Having built your Kingdom in Kingdomino it is now time to divide up the land between the six noble houses of Dot, Double Dot, Stripe, Double Stripe, Quarters and of course, All Black. By drafting dice you can recruit dignitaries to your noble houses and expand their influence to score points or you can court the wisened old sorcerer to grant you supernatural bonuses to break the rules of the game and score oodles of points.
Kingdomino Duel is a domino laying, roll & write style game where each round you will roll and draft dice, drawing the symbols on those dice into your pre-printed Kingdom sheet and occasionally unlocking bonuses from a central player sheet known as the Spellbook.
4 unique dice
A pad of double sided Kingdom Sheets
As with most Roll & Write games the game includes a pad of pre-printed sheets for you to write on. They are double sided but the reverse side has the Spellbook, containing bonus powers players can unlock. For your first game you will need to use 3 sheets, one for each player and one for the spellbook. After that I recommend using the back of an old player sheet for the bonuses to make best use of the pad. Of course you could easily laminate some sheets however additional sheets do not seem to be available for home printing from the publisher.
The dice are big and chunky and really clear to read. They are screen printed rather than engraved but so far are holding up fine. Everything comes in a nice magnetized box that holds all the components in place.
Unlike the other games in the Kingdomino series, Duel has a less colourful look overall, favouring a brown palette. This does make it less visually appealing on the table.
My biggest issue component-wise, however, were the rules. The Coiledspring printing of the rules are missing the “End of Turn” sequence, in which the dice are passed to the other player. If played with the included rules the first player would always choose first and be at a significant advantage. (You can find the correct rules online here)
A Quick Overview
In Kingdomino Duel players take turns to roll the four dice. Player A then drafts one dice from the pool. Player B then drafts two of the left over dice with Player A then claiming the final die. The dice faces you draft then form a “domino” which you must draw into your kingdom. Any domino can be attached to the castle, it is considered wild. Dominos not placed adjacent to the castle must match at least one symbol they are adjacent to.
The dice contain 6 different symbols, or Coats of Arms, along with a wild ? side. The distribution of the symbols varies on each die. Some of the sides of the dice also feature X symbols, these are called Dignitaries. When you add a die with one or two X’s on it, mark those X’s on your sheet, this is how you will score.
If you place a die with no dignitaries on it you may instead cross off one of the boxes on the Spellbook that matches the Coat of Arms you played. Placing two dice with no dignitaries will allow you to do this twice. If all the boxes on your side of the Spellbook are crossed off you will score that bonus.
The Spellbook bonuses allow you to:
Place a domino ignoring placement rules
Split your dice and place them separately
Allow Player A to choose both of their dice before Player B
Turn a die to any face
Score 3 points per group of a single type of Coat of Arms
Add an X anywhere on your sheet
Each bonus can only be unlocked by one of the players and each can only be activated once.
At any point in the game a player can colour in their castle roof to add an X to a die they are about to add to their sheet.
When no player can place the dice drafted for a round or when a player’s sheet is completely filled the game will end. Each of the six Coat of Arms then scores for the number of Dignitaries multiplied by the number of connected spaces showing that symbol. The player with the highest score wins.
I went into Kingdomino Duel expecting to like it less than the original. It lacks the bright colours and fun illustrations and it swaps known information for randomised dice rolls. And with confirmation bias being a thing, I enjoyed my first few plays but wasn’t blown away by the game.
After that I left it a week or two before playing again, this time with a different opponent. We played a game of Kingdomino first so I could teach the basic concepts before launching into Duel.
Playing the two games back to back really did confirm that Duel is the better game. Duel certainly has randomness in the way the dice fall. The last game I played neither of us rolled any Dignitaries for the "single dot" Coat of Arms for the entire game, and yet the double dignitary for the solid black Coat of Arms came up five times.
But that randomness is present in the 2 player version of Kingdomino too as half the tiles are removed from the game. However, where in Kingdomino you are limited by what is printed on the tiles, in Duel you can form your own tiles from among the rolled dice, giving you more choices. Duel also features the addition of the wild symbol to further mitigate the randomness.
Kingdomino Duel also has the Spellbook bonuses, allowing players to break the rules of the game. Gaining access to the spellbook is tied to the dice that don’t produce scoring opportunities so they work as both a catch up mechanism and as a reward for strategic play. None of them are game breaking but each can be useful in the right set of circumstances. Being able to split your domino for example can be huge, but so can breaking standard placement rules or flipping a dice to a face of your choice.
Lastly the addition of the castle bonus is a really nice luck mitigation touch. In the original game, if you built a large region but weren’t able to secure any crowns due to the luck of the draw, then you got no points, but with this addition to simply add an X to a die once during the game means you are never truly in the hands of fate, you always have a little control. The skill is in knowing when and where to use the bonus.
Kingdomino Duel also allows for more "hate drafting" than Kingdomino. In Kingdomino you have a small kingdom, 5 x 5, taking a tile with no benefit to yourself to mess with another player's strategy can be worse for you than for them. In Duel you have more freedom, more space to place your dominoes and so claiming a die your opponent wants, doesn’t hurt you as badly but it can certainly rein them in. This makes Duel far more interactive as you need to keep at least one eye on your opponent's kingdom at all times.
Duel does remove my favourite mechanism from its older brother and that is the ability to see your next turn before you take the current one. In Kingdomino when you place your domino you can already see which tile you will be claiming next, but in Duel you lose this foresight which is a shame.
Duel also loses some of the charm of the original, it’s largely drab looking with a brown and sepia motif and black and white symbology. While the original had you building forests and lakes, this one has you placing Coats of Arms, which stretches the theme thin, pulling back the curtain to show the abstract engine underneath. Had you instead been drawing trees and windmills and adding splashes of colour with coloured pencils I think the game may well have been more visually appealing.
And of course, the elephant in the room is that this is a Roll and Write. A very crowded genre to be sure and even among the “Kingdom Building” subset of roll & writes Kingdomino Duel would struggle to stand out above others like Cartographers or Imperial Settlers. So, when compared directly with its older brother, Kingdomino Duel is a better way to play Kingdomino as a two player experience, but when compared to all other Roll & Writes, Duel is fun but for me it doesn't offer a deep enough experience and lacks variability and replayability.
If you are looking for a two player game in the Kingdomino series, this is probably the best way to play. What it loses in colour and charm it makes up for in bite and crunch. But if you are looking for a Roll & Write game about kingdom building there are better options out there.
A copy of the game was provided to us by Coiledspring Games for the purposes of this review.