28th Aug2019

‘One Key’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


When it comes to party games, more often than not, you’ll probably be thinking of either basic card games, or hidden role games that have the players attempting to deceive or otherwise eliminate each other through covert means. There are, of course, word games, drawing games and betting games as well, but recently, there have been more and more puzzle based party games where the players have to work out a secret code or message by eliminating clues. The latest game of this kind is One Key, an app-driven, cooperative game for two to six players (but more realistically, it’s better with three and has no real upper limit.)

First things first, let me explain what One Key is about. The game begins with one player being appointed as the team leader. This person will draw one of the numerous cardboard tiles at random and then record it in the app as “the key” (or just write it down.) This will be kept secret from the other players, and the team leader will then mix that tile into a pile of ten so that no one else knows which it is. The tiles will then be placed onto the table, face up, so that everyone can see them.

Next, the team leader will set out three specific cards that show red, amber and green. They will then draw a new tile from the remaining deck and decide how well it relates to the key. If the clue they have just drawn is similar in theme, colour or some other key aspect, then the team leader will place the clue they just drew onto the green card. If the clue they drew bears no resemblance to they key, then it will be placed on the red card, with clues that are neither here nor there being placed on the amber space.

With this setup done, a three minute timer will be set on the app and the remaining players will review the ten face up clues (including the key) that are on the table. Between them, they must decide which one to discard this turn, based on the limited information that they have. Once they have chosen, the team leader confirms that the discarded clue was not the key (if it was, then the game ends) and prepares another clue. To do this, the team leader will draw three more tiles and places them in a stand behind a screen. The team leader places a face down clue token next to each one and then turns the stand around.

From the selection of three clues that the players can now see, they will choose one by flipping the clue token associated with it. This will show the same green, amber and red symbology as the cards, and the players will take that clue and add it to the matching card, thus expanding their understanding of which clues do or don’t have a link to the key. In the second round of play, the players must then discard two clues, in the third, they discard three. If, at any time, the key is discarded, then everyone loses.

The objective of One Key is to reach the the final phase of the game without discarding the key, and then to guess which one of the remaining clues is the correct one. This can be relatively straightforward in some games depending on which cards are drawn, but it can also be fairly challenging. Thankfully, libellud has managed to create almost one hundred clue cards that, whilst very diverse, are also distinct enough that more often than not, you will be able to align them to being either a relevant or irrelevant clue. The key thing being that it’s fairly uncommon for a clue to end up in the somewhat useless amber zone.

As a party game, One Key really excels because as the round go on, the tension and the need to think more carefully about which cards to discard becomes more and more intense. Even when discarding two cards, there’s often a feeling in the group that one is clear cut and the other one isn’t – when the team throws away the key, it can be heartbreaking. Thankfully One Key isn’t an especially long game, so if the audience feels “cheated” then it’s very quick and easy to setup and try again.

Another nice feature of One Key is that the deck of clues is so large that you’ll never have the same experience twice. If you play tens and tens of games then you will certainly see the same keys appearing from time to time, but the nine other cards they will mix with and those that are drawn after will be, practically speaking, close to infinitely variable. Being the team leader is still involving and there is a genuine sense of teamwork, so whether your group has a preference or a dislike for cooperative games should have a bearing.

On the downside, I have to admit that I’m not really sure what the purpose of the app that accompanies One Key is. Yes, it provides a three minute countdown, but there doesn’t seem to be a penalty or even a consequence for not adhering to it. In larger games, I simply use it as the length of time that players can deliberate for, and then I push them to make their final decision – whether that takes five seconds or ten minutes though, isn’t really something that the manual deals with.

Overall, One Key is a pretty themeless and not especially unique party game that nonetheless manages to be enjoyable and engaging for players across a broad age group, whether or not they have any board gaming experience. One Key is the kind of game you can break out at Christmas without too much fear that it will be too complicated for your younger cousin, or too fiddly for your grandparents. It’s a nice game for friendly gatherings because it’s entirely cooperative, and there’s a lot of replay value within one box.

***½  3.5/5

One Key is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator


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