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Review: Keltis – The Tile Game

Posted by Eisley on 18th December 2009

Keltis won the Spiel des Jahres 2008 but it seems to have had a luke warm response.  So, it would be easy to dismiss “Keltis: Der Weg der Steine” (Way of the Stones); however, this smaller, simple but different Keltis game is actually a really good filler game and should not be dismissed just because of its larger and older relative.

Keltis: Way of the Stones purely comprises of 55 tiles which are stones with numbers from 0 to 10 in 5 different colours on their fronts.  In addition to the colour and number, a few stones have a celtic symbol, a few have bonus points, and a few have wish stones on them too.  At the start, all the stones are placed face-down and mixed together.  Players then take turns when they can either (a) reveal a stone and keep it, (b) reveal a stone and leave it face-up where it is, or (c) take a face-up stone that was already revealed but not taken.  If a player takes a tile with a celtic symbol on it, they immediately take another turn.

The core game mechanic that drives the entertaining decision-making is that only collecting a few tiles in a set will result in negative points.  Not starting a set at all is worth zero points so, if you start a set, you better hope or know you’ll collect enough to make it worthwhile.  To add to this, there is one restriction on taking tiles which is that you can only claim tiles in ever ascending, or ever descending, order.  So, if you claim a blue 4 then a blue 7, you can only now claim blue tiles that are higher than 7.

The game ends when a player reveals the final face-down stone, so some tiles may remain face-up but unclaimed.  Players score points for the total number of stones they have collected in each colour.  Collecting no tiles of a colour equals zero points, but collecting only a few stones in a colour will score negative points.  For example, collecting 2 stones of the same colour scores -3 points, 3 stones scores +2 points, 4 stones scores +3 points, 5 stones scores +6 points.  Players also score bonus points for collecting multiple tiles with wish stones plus tiles showing extra bonus points.

In the last few years, there have been many smaller versions of popular games, often as card games.  The key is to find the right balance between new gameplay, so there’s a reason for owners of the original to buy the new version, whilst not straying too far from the original gameplay so that game is trading on the familiar name with good reason.

Overall, Keltis Way of Stones contains the same set collection mechanic of its original (and its original’s original) but feels different enough to deliver new and fun gameplay.  It’s very simplistic – it takes just moments to explain the rules and is a great entry-level game for that too – but it delivers some entertainingly difficult choices for new and experienced games alike.  Do you take a tile to help your set collection and deny another player even though it will limit your collection?  Do you compete for the same colour stones as another player?  As the tiles players collect are always visible, players can see what other players may intend to do and what face-down tiles are remaining.  If an opponent is collecting a colour in ascending order, should you collect in descending order so early high tiles they don’t claim will help you, or may force them to keep high tiles which will limit their collection?

I have found that the game definitely plays best with 4 players.  With 2 players it works well but doesn’t as many difficult decisions, plus a 4-player game is a real scramble to claim tiles as multiple players may be collecting the same colours.  It’s a short game so it is a filler and not a main game.  Bought in Germany, the game cost 5,99 euros which was an additional bargain too.  Plus, it’s tiny which makes it very portable.

Sadly, Keltis: Way of the Stones will probably be instantly dismissed by many gamers due to the Keltis name alone, but I heartily recommend it as an entry-level game as well as a good filler for gamers (especially played with 4 players).

James.

[Played with 2, 3 and 4 players]

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