Time: 13 minutes
Times Played: 20~
Since 1979, the Spiels des Jahres has been awarded to the board and card game that is of the best quality and most excellent game design. Previous winners include such stalwarts as Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Codenames. In 2017, Kingdomino by Bruno Cathala (Notable creations including 7 Wonders Duel, Raptor, and Mr. Jack, among others) won the award, defeating Magic Maze by Kasper Lapp and Race to El Dorado by Reiner Knizia (Notable creations including Tigris and Euphrates, Ra, and Modern Art, among others).
A local store was having a sale and I was able to pick up Kingdomino for twelve dollars and at that price, I figured I could gamble and see what the big deal was about. My research tends to send me reading and watching videos about larger, more complex games (not to mention more expensive) so while I had heard about Kingdomino and that it was an award winner, I honestly did not know what you did on a turn by turn basis or even what the final objective was. But for twelve dollars and the act of supporting a local game store (as well as this addiction), I was willing to take the gamble.
Out of the box, Kingdomino is solid in its simplicity. The game contains four three dimensional castles, four starting castle tiles, eight King-shaped meeples, one rulebook, and 48 thick, colorful location dominoes with 30 having scoring crowns on them. The box is small and as the contents and playable area are not overly large, this game makes an excellent traveling companion. You could also substitute the box for a draw bag for more flexibility if traveling.
The starting castles require some minor assembly and should not take much longer than a few minutes to put together. Each is also unique in color. They do not provide any benefit other than showing what color you are playing as. There is also a starting castle base that is placed under the 3-D castle and each of these is the same for each player. If traveling, you really don’t need the 3-D castle as the base serves the exact same purpose, just not across dimensions.
The eight King meeples come in yellow, green, blue, and pink. The only reason I mention this is because it is nice to see a color incorporated in a board game that we do not normally see: pink. While some people always want to be the red or white player and will be disappointed by their lack of inclusion, I am glad to represent a new color while playing this game.
The meeples are customized to have a significant Bart Simpson haircut, aka the resemblance of a crown. It’s a nice little aesthetic touch but does not impact gameplay in the slightest. There are eight meeples total as in a two-player game, players use both meeples from their color-set to make decisions and this way, you can pick any color in a two-player game.
The rulebook is two and a half pages of rules for the language that you choose (there are additional pages for other languages). I’m not even sure it is a full half as the last page is just the final sentences of scoring and some variants for gameplay. It is incredibly easy to read and decipher and the back of the booklet showcases the locations shown on the dominoes as well as how many there are of each. It’s a nice tool for explaining the game to others instead of digging through the dominoes for examples.
I really can’t praise the rulebook enough. From removing the shrink wrap to our first game was probably under ten minutes, which included construction of the castles, reading and explaining the rules, shuffling, and recycling the trash.
The box itself also serves as the vessel for the dominoes to be chosen, which is a great use of space and a wonderful way to keep the game organized and secretive for future actions.
The dominoes themselves are the real meat and potatoes of the game however. There are 48 dominoes that are made from thick, stable cardboard and each is illustrated in a unique and vibrant manner. They are also glossed over to give them a flashier finish.
The only downfall that I have with the dominoes is that some of them bleed over the edges so when stacked in the box, you can see what is coming next. If you’re not sitting near the box this isn’t a problem and I suppose the easiest solution is to just “not look” but I wanted to point it out.
So what do you do with your fancy 3-D castle and glossy dominoes?
It’s simple really.
Each turn you will choose a tile from those that are in front of you, placing your only King meeple on top of it. The number of tiles available to choose from is equal to the number of players (except in a two-player game where there will be four dominoes and two King meeples each for the players).
After you have picked the tile you want, a new stack of tiles is placed and the player at the top of the stack will have first choice. The stacks are ordered by the corresponding number on the back of them, with the lowest number being at the top of the stack and descending as the numbers become larger. After choosing their new tile, they will place their old tile in and around their kingdom, trying to match like locations to one another.
