Kingdomino: Age of Giants
Time: ~20 minutes
Times Played: 7
The third iteration (and first expansion) in the Kingdomino world (following Queendomino) is Age of Giants, which introduces a fifth player, unique challenges, and of course, Giants. For a look at the original Kingdomino, I direct you here as I’m not going to spend much time covering what the base game offers and instead talk about what’s new.
The Fifth Player
Age of Giants adds a fifth player that can be used with either Domino royalty. Playing with a fifth player means either utilizing the rules from Age of Giants (so you have additional tiles) or playing Queendomino, which provides additional tiles due to the buildings. The base game could be played if you use the Giant tiles and just ignore the rules on them. The fifth player color is brown.
Playing with five players is…alright. The game doesn’t take any longer than it would at four and it is nice to be able to have a lighter game that seats five but with five a player can get royally jammed up as going last could have a player picking in the bottom two round after round after round. The randomness of the tile draws can really impede a player and then someone is just along for the ride as opposed to making actual strategic decisions. The game is short enough that a player won’t get too frustrated by the lack of options but this won’t endear the game to them and they’re not going to want to play again.
As I believe the game was designed to only play with five for the more advanced variants as opposed to the base version, the game lends itself to more seasoned players for initial playthroughs as having a new player join a group of four that have played a lot could end badly, especially with the new player interaction introduced by the Giants.
I also have no idea what you’re supposed to do with the fifth castle once it’s built. In the base Kingdomino, all castles fit in their own nook in the insert but there’s no such thing in Age of Giants and no room in the base game. I suppose deconstructing the castle is an option but that feels weird since it would be the only one you do that to and eventually I feel like the cardboard would fray and bend. This is a minor complaint but something still worth noting.
Age of Giants is defined by the introduction of…what for it…Giants. There are twelve new dominoes that feature Giants and they’re mixed together with the base forty-eight tiles. You can differentiate them as they’re categorized on the back by letters as opposed to numbers. When organizing the tiles each round, letters will be set before numbers in order. The meeple Giants are fine, quality components.
There are two types of Giant tiles. The first are dominoes that feature the Giants on the territory. When placing a tile with a Giant in your kingdom, the player places a Giant meeple on any crown in their kingdom, effectively cancelling that crown out if the Giant remains there for end of the game scoring. If you place a tile with a Giant in your kingdom and don’t have a crown to cover, the Giant is not placed in your kingdom at all. The second type of tile has the Giants footprints visible on the territories. These tiles indicate that the Giants have left your kingdom for another players. These are only effective if you already have a Giant in your kingdom. Placing one without a Giant in your kingdom does not let you move anyone. When/if you do get to move a Giant, you can move them to any kingdom and the receiving player picks which crown the Giant will cover.
Age of Giants introduces direct player interaction with this module and for the most part, it works alright. There are so few Giant tiles (six that bring a Giant to your lands) that they’re incredibly rare to get when they’d be beneficial. Age of Giants does ensure that all tiles are seen however by implementing a new way to set up the lines of dominoes each round and that involves placing five dominoes for all player counts. Depending on the number of players, a set number are removed (two and four counts remove one domino, at three you remove two). With their being so few, even if a player is ganged up on the results are not completely debilitating and being able to choose which crowns get covered goes a long way to mitigate any potential disaster.
The randomness in the order that players see the tiles defines the expansion too much unfortunately. Seeing Giants early in the game when no one has crowns to cover makes them a non-factor and receiving them on the last few turns is problematic as there’s no way to course correct.
The Giants are effective at pretty much any player count but I will note that at three-players, the possibility of kingmaking is higher. There’s nothing to stop two players from signaling out a third whereas in four- and five-player games, alliances can be more easily made. At two-players, the interaction is solely between the opponents and the randomness can lead to lopsided Giant placement. As long as players don’t take anything too personally, it shouldn’t cause issues for players not used to such direct interaction. That being said, I feel like this goes from being a great two-player game to an average at best one with the inclusion of the Giants due to the randomness.
