Around three years ago I took a look at the card game Sushi Go. While I had pretty high expectations for the game, Sushi Go somehow found a way to surpass them. Sushi Go was probably one of the most surprising card/board games that I have ever played. The game is the perfect blend between being accessible and having enough strategy to keep everyone interested. With how much I enjoyed Sushi Go, I was excited to try out Keep after learning that it was basically a more advanced Sushi Go. Keep is a fun card drafting game that succeeds at adding some additional strategy to Sushi Go, but it fails to reach the level of its inspiration.
How to Play Keep
- Separate the character cards from the item cards. Shuffle the character cards and deal three cards to each player face down.
- Each player chooses one of those character cards and places it face down in front of them to form their “cloister”.
- The cards not chosen are added to the rest of the cards. All of the cards (excluding the royal decree card) are shuffled together and cards are dealt to each player. The number of cards that are dealt to each player are based on the number of players:
- 2 players: 7 cards
- 3 players: 9 cards
- 4 players: 8 cards
- 5 players: 6 cards
- The rest of the cards form the draw pile.
- The first player is chosen in whichever way the players prefer. The royal decree card is given to this player and the game begins. The royal decree card is used as an indicator to show who is in control of the current round and serves no other purpose.
Playing the Game
Keep is played over several rounds. The player who controls the royal decree card is in charge of the current round.
Beginning of Round
Before the round begins the player in charge of the round will take a couple different actions.
First they will perform a hand check. If any of the players have zero cards in their hand, the game ends immediately. If all of the players have at least one card, they compare the number of cards they have with the player that is holding the royal decree card. Anyone who has more cards in their hand than the player with the royal decree card (which doesn’t count as a card), must discard one card from their hand.
The player in control of the round will then shuffle all of the cards from the discard pile into the draw pile.
The final action that the royal decree player takes is choosing who will start the round. They can either choose to start the round themselves or they can choose to play last.
Playing A Card
Starting with the first player, each player will play one card from their hand. Depending on what type of card the player plays, the card can be played in one of three ways.
When a player plays an item card, they will place it in front of them (in their cloister) with the picture of the item face up.
If a player plays a character card they can choose to play it face down in their cloister. This keeps the character secret and the player does not take the action at the top of the card. At the end of the game the player will score points from the card based on what is on the bottom of the card.
If a player chooses to play a character card face up, they will immediately use the ability on the top of the card. After the ability is applied the card is discarded unless the ability says otherwise.
Some of the special abilities on character cards that can be activated include:
- Selling Cards: When a player is told to sell a card, they will take one of the appropriate item cards from their cloister and flip it face down. The card will now show three gold coins. Once an item is sold it no longer counts as the type of item that it was before it was sold.
- Taking Cards: When a player is able to take an item from another player, they choose which player they want to take the item from. The current player then takes the appropriate card from that player’s cloister and adds it to their cloister.
Once during the game each player has the ability to flip over one of their face down character cards. They will do this at the beginning of their turn. By revealing a secret character card, the player will be able to use the ability on the top of the card. This is applied as if the card was played face up. The card that is flipped over stays in front of the player for the rest of the game though. The player then plays a card from their hand like normal.
End of Round
After everyone has played a card, the round ends. Each player passes the remaining cards in their hand to the player on their left. The royal decree card is passed to the next player along with the rest of the players cards.
End of Game
The game ends when at the beginning of a round one or more of the players have no cards left in their hand. Each player will then count up how many points they scored in the game. All secret character cards (face down cards) are revealed. Each unsold item card is worth the number of coins on the bottom of the card. Each sold item is worth three coins. The player then calculates the value of each character card based on the scoring section on the bottom of the card.
The player who scores the most points wins the game. If there is a tie, the tied player with the most cards in their cloister will win the game. If there is still a tie, the tied players share the victory.
In two player games each player will draw a card at the beginning of each round. They will then play two cards on their turn.
In five player games each player will play two cards on their turn. At the end of the round they will draw one card.
If the players agree at the beginning of the game, each player can turn over two of their secret characters during the game.
My Thoughts on Keep
One of the reasons that I was really interested in trying out Keep is that I am a big fan of Sushi Go. While reading the rules for Keep, it was immediately clear that the two games had quite a bit in common. Just like with Sushi Go, each player is dealt a hand of cards. Each player gets to choose one card from their hand to keep, and then they have to pass the rest of the cards to the player on their left. What I really liked about this mechanic in Sushi Go is that players had to choose which cards they wanted the most knowing that the other players would get most of the other cards. This created a really interesting dilemma as you tried to form your own strategy while also predicting what cards you think the other players would take. For such a simple mechanic this created a really compelling game.
The reason that I liked Sushi Go was that it did a fantastic job of making an accessible game that also had quite a bit of strategy. You could argue that Sushi Go’s strategy is a little straightforward though which leads to a decent amount of luck. This is why I was intrigued by Keep as it seemed like it picked up where Sushi Go left off. The main gameplay mechanic of passing cards is the same as Sushi Go but the game adds some additional strategy with the additions of secret identities and special abilities.
