Update: Keystone: North America is live on Kickstarter and the campaign will run for 29 days. You may pledge for the standard or the Deluxe edition, or further embellish the Deluxe edition with wooden tokens and a faux leather journal.
Our preview post below was published on May 15.
Keystone: North America is a 1-4 players drafting and tableau-building game which can be played solo/cooperatively or competitively. In the competitive mode, you draft species to create the healthiest ecosystem possible. In the solo/co-op game, you play through a storybook (Field Journal) that contains puzzles and assignments. It will launch on Kickstarter on May 18.
The species cards have three different characteristics: a number from 1 to 5, one or several habitat symbols (that tell you in which habitats the species can thrive), and a season symbol (that is significant only to fulfill a secret objective that you pick at the beginning of the game). They may also feature the keystone symbol: it marks these species as pivotal to the overall robustness of the ecosystem.
In the beginning, you pick one objective out of two, and randomly reveal 5 skill cards (out of 10) that will be used throughout the game. You also set the time marker at the start of the time track. The game is then played in a sequence of rounds. On your turn, you can either draft a species from a display of six, use an active skill, exhausting it in the process, or use all previously exhausted skills, moving the time marker forward by 1 on the time track and flipping them back to their active side. Skills are used to move cards on your board, place research tokens on your cards, or force you to discard cards.
When you draft a species, you can pick the leftmost one for free, or pay one synergy token for each one you pass. If there are any such tokens on a card you draft, you add them to your supply. Then, you must place the card onto your board, which is a 4x4 grid. At the end of your turn, you refill the display up to six cards.
The game ends either when the time tracker reaches 4 on the track, or when you fill your player board with cards. Scoring can then begin. You score each row and each column separately. To score a row or a column, you must identify the ecosystems you have formed, that is, successions of adjacent cards sharing the same habitat, and with a consecutive sequence of either ascending or descending numbers (for instance three species cards with 2, 3, 4 all sharing the desert habitat). You can only score one such ecosystem (if any) per row or column. The ecosystem adds one point per tile and one point per research token. Then the total is multiplied by the number of keystone species you have in the ecosystem.
You also check whether you have fulfilled your secret objective, which is a spatial pattern of season symbols, and score the corresponding points. Synergy tokens you have left are also worth 3 points each.
In the solo mode, you go through a series of “assignments” that come with a piece of story, specific rules for set-up, and may add special rules to twist the experience. It also leads you to open secret envelopes that will add new species to the game. In the first assignment, you play exactly per the normal rules, except with 3 skill cards instead of 5, and must score at least 50 points. In the second assignment, when you put synergy tokens in play to purchase species cards further to the left, you must discard as many. To win, you must score at least 70 points, fulfill your secret objective at least once, and have 6 synergy tokens left in the end. Further assignments add other specific rules (e.g. you must move around a token on your board to clear other tokens), and come with a wider variety of objectives.