The kingdom is in peril under the control of the Demon King. Gather the pieces to connect the magic key in order to defeat the Demon King once and for all. Key to the Kingdom is a classic game from 1990 that has been fully rebuilt by the team at Restoration Games. So grab your sword and let’s go on an adventure!
Players will chose from one of 5 heroes to make their way through the kingdom. Armed with a special ability, an 8-sided die and 8 item tokens, players are trying to collect the 3 pieces to complete the magic key. Around the board you’ll go on different types of adventures and have encounters that could give you traveling companions to help make things easier.
While the game has a “roll and move” mechanic, you’re not restricted to using the exact die number you roll. Restoration Games did an excellent job mitigating bad die rolls with 8 item tokens. These tokens can modify any die roll by exhausting the item. For example, an Axe can be +2 or -2 to your die roll, giving you greater control on moving and completing adventures. Players are able to refresh item tokens by taking a “hero’s nap” instead of rolling and moving.
Collecting the 3 parts to the magic key is the overarching goal of Key to the Kingdom. When you encounter a “key adventure,” you need to be ready with unexhausted items that can help you complete a series of rolls that are unique to that adventure. Each key adventure is made easier by using a specific item or having a companion that connects to that adventure. Having that companion will let you skip one of the steps in the adventure, allowing you to save those valuable item tokens.
Welcome to the Whirlpool
You’ll run into minor and major adventures, opportunities to refresh your item tokens and even the chance to assign the demon die to another player at the table. By far the coolest spaces on the board is the whirlpools. On these spaces, the game board will unfold and open up lots of new adventures for players. This is one of the most memorable aspects about the original game and it feels really unique.
Launching your hero into these portal spaces can really mess up other players that were focused on completing a specific adventure. Players that are caught in this board flip will have their hero start off in a hole in the board called “the void”.
As you travel around the kingdom, get ready to run into a cast of characters that is sure to bring laughs (and some groans). The encounter cards will give you chances to recruit companions that help you on the key adventures. You’ll also run into encounters that give you additional movement, magical items, and even a chance to mess up another player. Restoration did an awesome job packing on alliteration and Dad jokes onto every card. The writing is hilarious and it’s worth stopping to reach each card as it is drawn.
The Magic Key
Once you’ve gathered the 3 pieces to the magic key, you’re ready to head to the Demon King’s Castle. This separate board is made up of 3 levels leading to the final battle. Each room of the castle has randomly assigned tokens that are facedown on the board. You want to have every item token refreshed when storming the castle to give you the best chance at success.
Flip an enemy token and beat the value on the other side using your die and item tokens in order to move into the next room. Once you make it to the Demon King’s throne, players need a combined total of 20+ between a single die roll and all unexhausted items in their supply. This is how you end the Demon King’s reign and bring peace back to the kingdom.
Everything in Key to the Kingdom is fun and whimsical. It traded the darker tone of the 90’s version of the game for one that feels like a kids storybook that went haywire. This is a game that I wish I had owned when my kids were younger. Even though they are now in their teens, we still had a blast playing the game. But I could definitely see this being a world that younger kids would get sucked into.
A Classic, Restored
Growing up in the 90’s, I clearly remember the box for this game on the shelves of Toys R’ Us, but I never actually played this one as a kid. I did some research on the original before hopping into Key to the Kingdom so I could understand what changed in this new version. The original game was plagued with so much randomness.
Players were originally hunting for a single key that was hidden in envelopes that had to be discovered. In this version, players all have access to building the 3 piece key. No one is locked out of the end game even though players are racing to the finish.
Even with a terrible roll of the die, items will get you to the target number when you use them correctly. The demon die seems like a new element that I really enjoy. Landing on the demon die spaces allow you to give this wild die to another player at the table. This 8-sided die has lots of 0’s and an opportunity to roll an 11 (which isn’t as helpful as it might seem).
In the original, the Demon King was a miniature that made his way around the board based on a die roll. There’s no longer that tension in the game which decreases some of the difficulty (and frustration). Much of the tension this time around comes from going into adventures without the necessary items you need. You can definitely go for it, but don’t complain when you fail.
An Adventure for Most Ages
I absolutely love everything in this box. Key to the Kingdom is another beautiful restoration from a publisher that continues to pour themselves into their games. This is a game that I wish had existed 8 years ago when my kids were younger. It’s an excellent example of a game made for kids and parents to enjoy. The jokes are fun, the world is bright and silly, and it’s got excellent table presence.
Gamers who are now in their 40’s may buy this for the nostalgia but I doubt it will hit the table unless you’re gaming with kids. There isn’t enough meat here for seasoned gamers to introduce this during a game night. Since I don’t have any fond memories tied to the original, I can only look at this game for what it offers today. What it offers is an awesome experience for adults that are playing games with younger gamers.
Restoration continues to show that they know what makes a game stand out. From the artwork to the overhaul of the mechanics, Key to the Kingdom is a wonderful blast from the past.