Keltis – An Emerald Green Game for St. Paddy’s Day
On St Patrick’s Day it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing or accessories – the “wearing of the green” as they call it. So, it is no wonder that the first game I thought of when looking for an appropriate game for St. Paddy’s Day was Keltis. I did a little research on the origins of St. Patrick’s Day and discovered, Keltis, with its Celtic theme, is more anti-St. Patrick – religious-wise anyway.
According to legend, Patrick went to Ireland after becoming a priest to convert, subjugate, and drive off the Pagans, specifically the Celts. His efforts to do so were even turned into an allegory in which he drove snakes out of Ireland. Ireland never had any snakes.
Even so, the vibrant green color of Keltis‘ board and its lovely shamrock-shaped game pieces definitely invoke visions of the Emerald Isle. So I rule it perfectly appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day since the occasion also celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Enough history, you came here to read about the game.
Keltis is a two- to four-player board game based on Lost Cities, the two-player card game that I reviewed last month. Both games were designed by Reiner Knizia. There are a few rule changes and additional components in Keltis, but the basic mechanics are the same. Your goal is to earn the most points you can by playing cards in one to five colored columns – in Keltis you’ll also move your clover playing pieces along the matching stone paths on the board. Each path starts in the negative – note the points next to each row of stones – but as you progress you’ll eventually move into the positive, maxing out when you reach the large stone at the end of the path (top of the board).
Board and Bits and Setup
Keltis‘ game board is a bright emerald green featuring an illustration of a standing stone at the bottom center with five paths of stones spiking off it. Each path has a color and symbol associated with it, making it accessible for people with color vision deficiencies. Some of the path stones are darkened. During setup, randomly place green-backed path tokens on these dark stones and the five large stones at the end of the paths.
Give each player a set of matching playing pieces. Players should place their large clover in front of them to identify their playing color. Place your wooden clovers (one tall, four short) on the standing stone in the center bottom edge of the board and your score marker next to the 1 on the scoring track along the outside board edge. The score marker is thinner than the short playing pieces. Deal each player eight cards and you’re ready to play.
Just like Lost Cities, on your turn you must play or discard a card, then take a card either from the draw pile or one of the five colored discard piles. You may not pick up the card you just discarded.
Whenever you play a color for the first time, choose one of your clover tokens and move it one stone along the matching path. Your tall clover scores double the value of its final position, the short clovers score normally. Note that the early path stones score negative points, reminiscent of the 20-point cost of starting an expedition in Lost Cities. So it may behoove you to focus on just a few paths, instead of all five.
Unlike Lost Cities, you can play your cards for each path either in ascending order or descending order. The second card you play in each color will determine the order for that color. For example, if the first card you play is a 4 and the second card is a 6, then that color must continue in ascending order. If the first card is a 10 and the second a 9, then that color must continue in descending order.
When one of your playing pieces reaches the last stone on a path, you can still continue to play that color card (as long it follows the rules) and use it to advance any one of your clovers regardless of color.
If you land on a stone with a token, you get a bonus:
- A clover leaf grants you an extra move. You can take the move with the same playing piece or a different one. Leave the tile in place: other players can benefit from the tile as well when they get there.
- A number tile immediately scores you that many points on the scoring track. Leave the tile in place.
- A wishing stone grants you a wish. Just kidding. But it is all yours! Take it and place it in front of you. You need to collect at least two or you’ll lose points at the end of the game. Collect two or more and you’ll earn bonus points at the end of the game! I know that’s not as good as a wish, but hey it’s a wishing stone, not a genie.
Play continues until five playing pieces – doesn’t matter whose they are – reach the end zone, the darker green area of the board with rows numbered 6, 7 and 10.
For each playing piece on a path, players score points – negative or positive – according to that stone’s row, with one exception: the tall clover scores double whether it be negative or positive points. Move the player’s score marker accordingly. Players then count the number of wishing stones they collected and score negative or positive points according to the following table:
|# of Stones||Points|
|5 or more||10|
The player with the highest score wins.
The Expansion: Keltis: New Paths, New Goals
While I love the vibrant color, Celtic artwork and lovely clover-shaped bits of Keltis – even the insert is sweet. What really drew me to buy the game was its expansion. I already owned Lost Cities: The Board Game. It provided a means to play Lost Cities with three or four players and added a few nice twists with bonus tokens like those just described for Keltis. However, there was just not enough difference between the two games for me to want both in my collection.
Then I met and played Keltis‘ expansion, Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele (New Paths, New Goals) with its winding paths that twisted my brain and made me rethink and rework my finely-honed Lost Cities strategies. I was hooked instantly and immediately sought out and purchased the base game and expansion – plus the card game and stones game which I discovered during my shopping spree. Now Keltis comes with a two-sided board featuring the expansion on the back and the additional pieces necessary to play it all in one box. Lucky you. I guess those wishing stones do grant wishes.
New Paths, New Goals Board and Bits and Setup
In addition to twisting paths that require changing colors to continue progression, the expansion also adds new components and a few more rules. 22 round bonus tiles with grey backs substitute for the square bonus tiles from the base game. Wishing stones abound in the expansion and become even more important to end-game scoring. There are 25 wishing stones with green backs: 5 each in 5 colors.
To setup the expansion game, shuffle the round bonus tiles with grey backs and place them on the stones that have small grey dots. Sort the wishing stones with green backs by color and place them in stacks, face-up, on their corresponding wishing stone spot. Give each player a set of playing pieces and eight cards and you’re ready to go.
New Paths, New Goals Game Play
Game play is essentially the same, except that it takes more than one color of cards to reach the top 10-point stones. There are also several grey stones with no symbol: you can play any color card to advance onto these stones. The path stones don’t always increase your score as you move up the board: sometimes they decrease, then increase again.
The bonus tiles are mostly the same. The 1-point bonus tile has been replaced with a Card bonus tile which allows you to immediately discard the last card played to one of your columns or any card from your hand. If you discard from your hand, draw an extra card at the end of your turn so you again have 8 cards. I like this mechanic. It gives you a redo of sorts. The bonus tiles also include one of each color Wishing Stone instead of the original green Wishing Stones.
Wishing Stones are much more important in New Paths, New Goals. You need to collect 2 or more of different colors to avoid losing points at game end using the same chart as in the base game (see table above). In addition, you earn 10 points for each set of 3 wishing stones of the same color! That can add up to some hefty points if you concentrate on Wishing Stones.
Unlike the base game, if you get one of your clover playing pieces to the end of the path, you don’t get any special options when playing that card color, because all of the paths are multi-colored.
The game ends immediately when a fifth clover enters the end zone – the darker green area with the last three rows of stones.
I personally prefer Keltis over Lost Cities: The Board Game, though that is primarily due to Keltis‘ expansion. There’s not that much difference between the two games to warrant having both in your collection. I sold my copy of Lost Cities: The Board Game shortly after acquiring Keltis and the expansion.
If you hate the color green, this is not the game for you. I love the green board, the artwork, the lovely clover pieces, even the well-thought-out insert that holds all of the pieces nicely. All of the components are of excellent quality.
I consider Keltis a light strategy game, a little tougher with the expansion, that’s accessible for most ages. Good game for newbie gamers, too, with its simple, straightforward rules.
Keltis supports 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up and plays in about 40 minutes. To my knowledge, it’s never been printed in the U.S. We import it from Germany.
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