Kingdomino

You are a King, master of all you survey. Although, right now, all you can survey is your own castle. Fortunately some rather lucrative landscapes are floating nearby and you dispatch some serfs to snare one and bring it back. Soon you begin to hunger for more lands, perhaps a verdant valley filled with playful sheep or a soft sandy beach by a tranquil lake? Your landscaping though is not without its troubles as you have also learned of other sovereigns keen on capturing lands for themselves and plundering your precious gold mines.

Will you allow these pretenders to the throne to usurp you or will you vanquish all foes in the race to build the best kingdom in Kingdomino!


Kingdomino is a tile drafting, tile placement game of kingdom building. Let’s see what’s in the box.


Unboxed


  • 48 Dominos

  • 8 Wooden King Tokens

  • 4 Castles

  • 4 Starting Tiles


Everything about the presentation here is beautiful. The box, which is just the right size for all the components, features delightful cartoonish artwork . The tiles themselves are really chunky with great illustrations which form a lovely diorama in front of you as the game unfolds. Small details, like the giant sea monster in the lake or the warrior battling the giant spider in the forest really give you a sense of joy and whimsy.



Even the castles, which are completely unnecessary from a gameplay perspective, add a lovely bit of table presence to such a small and unassuming game, while still fitting back into the box without the need to disassemble them.


Kingdomino’s tiny form factor makes it a perfect travel game, easy to fit in a backpack or even a large pocket. While its quick playtime means you can easily get in two or three games during a lunch break.


A Quick Overview


In Kingdomino, players are vying to build a 5 x 5 grid of connected terrain tiles. Each tile, or domino, is made up of 2 squares showing one of six different terrain types. They may also feature one or more crown icons.


Each player starts with a central castle tile. When placing a new tile in their Kingdom it must touch this starting tile or any other previously placed tile which matches at least one of the terrains on the new tile.


Each player starts with a King pawn, or two in a 2 player game. Starting turn order is determined randomly. Four domino tiles are flipped face up from a stack and placed in ascending order based on the number on the back of the tile. The lowest numbered tile is placed at the top with the highest numbered tile placed at the bottom.



Each player in turn order then chooses one of the four face up tiles. The tile they choose also determines the turn order for the next draft. Choosing the first tile, will give you first choice next round, while choosing the last tile will give you last choice next round.


Higher numbered tiles generally feature more scoring icons, i.e. crowns, than lower numbered tiles.


Once each player has chosen a tile, four more tiles are flipped and placed in numerical order. Then starting with the first player they place their previously chosen tile before selecting a new one from the face up ones now available.



This continues until all the tiles have been flipped face up and placed into players' kingdoms. Players may never exceed the 5 x 5 limits of their grid, so if they are unable to place a chosen tile they must discard it instead with no effect.


At the end of the game players total their scores. Each group of connected squares of terrain scores based on its size multiplied by the number of crowns in that group. For example, 3 connected woods with 2 crowns would score 6 (2x3). While 6 connected water spaces with no crowns would score 0 (6x0).


The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.


Thoughts


You have to ask yourself with Kingdomino, what came first, the idea or the name? The name is a perfect description of the game, building a kingdom out of dominoes.


Your first game of Kingdomino will start out as a relaxing affair as you slot the beautifully illustrated tiles together and dream of an idealised utopia where your loyal subjects live in harmony with the gigantic serpent that inhabits the lake…



However as the game goes on and time grows shorter and space gets tighter and the other rulers of your rival Kingdoms start to pilfer the lands you needed to finish your patch of heaven, well, things start to get a little ugly. Kingdomino is a very short game, 10-15 minutes, but that short time frame means that you start to get in each other's way very quickly and things go from gentle and serene to a knife fight in an elevator in the blink of an eye as you jostle for the best tiles.


The mechanisms in Kingdomino don’t feel particularly new, the tile placement is reminiscent of any number of carcassonne-esque games and the scoring is simple and straightforward. The beating heart of Kingdomino is the ordering of the tiles. This simple twist on the drafting mechanic is like adding a dash of hot sauce to your tomato ketchup, it doesn’t look different but you’re going to take notice when you tuck in.


The numbering of the tiles means that they are always placed with the “best” tile at the bottom and the “worst” tile at the top. This means drafting a more valuable tile puts you lower in the turn order next turn, meaning you’ll have fewer choices and less control over your kingdom. However because there are so many tiles, the points difference between tile 3 and tile 4 could be minimal, but going 3rd next round gives you a choice between 2 tiles and going 4th gives you no choice at all.


Kingdomino though is not yet done giving you crunchy decision points. Unlike other tile placement games, you don’t place the tile you drafted immediately, instead that decision is timeshifted forwards to the point when you are about to choose your next tile. This adds so much more strategy and planning to the game. Knowing what you’ll be able to place on your next turn before you take your current turn is almost like being clairvoyant.


Kingdomino is a spicy, crunchy treat but it’s not a whole meal. With such a short play time you’ll feel you only just got the game going when it ended but it’s short enough that you can easily play multiple games back to back.



I’ve played Kingdomino at 2, 3 and 4 player counts and I think I like it best at 3. At 2 players you sacrifice the perfect information you have in a 3 or 4 player game as you remove half of the tiles from the game, meaning you don’t know the distribution of terrain tiles, making it harder to plan and strategize, especially with the rare terrains like the mines, which could be almost non-existent in a 2 player game.


With 4 players you run into the problem that each round one player is being offered no choice in which tile to take, which, in a game where you only make 12 choices, losing even one of them can make it feel like you have no control over your own fate.


And while we all enjoyed the game, even after just one game, my players were wanting to experience different scoring goals. We played with the optional two listed in the back of the rules, but we all agreed that more end game scoring bonuses would help keep the game fresh and encourage us to try different strategies. Happily this is something that is added in the Age of Giants expansion.


What did the others say?


Bob - “I like the "see the next turn" dynamic as it brings in some forward planning. The penalty for ignoring end game scoring when using the “Middle Kingdom” variant seems too high making building your kingdom restrictive so alternative end game conditions would help keep the game varied in repeat plays.”


Dave - “I like that the game rewards good planning and that there's a price to pay for taking good tiles (going last during the next turn). I think the game engine is solid, but as stated other objectives would help add variety.”


Final Thoughts


Kingdomino is a great introductory game for people new to the hobby. The use of dominoes makes the game feel familiar and welcoming, while the component quality and artwork is charming and endearing. The game plays simply and smoothly with little to no rules overhead, while still presenting an interesting puzzle on the tabletop. Its size and weight makes it an ideal game to take on any trip or to play with a co-worker over a sandwich.


As a gamer's game Kingdomino lacks variability in repeat plays and with most groups I feel it probably needs some more scoring opportunities and rules crunchiness to increase its staying power. I guess that’s why they also published Queendomino!


Coiledspring Games provided a copy of Kingdomino for the purposes of this review.


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