This process will continue with randomly drawn dominoes until the last few are placed.
The kingdom starting tile acts as a universal connector and allows any piece to touch it. A domino must connect to either the starting kingdom tile or to another existing domino by matching at least one location side to that piece.
Stringing along locations will only pay off however if there is/are a crown(s) available within the locations, as that is the only way to accumulate points in Kingdomino. The only catch is that your budding kingdom cannot expand further than a 5×5 grid.
In a two-player game, Kingdomino lasts six rounds and in a three or four-player game, there are twelve rounds. After the last dominoes have been placed, players will determine their score by counting the number of matching connected locations and multiplying them by the number of crowns found in those touching locations.
Whoever has the highest amount of points, wins. There are some scoring variants that can be added to the game, such as making your kingdom a perfect square or centering your castle in the middle of your kingdom that will grant you bonus points, but they really don’t add or detract from the game in a serious manner.
Kingdomino can pretty much be taught to anyone due to the basic concepts and that it builds on a game that everyone at least knows about: dominoes. While I love dominoes, Kingdomino is a nice upgrade from that game. A major fear of games that play so quickly is that it’ll be easier to become bored of the game as the options, strategies, and tactics are meager. That is not the case here. For something that plays in under fifteen minutes, there are still meaningful decisions to be made.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a GMT game or something that will rack your brain. It’s actually a very good game for those in your group that have some analysis paralysis as there are not many options to choose from and sometimes the decision is made for them.
Each time that we have pulled out Kingdomino, we have played roughly five times. This is not a one and done game and five is a rough estimate, it could have been more. It feels like a step above a filler-game, but not by much.
The game plays at two, three, and four players and honestly, I think it scales very well. I mentioned previously, but at two players you are making two decisions each round as opposed to just one and there are fewer dominoes, so the game will go much quicker. Somewhere between a third and a half of our games have been at only two-players and we have enjoyed it immensely.
Three players restricts some dominoes again, at random, and allows each player to only make one action. What is common in three player games is Kingmaking, which is where one player can influence the winner/loser of the game due to their decision making. In some instances, this is fine but more often than not, this can cause contention between players. In our three player games, this never came up and I’d like to think that we are a cutthroat group.
Four players uses every domino and while sometimes a player could get stuck going last several times in a row, the way the dominoes are staggered pretty much ensures that this does not happen too many turns in a row. I really like this game at four players as there is very little room for error and end scores are either close as the full player count typically negates having a run away winner.
All that being said, this game works at any player count. Do I like four more than three? I do. But that doesn’t mean I’ll look for another game to play if there are only three of us.
Player interaction in Kingdomino is entirely dependent on the players. You can see everyone’s kingdoms and you typically have an idea about what an opponent is going to take. If you go before them, and you can make it work, you can take a piece that isn’t as beneficial just so your opponent doesn’t get it. Since points are multiplying, that one move could be a decider in who wins.
We have actually thought about buying a second copy and playing a 7×7 variant with three and four players…but that would require a second copy. You currently can play a 7×7 kingdom with two players but only two players.
The variants that I mentioned earlier are kind of lacking, but I suppose there are worst things than having my complaint being that I want to play more of your game. Maybe after twenty more plays this will drop down on my list of games that I like because I could see it getting stale, but for being so fast I don’t see it becoming an issue.
In timing some of our playthroughs, games went as quick as nine minutes and as long as sixteen. This included all player counts.
Without having played the other nominees, I cannot say whether or not this game is better than El Dorado or Magic Maze, but in a vacuum, I can clearly see why this was the 2017 winner.
If you want a game for non-gamers or a quick game for your hardened group, I cannot think of a much better suggestion than Kingdomino, especially when it retails for about seventeen dollars. Production quality alone is worth that. I know that so far I have definitely gotten my money’s worth.