07th Oct2019

‘Kingdomino’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

kingdomino-box

Kingdomino is a game that needs no introduction. As the winner of numerous awards, including the 2017 Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) this light, family orientated tile laying game is beloved by gamers of all ages and experience levels, but until recently, I’d never even seen it laid out on the table. Now that at least one of my children is reaching the age where she’ll be able to play more family (rather than child) orientated games, the bright colours and simple gameplay of Kingdomino really caught my eye, and I was keen to try it.

As it turns out, Kingdomino is so simple that it almost bears no need for an explanation. There are two phases to each turn, and once the game is over, there’s a scoring round that takes a couple of minutes and requires a basic command of maths that includes addition and multiplication. Small children, I’ve found, can play the game itself before being able to score their own work, and it’s possible to teach the basis of a “good score” simply because of the visual aspects of the game, even if said child can’t actually add up their own score.

Each player will begin the game with either one or two king meeples, depending on player count, and one castle square. Their objective will be to build a maximum of a five by five grid of dominoes that scores them the highest possible amount as the result of placing matching tiles next to each other, along with the less frequent building tiles that match the same types of terrain. As an example, each continuous area of cavern will score points equal to the number of points shown on any mines, by the number of matching tiles – two multiplied by four, for example.

The two aspects of a turn include drafting dominoes, then placing them. The first part of this involves either three or four dominoes being drawn, which are then placed face up on the table in ascending order from lowest to highest. On all turns after the first, a second row of tiles will be placed beside them, ordered in the same way. For the first turn, players place their meeple onto one tile of their choice from the first column of dominoes, or in a two player game, each player places two meeples.

The player who places their meeple onto the lowest numbered tile will then take the first turn to pick it back up and place it onto a tile in the next column and so on. Thus, by choosing a low valued domino, players choose earlier in the next column, giving them access to juicier tiles in the next round. Once the tiles are all drafted and placed, the next column is built in ascending order and the process repeats until the endgame is triggered, which is usually based on a set limit of dominoes having been used. At any player count below four, a number of the dominoes are excluded during setup, unless playing a two player variant that uses every tile.

The second part of each turn, when the tiles are placed, takes only seconds and is often completed simultaneously. As I mentioned before, players are hoping to group terrain types together, and where possible, to place multiple point scoring tiles into the same group. It’s impossible to go into Kingdomino with a predetermined strategy, since in most games some of the dominoes are missing and you’ll never know which. It’s also uncommon that you’ll be able to create a perfect five by five grid, so you may end up with a few gaps.

The joy of Kingdomino comes from the fact that the draft aspect does give players agency over the outcome, rather than being completely random and also because creating your own village is always fun. Thick, attractive dominoes with bright colours make the game look very appealing to children, but even as an adult it’s hard not to enjoy the look of Kingdomino, and I can certainly appreciate how clearly it differentiates each kind of terrain with clear, attractive artwork. The wooden meeples and cardboard castle pieces ice the already attractive cake.

Since undertaking this review, I’ve now played Kingdomino with a number of different groups, including my eldest child, a few older children in my family and with different groups of adults including those who tend to prefer either lighter or heavier games specifically. In general, only diehard fans of heavier games will take issue with Kingdomino, but even they (myself included) can see the merit of it as a gateway or family game.

My daughter and my wife both love it, as does any casual board gamer who wants to experience a relatively short game that still challenges them to make meaningful decisions about how best to deliver their strategy, whilst also considering what others are doing across the table. On that note, hate drafting is definitely a feature of Kingdomino, and I did notice that children who are (arguably) a bit too young would get frustrated by not getting the tiles they wanted. Kingdomino is also the kind of game that plays well with house rules that suit your audience, such as always allowing the young players to act first (which is one I use.)

Kingdomino is a game that fits perfectly with the Spiels Des Jahres brief, so I understand exactly why it won back in 2017. Things haven’t changed much since, and Kingdomino retains its relevance as a fast, straightforward gateway game that should appeal to so many different groups of potential players. It looks great, plays very smoothly and almost always results in a close and satisfying outcome. It’s also fairly cheap, which makes me think that Kingdomino is a game that every family should try at least once.

****½  4.5/5

A copy of Kingdomino was supplied for review by Coiledspring Games.

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