some time. My impression is that, as we become more familiar with the key cards and the effects on the strength cards, games will become far more fierce and competitive.
Wired: Fun card game that plays pretty quickly.
Tired: Misses the mark in terms of tying in to the Locke & Key comic.