Key to the Kingdom is a classic game about exploring dungeons, facing quests, finding the treasures of the world.
Total Game Play: 45 minutes
Designer(s): Paul Bennett
Artist(s): Kevin Walker
Okay, this is a bit of a throwback game for me. Key to the Kingdom was one of my go to games in my childhood. It really shaped some of my tastes growing up. At its heart, Key to the Kingdom is a DM-less RPG disguised as a roll to move board game. I was honestly shocked to come across a copy at the local board game flea market and I couldn’t have been happier to find it!!
It takes you through a fantasy world where there are challenges galore leading up to a dungeon where monsters await you. One of the most interesting things about Key to the Kingdom is that it is a competitive game. You are racing against the other players to gather the right treasures and claim the throne of the Kingdom.
I only recently discovered that there was a redesign done but, from what I could tell, it mainly redid the art and added a few more cards when facing the castle monsters. For me, nothing can really beat that original game style.
This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.
Key to the Kingdom is a game for two to six players. This is a roll to move game that comes with books to walk you through the challenges of the world. While this is a roll to move game, the dice do not dictate the direction a player must go.
Key to Kingdom is a game that only contains player turns that go around the table. There is no upkeep on a non-player turn and there are no dedicated rounds. This is a game that can have an uneven number of players turns.
To set up the game, each player will choose a color pawn and will get a set of item cards. This will be eight cards that are each unique item (Axe, Food, Shield, Fire, Grappling Hook, Net Sword, and Rope). All other decks should be left in an area that all players can reach.
The two halves of the board should be placed together and left in their closed state. The black knight should be placed on any random black knight space (this knight is going to be moving a lot so their starting location shouldn’t matter),
On a players turn they will roll the dice and decided which direction they would like to go. The black knight should move to the space corresponding to the number the dice rolled. If you rolled a 2 and a 3, the black knight goes on the five space.
If a player lands on the arrows that indicates a challenge, the player stops moving and completes the challenge as described in the challenge book. I love how these challenges range in outcomes from wanted to roll specific die numbers, to having to have the right equipment to get past.
And if you fall for a trap? Well, that might just land you in the dungeon of the nearest castle. Why do all these dungeons connect to such terrible places? Being in the dungeon does bring you one step closer to the castle.
If you enter the castle not through the dungeon, you can attempt a monster quest. Typically, this will require the right items to get through. And if you don’t have them? Well either you’re able to run away or you’re thrown in the dungeon. I mean, the dungeon is just the place to be.
But if you’re not having any luck with the castle quests, maybe it would be better to chase after other players. If you’re able to get to them, you can steal their treasure and hopefully get away fast enough to keep the stolen items.
The game ends when one player reaches the start tile while carrying the Key to the Kingdom and two other treasures. But you must be carefully when collecting treasure because you could end up getting the snake pit card! If you get the snake pit card, you must go through the snake pit challenge before reaching the start.
Concept: Opening the World
One extremely unique thing to Key to the Kingdom (at least to me) is the expanding board with the use of the whirlpools. When a player jumps into a whirlpool the board opens (or closes) to reveal an entirely new section of the map.
This change can throw players off of the board and into the dungeon! That’s why all players have one round to either make it to the whirlpool or make it to safety in some other capacity.
Who Will Like it?
Key to the Kingdom really gives off those eighties dark fantasy vibe which I also relate to games like Hero Quest. The main difference about Key to the Kingdom is it removed the DM allowing everyone to just enjoy questing for treasure and trying to find that Key. If you want a semi introduction into RPG’s or just a relaxing game night, Key to the Kingdom is a great game.
What I Think
I am extremely biased. I want to make that clear up front because I know childhood nostalgia can cause some hardcore rose-colored glasses.
What did I like?
It’s hard to describe but I love the feel of Key to the Kingdom. The art aesthetic really pulls me into the game and puts a smile on my face. I enjoy trying to maneuver my way through the world. Finding the right treasures can be a challenge.
What didn’t I like?
At its heart, this is a roll to move game with not many surprises. You must rely on luck whether that be the luck of the dice or the luck a challenge not requiring an item you had to previously give up. Giving up items can be unforgiving in some scenarios.
Key to the Kingdom is a light game that’s a great introduction into the world of RPG’s since it’s structures and doesn’t put pressure on one person. It weaves a fun story in an interesting world and really captures that fantasy spirit.
This is a game for a lighthearted evening or afternoon when the players just want to relax and, maybe, try ransacking a few castles while they’re at it.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
The rulebook itself is very simple because there aren’t many rules that you need to remember during gameplay. The more important items are the books that describe the challenges within the game. They are self-explanatory and have a very DND esq. layout which allows for quick decisions to be made in a relatively short time span.
Yeah, I don’t remember my first play of this game at all. By the time I was able to remember, some of the knights had been accidental been melted. As a child, this game was perfect. It drew me into a world I didn’t know and expanded my ideas of what a game could be.
The first time I played Key to the Kingdom as an adult, I could not stop smiling. That was probably the nostalgia taking over. I forced my partner to play it and he described it as “cute” which translates to simple, not my style, but not a bad game I’m pretty sure.
Key to the Kingdom entertained me for hours when I was growing up. I think memorizing the challenges did give players an unfair advantage since they knew what items they needed to get across certain dangers.
But the treasures being randomized did keep players on their toes. You never knew which path was the right investment even if you knew how to get through it. The monsters being a large random deck helped with the replayability as well.
I don’t think it would be my first choice of game when sitting down to play but I probably wouldn’t say no if someone was curious. Key to the Kingdom holds a very special place in my heart and I don’t think that will ever fade.
*See my rating scale Here