Saturday, 21 April 2018


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Kingdomino is the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, designed by Bruno Cathala (Abyss, Cyclades, Five Tribes, Mr Jack). It's a family game and a light strategy game. You build your own little kingdom using domino-like tiles. These are rectangular tiles consisting of two squares. Each square has a terrain type, and possibly one or more crowns. You have an imaginary 5x5 grid in which to build your kingdom. Every round you add a tile to your kingdom. Once the tiles run out, you score your kingdom, and whoever has the highest score wins.

Everyone starts his kingdom with a 1x1 castle. You grow your kingdom outwards from here. Whenever you add a tile to your kingdom, at least one square must touch an existing square of the same terrain type, just like playing dominoes. E.g. a wheatfield square on the new tile matches up with an existing wheatfield. If you are unable to match either square of the new tile with an existing square, you will be forced to discard the new tile. The only exception in terrain matching is the castle. Any terrain matches the castle.

You may choose not to place a tile even if it there is a legal placement. Sometimes this can be beneficial, but this is rare. Discarding a tile is usually involuntary.

You score points for each connected group of terrain squares. The value of a terrain group is the size of the group multiplied by the number of crowns on it. In the photo above, the large wheatfield group is worth 6VP. Size of 6 x 1 crown = 6VP. There are two tiny minefield groups, and currently one is worth 1VP (because of the 1 crown), the other is worth nothing. If these two minefield groups can later be linked up, they will be worth more. You want to build big terrain groups, and you want to have as many crowns as possible in them, especially the bigger groups.

One important restriction is the build area of 5x5. You must never exceed 5 rows or 5 columns. You may expand out from your castle in any direction. The castle need not be fixed as the centre of your kingdom. However if you are able to make it the centre, you earn a 10VP bonus at game end. Also if you manage to place all 12 tiles claimed during the game, making a complete 5x5 kingdom with no holes, you score a 5VP bonus.

How you claim tiles is the interesting part of the game. At the start of the game, you draw a number of tiles equal to the number of players. Every tile has a number on its back, which is indicative of its value. Terrains have different rarities and different numbers of crowns, so in general some are more valuable than others. The tiles are arranged in order of their numbers. Players then take turn claiming one each by placing their pawns. If you claim the lowest numbered tile (which is roughly the least valuable tile), you will have first pick next round. If you claim the highest numbered tile, you will pick last next round. That means you'll take whatever others leave behind. This mechanism of picking both the tile and the turn order for next round is the key element in Kingdomino.

You are constantly assessing the values of the tiles both to yourself and to your opponents. You need to watch their kingdoms to know what they want. Decision-making is based not only on what you want, but also on how desperately you need to deny your opponents. The value of a tile is certainly not simply based on its number. It is much more dependent on the board situation at each kingdom.

In the photo above, the column on the right are the tiles being claimed in the current round. One of them has been taken and the player is now adding it to his kingdom, so the tile is gone. After placing the tile, this active player will pick a tile from the left column to be claimed in the next round.

The game is played over 12 rounds only. Some tiles are randomly removed during setup depending on the number of players, so once the draw pile is exhausted, everyone will have claimed 12 tiles, and the game ends.

The Play

Kingdomino plays very quickly. It's a family game, but it almost feels more like a children's game. The rules and mechanisms are simple, but there is some strategy. You do need to think ahead a little how to build your perfect little kingdom. There's the invisible 5x5 boundary you need to consider. You need to keep your options open for future rounds. The bonuses for having a perfectly centred castle and for having a complete 5x5 kingdom are not easy to achieve. Both require forward planning. I may be making this sound complicated and thinky, but in practice, everything is clean and clear, and the game progresses briskly.

Building your own kingdom is solitaire play. The player interaction is in drafting tiles and fighting for turn order. There is no aggressive player interaction, only the passive aggressive type where you claim a tile which your opponent would have wanted.

The game feels like a puzzle - how do you build your kingdom and maximise your score? How do you try to fit everything in to fulfill all the scoring criteria?

The Thoughts

Kingdomino reminds me of Santiago, because the connected area scoring is similar. Santiago is a mid-weight strategy game. Kingdomino is much lighter. It is brisk and pleasant, and can be done in 20 minutes. Ivan said he is able to play with his young daughter. The only bit she needs some help with is the multiplication. Normally I am less interested in short games because they tend to be less satisfying. In the case of Kingdomino the challenge in building that perfect little kingdom is enticing me to play again.

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