Keystone Design Diary #1


Hi wonderful supporters! Isaac here to give you a little insight on the process of developing the wonderful new second edition of Keystone: North America and the Keystone: North America Costal Expansion.

Back when we first started Rose Gauntlet Entertainment, we knew we had something special on our hands with Keystone. We felt it was a great light to mid-level game and would get a lot of people excited about the possibilities of what Rose Gauntlet could do. We had so much support and were ecstatic about the reception Keystone garnered once its first edition was on the market.

However, we learned a lot since starting the company, and we wanted to take those lessons and improve the quality of our games. Since our inception, the goal with our products is to make sure we keep supporting them long term. While Keystone was doing well, we knew that with some changes it could do better, and thus development on a second edition began.

We made sure to pay attention to what was resonating with our audience and what was causing some pain points. When we looked at who was most gravitating towards the game, we saw that it was people who really enjoyed the solo and two-player versions of the game. We noted that some players had issues with the inflexibility of the scoring. We also saw some players getting tripped up with aspects of the graphic design. Lastly, once on the market, we saw that people really gravitated to the lower priced standard version instead of the higher priced deluxe version of the game.

Taking all this into consideration, we decided to make some major changes with a second edition of the game. We created a product that better serves the larger 1-2 player audience, while still offering the flexibility to those that wanted the 3-4 player option. We upgraded the visual aspects as well, with new box art and graphic design changes to tokens, cards, and the rulebook. We updated the rules to allow for more flexibility in scoring so that players could have more options when creating their ecosystems. We also lowered price point so that more people could have access to the game.

While all the conversations about the second edition were taking place, an expansion had already been in the works shortly after the first edition hit the market. We always had the intention to expand Keystone. With so many wonderful Keystone species across the world, we wanted to make sure to keep bringing more to your table and incorporate it into Keystone’s gameplay in a way that would enhance your experience, and also allow us to experiment more in developing fun puzzles for the solo play.

Lindsey took charge of the solo development for the expansion, touching on some amazing stories that she wanted to feature across the ten scenarios, while I focused on the new mechanics that the expansion would be built upon.

The three major things that I wanted to help Keystone improve upon as a series with this expansion was providing more flexibility when adding species cards to player ecosystems, finding more uses for the synergy tokens, and providing players more flexibility when it came to research tokens.

I tackled the first issue by developing the conservation centers, probably my favorite new mechanic in the game. I wanted players to feel like every card in the field was viable for their goals, and less like they were searching for just the right card for their perfect ecosystem. Creating the conservation centers gave the players somewhere to hold those cards on the field that didn’t fit onto their board, but could be utilized for major points in a different way.

The conservation centers then became another great lever to pull for solving my second issue of further utilizing synergy tokens. Players could now pay synergy tokens to increase their conservation center capacity, while also multiplying the amount of points a conservation center would award.

The conservation centers were actually inspired by a playthrough of Concordia Venus. A very different game from Keystone, but a fantastic one, whose scoring mechanism resembles some of what was brought into how the conservation centers scoring system works. 

Once the conservation centers were working, my next issue was to figure out how to utilize the research tokens more, an aspect I really enjoyed in the base edition of the game, but wanted to take further. I tried a few different methods that didn’t quite work, until I developed the Community Focus mechanic.

The simplest solution to increasing research token usage was to have players purchase them with synergy tokens. It was easy and it would once again give more uses for synergy tokens. However, there was a delicate balance of cost. Being able to place it on whatever you wanted was too easy and didn’t really offer much fun if the cost was too low. But if the cost was too high, then no one would want to utilize it.

So, inspired by the community aspects I was building into Wild Gardens at the time, I decided to bring in a restriction to the purchasing of research tokens through the Community Focus mechanic, so you can only buy research tokens based on what the current community focus is at the time. Having that restriction was also great for the theme, since biologist often struggle with getting enough funding or support for their work due to what their communities are more focused on. I felt that push and pull between what habitats are and aren't considered important to research blended well into the game.

With the conservation centers, and the community focus variants solving my three big issues, next was bringing in some new skill tokens that would capitalize on the variants while also providing some good alternatives to those found in the base game. These were a little harder to get right, but after some testing we landed on 10 new skill tokens that provided some more variety in the base game and worked well with the new variants in the expansion.

As far as the species cards go, they were selected based on an effort to continue balancing the deck, and what animals would fit best into different categories and the coastal theme. It was actually probably the hardest part of developing Keystone. We always do our best to bring in species that we want to feature, while also keeping in mind from a gameplay aspect what habitats they can actually thrive in and whether or not that will unbalance the deck. Luckily, we have our wonderful wildlife research consultant Joe Lamb who helped make sure that we picked the right species. In the end, we landed on 28 new species cards in the expansion that are an excellent addition to the Keystone series.

Overall, working on Keystone again has been an absolute joy. Its amazing how much the puzzle of this game has to offer and how the species and work biologist do continue to inspire our development of the series. I am so happy that you all have given us the chance to continue the series with its expansion and a second edition, and I hope that many more are able to discover the love that we put into it. Our goal is to always keep making you proud to support our games and our company.

Thanks again for all of your continued support! It means the world to us!

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