There are seventeen challenges and the module calls for two to be revealed each game. Like the bonus points in base Kingdomino (having your castle in the middle of your kingdom or completing a perfect five by five grid), these new tiles challenge the player(s) to try something different with their placements and strategies. The two basic bonuses from Kingdomino are included in these challenges (named Middle Kingdom Bonus and Harmony Bonus) and the others grant points for placements of tiles around the kingdom. There is even a tile that grants points for territories that don’t have crowns in them. These challenges can be used with the Giant module from the expansion or on its own and they are compatible with the base game.
This influx of challenges ensures that each game of Kingdomino is just different enough from the last and grant players additional ways to score points if the randomness of the tile draw doesn’t end in their favor.
This is the best part of Age of Giants and for me, it’s not even a close comparison. The challenges range in value and difficulty. The Lost Corner Bonus grants a player twenty points if their castle ends in one of the four corners of their kingdom. That’s not incredibly difficult to manage. The Tic-Tac-Toe Bonus is the only challenge that I would classify as difficult as players need to get three squares with at least one crown aligned (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) in a row to score ten points. That bonus almost isn’t worth the effort needed to complete it. Besides that one challenge, the rest feel fairly balanced and practical.
The only drawback with these challenges is that they’re almost absolutely essential to utilize. In every game we have a recorded score for, bonus points from challenges were what propelled the winner to victory. It’s not enough to just build a highly functioning kingdom, you have to maximize the points available. The local business bonuses, if scored fully, would be worth an additional forty points. It wouldn’t be the easiest to complete but getting half of that would be a deal. In looking at our base game play statistics, of the twelve players to record multiple scores in Kingdomino, fifty percent of those players average between forty and fifty points a game. The bonus itself would double their score (if completed). It’s an absolute game changer and as long as you’re aware of that, it’s a worthwhile inclusion to the game. We won’t play any version of Kingdomino without them.
Like Queendomino, Age of Giants introduces a scoring pad that allows players to track scores. Much more importantly, it makes the game incredible easier to score as you can go territory by territory and write down the results as opposed to tabulating them on your fingers or smartphones. The pad is pretty thick and offers fifty sheets of scoring that is doubled-sided. Each scoring sheet has ten player spaces on each so it’ll take a lot of gaming to complete the pack.
I love this introduction and as I use this game as a gateway for players, it takes the one difficult aspect, math and memorization, out of their hands. It also helps visualize the scoring mechanic and how everyone got to their scores.
The Tile Dispenser
Age of Giants includes a tower tile dispenser that fits all sixty tiles. This is made to allow players the opportunity to truly pull tiles randomly as they cannot see what is next in the queue. The dispenser is roughly the size of the box and premade so all players need to do is open the tower and insert the tiles.
I hate it. It’s a novelty that takes up too much space and now the base game and the expansion cannot fit in the same box. It offers nothing for gameplay and fixes something that to me was not broken; namely, pulling tiles out of the base game box.
The idea is nice and the artwork fits with everything going on but it’s so much easier just to pull tiles out of the box than it is to shimmy them out of the tower. Maybe my tower is defective but none of the tiles slide out easily. I will give the tower credit as it’s easy to set-up and use but it’s so unnecessary. It also takes up the entire box and now a small, quick filler game takes up ample space on my shelf. This may not be an issue for some people but as someone who has only a finite amount of space, I don’t want to find some wonky storage solution for the game. I will end up making a foamcore storage for the expansion box and just house everything in there at some point.
The price point for the game is decent for what you’re provided with but I feel like 60% of the cost is for the tile tower that I didn’t want, need, or ask for. I would have gladly paid the same price for an insert that fits everything in one box or additional Giant/challenge tiles that could have scaled the difficulty up and down.
Age of Giants is definitely the expansion everyone thought Queendomino was originally going to be: an addition to a proven formula. Whereas Queendomino was much more “gamey”, Age of Giants seems to be designed for those that just want to play more Kingdomino. This is what great expansions do: they add to the base game as opposed to distract from it. While Age of Giants is not a smash success or necessity when playing like Tuscany is for Viticulture or Scoundrels of Skullport is for Lords of Waterdeep, it’s definitely following the proven formula set by the original king and would make purists proud. If you play Kingdomino a lot, I would recommend Age of Giants strictly for the challenge tiles as that will freshen up the gameplay immensely before you ever feel the need to incorporate the Giants themselves.