Reiner Knizia


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G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game :

Keltis is a boardgame designed by Reiner Knizia. I'll admit up front that Dr. Knizia has been a favorite designer of mine for over ten years, and the only game designer who I trust to purchase "sight unseen". Dangerous words, but it rarely backfires. I didn't know about Keltis until I stumbled across the Spiel des Jahres short list for 2008, and there it was. Fast forward three weeks, I have a copy in my hands and five games notched up.

Keltis is an attractive looking game. It's your traditional Kosmos 11 inch square box, and it's very .... green. The publishers are obviously going for an Irish "emerald isle" look, and they certainly pulled it off. It's not exactly painful on the eyes, but it does tend to stand out on the games shelf. The game's sub-title is "Der Weg der Steine", or "Way of the Stones". This links in the theme, where players are some sort of Celtic people, building or advancing pawns along stone paths, trying to score points. I'll admit up front, I didn't engage with the theme here - I'm not transported off to Avebury playing this game. However, I've been playing a lot of "Origins: How We Became Human" immediately before this game, and I have theme leaking out my ears.


Keltis is not exactly full of components. A nicely styled game board is included, and yes, it's green. The illustration initially resembles half a spoked wheel. Looking closer you see that it's actually illustrations of standing stones, with a large stone "hub", and five paths of stones that resemble "spokes". Each path is nine spaces long, with each space having a coloured Celtic icon and a scoring value along side it. Some of the stones on the paths are dark, some are light.


There are 110 cards included in the game - the deck is made up of five suits, each suit matching the icons of the five paths on the game board. Each suit spans the values of 0 to 10, and there are two of each. The cards are .. green, emerald green.


There is a sheet or two of cardboard chits. There are four player colour indicators, and 25 square chits made up of "special stones", points chits, and clover chits. There are randomly placed on the dark spaces on the board, as well as the "10" spaces, at the beginning of the game, giving each game a different set up.

Lastly, there is a bag of wooden bits, cutely shaped like four leaf clovers, in four colours. Each player receives 4 standard pieces, a large "double" piece, and a scoring marker.

Having played so many games over the years, I can't help mentally drawing the family tree of a new game. The initial impression I had on breaking out the game and sorting through the pieces was "Members Only". Cards, five suits, five tracks, pawns and doublers.... I thought for a moment I'd picked up a reprint/retheme of that quirkly old game from Blatz. Not so... this is more in the realm of Lost Cities, the tiny two player gem from Kosmos.

Keltis is a straight out grab for points. The rules could not be simpler to grasp. A player's turn is simply to look at their hand of eight cards, select one and play it. It can be played into a discard pile (one discard pile per suit), or melded in front of them to advance a pawn up the corresponding track on the game board. If melded, the card has to be either higher, lower, or the same value, than the previous card melded in that suit, and once committed to either ascending or descending, you have to stick with it. Anyone who has played Lost Cities will be right at home here, as the game play is identical. Once a card has been played or discarded, the hand is refreshed to eight cards, either via the draw deck or by selecting a card off one of the discard piles.

Points are scored by making progress up the five paths. Each space on the five paths has an associated score value, and the further up the path you make it the higher your score goes. If you fail to get off any of the first three spaces on each path, you lose points. The ultimate goal is the final space, worth 10 points, and allowing further melds in that suit to advance any other pawn. The large pawn with double any score, including negatives.

On each of the five paths are four dark spaces, which are seeded with the chits before the game begins. When a pawn is advanced onto a chit, the player actions it. Special stones are simply taken - players earn or are docked points at the end of the round based on how many chits they take. Points chits instantly score points for that player, and they remain on the path - interesting... we found that the points tended to even out and seemed a bit redundant - perhaps we need to play it some more. Finally, the clover tiles allow any pawn on any path to be advanced - these are the most fun, as they can potentially set up chained moves where other chits are hit, triggering more advances. If you time it right, you can make rapid progress up several tracks in a single turn.

The game ends when any five pawns have advanced into the "end game zone" - the final three spaces on any of the tracks on the board. It can also end if the draw deck runs out. Players tally up their points from progress made on each of the five tracks (positive, negative, or simply zero if they didn't enter the track), special stones claimed, as well as points chits hit during the game. High score wins, and ties are possible.

Keltis is a quick game - we whipped through two player games in 20 minutes - almost filler category. Four player games have come in at 40-45 minutes. This seems a perfect length for a game of this depth. It is also an ideal game to play with non-gamer friends. There is nothing difficult or threatening here, and it won't take all night.

Keltis has a slightly retro feel to it - in the last few years we've seen several games come out that are highly interactive. Players are bent over a board, placing a single pawn on a space to action/reserve it, and it's all quick fire game play. Keltis, although very fast to play, feels a bit old fashioned. Play a card, advance, move along. Nothing wrong with it, but I did notice the difference.

If the game has a problem, it's the cards. We found the colour and value of the cards melded difficult to make out across the table, due to the fact their printed against a grey stone background. For a game where you constantly have to scan the other player's holdings to see what they've melded - the squinting got old quickly. Lost Cities has clear colours and bold numerals, Keltis has very green cards, with values and suits that are difficult to make out. This problem tended to be more noticeable under artificial lighting.

So... what is it like. I'd put Keltis in the "try before you buy" category. I say this simply because game designs have moved into a different area now, where games like Caylus, Pillars of the Earth, Agricola, and the recent Stone Age, seem to be the happening thing. Keltis feels old school, linear, and possibly a bit bland if you're enjoying the current crop of new games. Personally, I really enjoyed Keltis, and it could be my Knizia bias talking! It has the tight, angst filled game play of Lost Cities, now caters for four players, and feels a bit cleaner given there isn't the mathematics adding up the score at the end of the game.

I think it's a fine game, but perhaps try before you buy. If you are a fan of Lost Cities, or like the colour green, then don't hesitate to obtain a copy!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany