09 January 2023
Rolling through the nineties
When hunting for vintage classics there’s really only two options: eBay or charity shops. Typically, this translates to either possessing deep pockets or considerable luck - although a keen eye is also an invaluable tool for the latter. But, for those not fooled by the fragile veil of nostalgia, Restoration Games offers an easier alternative.
Following on from the successful rejigs of Fireball Island and Dark Tower, Restoration Games set their sights on overhauling the 1990 fantasy classic The Key to the Kingdom. This family-friendly adventure game will thrust players into a whimsical world of childlike wonder, as they take on the roles of unlikely heroes competing to put an end to the fearsome Demon King. By travelling the lands in search of adventure, players will gradually assemble the titular key needed to storm the Demon King’s domain, ascend his imposing castle, and finally brave battle in the throne room.
Fans of the original will appreciate the return of The Key to the Kingdom’s distinctive folding board and gimmicky ‘portal’ cut-outs. These spaces work much the same, with anyone entering them triggering a momentous unfolding and expanding of the land, revealing the board’s full sprawl beneath and offering new routes to the game’s ‘key adventures’. These key adventures as well as the numerous minor adventures are fully detailed in the game’s Adventure Atlas; a separate book providing tongue in cheek, Python-esque doses of theme alongside specific instructions. Before long, players will likely be able to recall the requirements of certain spaces without need for the Atlas, but it’s a very much welcome resource nonetheless.
Despite its novel idea of a fold-out realm, the original was nonetheless beset by the usual limitations of the roll and move genre – a mechanic that feels especially dated today. But rather than do away with the mechanic altogether, the publishers have chosen to live up to their name and simply restore and revitalise it. Players will still be rolling a die on their turn, albeit with the option of modifying the result with one of their eight starting hero’s items. These range from +1/-1 lengths of rope to mighty +4/-4 swords, with other possibilities available through any magic items found. Once used, items become exhausted although the game offers plenty of opportunities for replenishing them, most notably through a ‘hero’s nap’.
Other luck mitigating factors include the event deck’s numerous ‘companions’. When encountered, these comical supporting cast members – pulled from a variety of myths, folklore, and fairytales - will join your side upon a successful roll of the dice (again, items can be used to modify the result). Alongside providing an ongoing special power, their card will detail which key adventure they can assist with, making progress along its path slightly easier.
Thanks to this increased sense of agency, there’s fewer instances of die related frustration, and adults should have no problems staying immersed in the game along with younger players. This is in part helped by some spectacular writing throughout, covering a comedic breadth ranging from cringe to laugh out loud funny (getting Rick-rolled by a very familiar bard remains one of my favourite gaming moments).
Aesthetically, Key to the Kingdom evokes childhood, and incredibly well. The illustrations here have the atmosphere of a beloved, fantastical story book, and the minds of young players will undoubtedly dive deep into any elements catching their eye. Pairing this with the overall simplicity and lessened reliance on luck makes for a perfect slice of family game night fun.
PLAY IT? YES
Charming, funny, and well written, this is easily one of the best roll and move family games we’ve encountered.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED KEY TO THE KINGDOM (1990)
This modern reimagining eclipses the nostalgic luck-fest that is the original.
Designer: Matthew O’Malley & Ben Rosset
Publisher: Restoration Games
What’s in the box?
- 2 Magical game boards
- 5 Hero figures
- 5 Hero dice
- 5 Hero cards
- Demon king’s castle board
- Demon die
- 9 Demon king’s castle tokens
- 40 Item tokens
- 5 Magic item tokens
- 36 Event cards
- 15 Key pieces
- Adventure atlas
Looking for more?
This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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