What's Eric Playing? #114: Kingdomino Review
As someone super vulnerable to hype, I couldn’t help but notice that Kingdomino was nominated for this year’s Spiel des Jahres award (essentially Game of the Year), so I figured I’d slide in for a hot take or whatever while there’s still a ton of press about it because why not.
In Kingdomino (whether that’s Kingdom-ino or King-domino is up to you probably, though I’ve been told it’s the former), you are vying to develop new territory and expand your Kingdom, as your current 1×1 square is a bit small. That said, so is everyone else, as is pretty much consistent in all games about developing Kingdoms ever, from the both-aptly-named-and-explicitly-literal Kingdom Builder to Dominion to Vye to Tiny Epic Kingdoms and so on. Will you be able to create the greatest Kingdom ever? Or will your territories fall, one after another, just like … I don’t know, cards? Paper? Something that falls.
Hm, can’t think of it.
Setup for this game is super easy. Give each player a 1×1 Kingdom square and a Castle in a color:
Put the Castle on the 1×1. Each player should take the corresponding Lords or Ladies (meeples from here on out) in that color:
Now, take one for each player (or both in a two-player game) and randomly order them. That will be the initial player order.
Shuffle up the tiles:
Draw X tiles (where X is either the number of players you have or 4, if you have two players) and put them in numerical order. Flip them over, and you should be ready to start!
Generally, a turn in Kingdomino works like this:
- Take the tile with your meeple.
- Choose a new tile.
- Draw new tiles.
I’ll cover each in turn.
So, on your first turn, your meeple will not be on any tiles, so skip this and go straight to Choose a New Tile. On subsequent turns, though, you will take the tile your meeple is currently on and add it to your Kingdom, following these rules / suggestions:
- One of the two squares on the domino must be touching either the same terrain type or the center square. The center square is “wild” in that it can match anything (but does not count for scoring).
- You may rotate the domino however you’d like. We’re not monsters.
- Your total Kingdom’s footprint may not exceed a 5×5 square. Your starting spot can be anywhere within that (I wouldn’t recommend a corner, but you do you), but you’re limited to that footprint. In a 2-player game, once you’re experienced, you can also play with a 7×7 square.
- You generally want to keep terrain types together. You’ll score points at the end of the game for number of tiles of a terrain type * number of crowns on that terrain type, so try to build big contiguous blocks.
If you cannot fulfill these rules, you must discard the tile you picked from the game. If you can play the tile, you must play the tile. Watch out for that one.
CHOOSE A NEW TILE
So, now, you’ll pick the tile you want next, in player order. This determines your player order next round, so be careful! If you pick the top-most tile, you will go first, but they tend to be … less explicitly helpful, sometimes.
Note that in a two-player game you’ll be taking two turns, essentially, since you’re using all four of your meeples.
DRAW NEW TILES
Now, you’ll again draw X tiles (4 tiles in a two- or four-player game, 3 in a three-player game), put them in numerical order (lowest first), and then flip them over. These are the tiles you’ll be choosing from next round.
Play continues until you’ve played 24, 36, or 48 tiles in a two-, three-, or four-player game (or 48 tiles in a 7×7 two-player game), and you’ll proceed to final scoring.
For final scoring, as mentioned previously, you score each terrain area like so:
# contiguous tiles of that terrain type * # crowns within that terrain area
So, for instance, this:
Would be worth 25 points:
- 2 forest * 0 crowns +
- 3 water * 2 crowns +
- 4 wheat * 1 crown +
- 1 mine * 3 crowns +
- 3 swamp * 3 crowns +
- 3 pasture * 1 crown +
- 1 wheat * 0 crowns +
- 2 forest * 0 crowns +
- 1 wheat * 0 crowns
For a total of 25 points, whereas this:
Would be worth 27 points:
- 9 forest * 1 crown +
- 5 pasture * 3 crowns +
- 3 wheat * 0 crown +
- 2 water * 1 crown +
- 1 water * 1 crown
Player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
I probably like this best at two, since I feel like you have the most options (as you see four tiles), but four players is fast and frenetic and fun. At three, I often feel like I get “caught” between two other players and kind of forced into certain options, which I like a bit less. My highest recommendation is at two, for this game, but I have no real issues with it at any player count.