In Sushi Go the main goal is to collect different types of cards in order to score points. This mostly involves collecting a certain number of cards of a certain type, or collecting the most of a given type of card. There are elements of this in Keep as well but there is a greater emphasis on taking advantage of the abilities on the cards themselves. Instead of collecting a lot of cards of the same type, your only goal is to collect the most coins. This can actually be accomplished in quite a few different ways.
The first way to score points is through the item cards. Each item card that is played is worth one or two points by itself. While that is nice, you are generally not going to want to settle for just a single point from a card. This is where the character cards come into play. The character cards are responsible for most of the strategy in the game and thus can be played in two different ways. First you could play a character card for its special ability. Most of the special abilities allow a player to play or steal a card of a specific type. Some cards also allow you to sell items which makes them worth most points. This adds a decent amount of strategy to the game as you need to figure out the best way to utilize these special abilities.
The more interesting strategy comes from playing a character card secretly. When a character is played secretly its effect is not immediately known by the other players. At the end of the game the card is worth points based on the scoring section on the bottom of the card. Most of these cards score points based on a player having certain item cards in front of them. As these cards are hidden until the end of the game, players don’t know for sure what type of cards the other players are trying to acquire. This is especially true of cards that are played before the hands have been passed to all of the players. With this hidden element, players need to keep their own goals secret while trying to guess what the other players are trying to collect. This is important because you likely will score a lot of your points from these secret character cards.
Basically I would say that Keep is a more advanced Sushi Go. The game basically takes the premise of Sushi Go and adds in some mechanics from other more strategic/complicated card games. With these additions I would say that Keep is harder than Sushi Go but also has more strategy. I wouldn’t say the game is particularly difficult though as you can teach the game to new players within a couple minutes. Players might not know exactly what they are doing for the first couple of rounds but they should have no troubles by the end of their first game.
The simplicity also means that the game plays pretty quickly. The game estimates the length at 5 minutes per player and that is about right. If you have players who suffer from analysis paralysis it could take a little longer. For the most part though the game plays pretty quickly. Keep will work really well as a filler game that you can pick up and play if you only have a little free time.
While Keep is a good filler game, the game’s length is one of the biggest problems that I had with the game. The problem is that the game has a decent amount of strategy but the game ends too quickly for you to fully take advantage of it. You don’t have enough time to implement a deep strategy. Basically you only have time to collect one or possibly two different types of cards. If you go after more than that you are likely spreading yourself too thin. With the game ending so quickly, players don’t have enough time to implement a significant strategy. The players basically have to devise a simple strategy and implement it as quickly as possible.
This is a problem because the strategy doesn’t play as big of role as it could have. Unfortunately this leads to quite a bit of luck creeping into the game. I wouldn’t say that any of the cards are significantly better than others, but there are combinations of cards that can be quite powerful if a player can acquire them. In particular it is quite beneficial to have two or more characters whose scoring uses the same type of item cards. This allows a player to focus solely on that one type of resource. Once you have seen all of the hands you could prevent a player from doing this, but a player could have already taken advantage of it before anyone could stop them.
There is also some luck when it comes to what items people decide to collect. If two or more players are trying to collect the same type of items, both players are going to suffer. Neither player will likely acquire many of that item as they will split the item cards. A player that is collecting an item all by themself though will have a big advantage in the game. They will be able to take all of the item cards of the type they are collecting and score more points. If you can remember the cards from all of the hands, you can formulate an idea of what the other players are going to go after. You are still going to have to get lucky that no other players go after the same type of item as you.
I really think Keep would have been a lot better if it was just a little longer. With a longer game, players could have had more time to implement their strategy and thus reduce the luck in the game. The problem is that the game doesn’t have enough cards to really extend the length much. This is why I wish the game had more cards. With more cards you could have played more rounds and thus implemented a deeper strategy.
At the end of the day, I just don’t think Keep is as good as Sushi Go. The game is still good but I think it is an example of more not always being better. The reason that I prefer Sushi Go is that it is simple and to the point. The game is accessible to the point where almost anyone could play it. The problem with Keep is that it takes half measures. It wants to be more strategic than Sushi Go but doesn’t give you enough time to form a deep strategy. It is basically stuck in a middle ground. The game isn’t as accessible as Sushi Go and the strategy isn’t deep enough to appeal to people that want a really strategic game. I had fun with Keep and will occasionally play it, but I will play Sushi Go considerably more.
Should You Buy Keep?
Keep is an interesting game as it tried to take one of my favorite games, Sushi Go, and add additional strategy to it. I was excited to try out the game as the premise was interesting. In some ways Keep succeeds but in other ways it fails. Basically Keep plays like Sushi Go with the added benefit of special abilities and secret identities. This actually brings some interesting strategic decisions to the game. The problem is that Keep is too short where you don’t have enough time to develop a deep strategy. I think Keep could have benefited from being a little longer. While I enjoyed my time with Keep, I just don’t think it is as good as Sushi Go.
If you don’t really care for card drafting games, I don’t think Keep is going to be for you. If you like the simplicity of games like Sushi Go, I think you are better off sticking with it over Keep. If you want a more advanced Sushi Go though, I think you will enjoy playing Keep.
If you would like to purchase Keep, you can find it online: eBay