Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Game Review - Kingdomino

Kingdomino was the Spiel des Jahres (German Board Game of the Year) winner for 2017 so I was naturally intrigued. There are 3 levels of the Spiel des Jahres: a children's game award, a family game award and an "advanced" or "strategic" game award. Kingdomino won in the standard/family category so it fit into a sweet spot for my family of gamers.

The theme of the game is that each player is a ruler in a land trying to build up their kingdom to contain the most prosperous swaths of different types of terrain ranging from deserts to mountains to lakes and others in between. That said, the theme is very light in this game so it's doubtful you'll feel like a regal Lord or an imperialist land baron without some serious role playing at the table.

The mechanics of the game are based on game play from dominoes (hence the mash-up in the game title). The game consists of a number of rectangular tiles (the number varies based on number of players). Each rectangle can be thought to split down the middle like a domino with each side containing an image of one terrain type or another...for example a tile may have a forest on one half and water on the other half...or you may find the double-mountain tile or some other tile with the same terrain across the entire tile.

The twists to the game that differentiate it from dominoes come in the way you select your tiles, the way you place them in your tableau to build your kingdom and the way you score at the end of the game.

To select the tiles to be played, each player has one or more player pawns. For the first round, turn order is determined randomly or by a method decided on by the players. Four tiles are laid face up in a column and the players, in turn order, place their pawn on the tile they want to select/place in that round. Once all pawns are placed, a new set of 4 tiles are arranged in a new column. Then back at the first column, starting with the top tile in the players remove their pawn from the tile, place the tile in their tableau and place their pawn on the tile they want for the next round. So if you place your pawn on a tile higher up in the column, you will go earlier in the next round. However, the higher scoring tiles are placed lower in the column so it's a balance of deciding when to go for bigger scoring opportunities versus when to go for turn order momentum.

As with dominoes, you need to place your tile in a way that the terrain symbol matches up. Unlike dominoes (at least the versions I've played), only one side needs to match up. So, for example, if I was to place the forest-water tile I could place it in such a way that the forest side matches up with another forest tile already in my tableau but the water side might end up touching a mountain tile and that is fine and legal (and to be expected). Each player starts with a single square "wild" token to begin their tableau and to allow flexibility when building.

In addition to matching the terrain symbols on the tile, the other requirement when placing your tiles is that your entire kingdom must be contained in a grid of 5x5 squares. In other words, if you were to place two tiles vertically that would be 4 squares high and you would then need to place a tile horizontally at the edge to mark your boundary of 5 squares. This size requirement can be tricky since you're not sure which terrain options are going to come up and you may find yourself in a situation where you cannot legally place your selected tile based on the options available to you either because the terrain symbols don't match up or because it would extend your kingdom beyond the 5x5 size requirement.

Once all tiles have been selected and played (or discarded if unable to be placed), the players score. Scoring is based on the contiguous size of the terrain types ALONG WITH special crown icons that only appear on some of the tile sections. In order for a terrain area to score, it must have one or more crown and the crowns become multipliers. So if there are zero crowns, the multiplier is zero and that area scores zero points while if the area has three crowns the score will be 3x. The base score is determined by the number of continuous squares for that terrain type. So a forest area of 4 squares with a single crown would score 4 points while a water area consisting of only 3 squares but containing 2 crowns would score 6 points.

I was initially skeptical about the 15 minute play time on the box since that felt a little too lightweight for a game of the year winner so I anticipated gameplay. I was surprised to find the time estimate to be fairly accurate. I've played the game with 2, 3, and 4 players and in each case 15 minutes seems to be a fairly average play time. In fact, many of our games were 10 minutes or less. Games with new players may take slightly longer but not much. The main culprit in lengthening the game comes either when players spend too long puzzling over their kingdom layout and available tiles or when a player realizes that their tile placement has made it problematic to complete the 5x5 grid and so they agonize over decisions.

Gameplay is quick and easy to understand after walking through a round or two. The rules for tile placement are based on the familiar concept of dominoes while adding in complexity based on the size/shape requirement of the kingdom and the strategy of obtaining the best score. As such it is easily accessible by young and old. Probably the most difficult gameplay rule that may pose a hurdle for players would be the 5x5 requirement.

Generally I enjoyed Kingdomino. It's a little lightweight for my general gaming tastes but it's quick enough that it doesn't overstay its welcome and it's a nice palette cleanser or filler between, before or after deeper gaming sessions. Part of me wishes it allowed for more players (it maxes out at 4 which means my entire family of 5 can't play it together) but it may be harder to balance and keep the play time flowing well with more players. Overall I had fun and can recommend it is a light filler to pass some time or play with younger players.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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