Will you create the ultimate kingdom?
So firstly for those that may not be aware, the Spiel des Jahres is essentially the German board and card game of the year. That is a simplistic way of looking at it, but accurate nonetheless. There are two other award categories, namely the Connoisseurs’ Game of the Year (Kennerspiel des Jahres) and Children’s Game of the Year (Kinderspiel des Jahres). With the massive Board and Card game culture in Germany, this is an award watched by the world as a golden standard of quality gaming. Last years winner, Kingdomino, is a great example of why games even nominated for these awards are so sought after.
The criteria on which games are evaluated are split into four categories – game concept, rule structure, layout and design. Most Spiel des Jahres winners can be considered gateway or light, so are accessible and easy to learn for beginners and veterans alike. Kingdomino fits in this category perfectly, with its simple rules and elegant gameplay. As such I will be describing the game itself in a bit more detail than normal. This isn’t intended as a change in my review style. It’s just the rules of Kingdomino as so basic it’s easier to explain the whole game rather than the highlights of gameplay.
So what is Kingdomino? It’s a city building game with a difference. Each player is a King looking to build the best kingdom possible. This is done by arranging lands around your castle, and matching types of lands together.
How you get your tiles is a mixture of worker placement and auction-style play. Tiles are placed face down (numbered side up) on the table forming a column, then put in ascending order. For the start of the game, each player’s meeple is taken into one player’s hand and randomly drawn, placed in a column next to the face-down tiles. From here, tiles are then turned face up.
Now, each player in turn from the top down of the column takes their meeple and places it on the tile they wish to add to their kingdom. It’s first come first served, so if someone puts a meeple on the tile you want, unfortunately, you will miss out. When everyone has placed their King, the next group of tiles is placed face down in ascending order, then flipped face up and the first round begins.
During the round, the player with the meeple on top of the column takes their meeple and the tile it was on. The tile is then placed in their kingdom, and finally, the meeple is placed on the tile they want in the next column, and the next player takes their turn.
Placing the tiles is simple – it is playing dominoes. You place your tiles in such a way that your kingdom will end as a 5×5 grid. A legal placement of the tile is straightforward – put the tile either horizontally or vertically, with one area being placed next to another area of the same type. It doesn’t matter if other squares don’t match, as long as one does. It can sound confusing, but the example in the manual makes it really easy to follow.
Your castle is essentially a wild tile, so you can place anything next to it. If you can’t place the tile, then you have to discard it and it’s taken out of the game completely, so always try and leave yourself some options!
Play continues like this until all of the tiles are used, then scoring begins. Scoring is just as straightforward as the actual gameplay but can look confusing.
Your kingdom will now have matching groups on your grid, and some of those groups will have a number of crowns on them. For each group, you multiply the number of connected squares of that type by the number of crowns in that area for your total score.
Again, the rules make this visually very easy to follow. Can you tell how many points were scored on the game board after the scoring example?
From the top left and going clockwise, (1×2) + (1×3) + (2×4) + (0x5) + (2×3) + (0x1) + (4×5) + (0x1) = 39 points. It can take players a game to get used to the scoring and see what they are aiming to achieve, but from then on everything clicks.
And that’s it! You now know how to play Kingdomino. It is just that simple. There are a couple of rules variations for advanced play or variety. They range from extra points for your castle being in the centre of your kingdom to creating a huge 7×7 kingdom in a two player game!
So what is Kingdomino like to play? It’s a heap of fun.
While there can be a lot of tactical decisions to make and an overall strategy to each game, each game moves so quickly that even people looking on playing at a deeper level can reset quickly if things don’t go their way. Even the dreaded Analysis Paralysis is minimised in Kingdomino. As there are only a limited amount of options to consider at any time, there is plenty of time to decide where you are going to place your tile once you have selected it while other players have their turn.
Kingdomino might look like a game where you don’t really interact with others, but it doesn’t truly promote multiple solitaire play like some other games. Because gameplay is so relatively light, people can still talk and socialise during the game without breaking anyone’s concentration. This puts Kingdomino into the ‘suits all situations’ category, where it’s a great opener or closer to a games night or even the main game played multiple times.
Setup and teardown is a breeze, thanks to a simple insert with plenty of room for everything. It’s one of the few games I can teach while setting up the game, as I only really need to grab a couple of meeples and a few tiles to demonstrate, then shuffle everything into the pile and start the game properly.
Games like Kingdomino are hard to describe without repeating the same things over and over again. There are games like Splendor and Augustus (both Spiel des Jahres nominees) that have a few mechanics and you can describe how different situations arise from different games.
Kingdomino will always be the same simple game – get the tiles, match them in your kingdom. Yes, you will always have better runs on tile selections giving you higher scores, but that is due to the random draw pile. Some players might revel in ‘take that’ or hate drafting where someone will always go out of their way to try and take another players piece just because they can. This type of gameplay is actively discouraged by the game itself, because you may be able to take that vital piece one turn, but that means you go last next turn.
Trying to find more out of Kingdomino that what is there will usually detract from an incredibly simple and fun experience and that kind of balance is very rare indeed.
A lot of people may be looking at Kingdomino and be thinking to themselves it may be a bit simple. There are people that prefer heavier games over lighter ones after all. It’s these types of players that normally try and look for more out of the game. For these people, there is a stand-alone sequel/companion in Queendomino with a more advanced ruleset. Queendomino can also be combined with Kingdomino to make larger kingdoms overall, so having both in your library is still a very real possibility.
Bottom line though no matter what type of gamer you are I would still urge you to give Kingdomino a try. Yes, it may be a quick filler game at best for some of you, but it’s such a fun experience overall I think you may surprise yourself with how much you could enjoy Kingdomino. It’s this simplicity that I think makes Kingdomino a great addition to everybody’s collection, and one of the few ‘must buy’ games I would recommend.
Kingdomino truly represents what a Spiel des Jahres nominee should be, and deserves to be played if you get the chance. Like a lot of Spiel des Jahres nominees, seek out Kingdomino with an eye for adding it to your collection.
There is another pair of games with a ‘simple’ and ‘advanced’ version – King of Tokyo and King of New York. While the comparison is really unfair as the types of games aren’t anything alike, a lot of people jumped to the more advanced King of New York only to come back to the simpler King of Tokyo for a more fun experience. Bruno Cathala seems to have kept this general experience in mind when creating Kingdomino and Queendomino, so this may be the best comparison for people that have played both King of games.
Until next time,