- Know your tiles. Low-numbered tiles tend to be double-blocks of a certain terrain type, whereas high-numbered tiles tend to be tiles with multiple crowns on them. It’s useful to know. Also knowing how many crowns exist of each terrain type might tell you if you should take that wheat field and hold out for a crown if there are only 5 wheat field crowns currently in the kingdoms (spoiler: you should not. There are only 5).
- You may not see every tile in a game, and you should prepare for that. There might be enough tiles randomly removed that you never see a single crown on a wheat field, but you took the other 20ish wheat field terrain tiles (or something) to build your Kingdom. That’s … not good.
- Don’t let one player get all the mines. Alone they’re not great, but together they’re 60 points on 6 tiles, which still gives you a lot of room for other stuff. You might have to hate-draft a bit (take a tile you don’t really need but someone else needs a lot), but that happens.
- If you need to hate draft, force the next player to do it. Usually the burden of hate-drafting can be pushed onto the player who goes immediately before the target, which is always fun. If that’s you, well, sorry.
- Don’t diversify too much. If you do, you’ll have a bunch of areas that earn you 1 – 2 points per tile, which is nice, but isn’t a good way to win games. I generally try to have 5 terrain types represented in my Kingdom, max (of 6).
- Remember the rules. There are two important things to note — if a player can play a domino, they must, and if they cannot, they must discard it. You can use both to force other players into bad moves, sometimes, and you might just have to. Very few things more satisfying strategically than seeing a player forced to hate-draft a very valuable tile that’s worthless to them, meaning you punished two players with one move. What a time to be alive.
- You should try to complete your Kingdom (make a full square), sure, but don’t feel an overwhelming need to do so. You’ll likely earn some good points if you have a perfect 5×5 or 7×7, but that might not have been your optimal play. Try to make sure you’re not falling into a completionist trap.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- This game plays so quickly. For what it is, it’s super fast. Sure, there are some opportunities for AP (especially with more players), but generally it plays quick. I can usually get 2 – 4 plays in over a lunch.
- Super simple to learn. This has already been one of my shortest reviews. It’s barely going to be 1500 words. It’s a great game for all ages because it’s just “take tiles, match terrain, try to keep the same terrain close together, but 5×5 square”, the game. That’s almost as simple as Santorini.
- I kinda love the art? It’s fun and whimsical as opposed to Super Serious, which is kind of nice. It’s also very colorful and inviting.
- Very portable. I fit the entirety of it in a Quiver Time that I was using the other day, which was super helpful for conventions and such. Would recommend.
- Seems highly expandable. Like I said, it’d be nice to have special terrains and such in expansions, but I assume that’ll happen eventually.
- I remain a sucker for tile-laying games. And this tile-laying game in particular has a pretty awesome schtick, what with the domino-style undercurrent to it. I’m a big fan.
- It doesn’t always feel like you have interesting decisions to make. I’d say every other tile I take seems obvious and is obvious to other players, so really it feels like your first few plays are the most important, as they set the tone for subsequent decisions. I don’t think that’s a huge problem, as the game plays super fast, but it’s just something I’ve noticed across some plays.
- I’d be interested in more versions where you don’t see every tile. In 7×7 and 4-player games since you see every tile, you can plan for that and strategize and so it can feel ever-so-slightly rote. In other versions, since you can’t see every tile you don’t know if you’re going to be able to enact the same plan, which I think makes the game feel a bit more interesting. This is easily fixed by even one expansion, though.
OVERALL: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think everyone should have or try Kingdomino. It’s simple, light, and fun, and I like the whimsical art and the easy-to-pick-up gameplay. Sure, I think I’d like it even more with an expansion or two, but the base game seems like a great way to introduce modern gaming to a wide variety of people. I’ve played it with a lot of different people, at this point, and it’s been very well-received, which makes sense given the SdJ nomination. If you enjoy tile-laying games, this is definitely one worth checking out!