In the world of board games, the Spiel Des Jahres is generally regarded as the ultimate award. While some of the earlier winners can be hit and miss, the more recent Spiel Des Jahres winners are usually great games. Some of my favorite board games of all time have won the award in the past. The reason I bring up the Spiel Des Jahres award is that today’s game is the winner of the 2017 Spiel Des Jahres and currently sits at around the 200th best board game of all time on Board Game Geek. With all of that going for the game I have to admit that I had really high expectations going into Kingdomino. It may not be perfect but for the most part Kingdominio lived up to my expectations.
How to Play Kingdomino
Each player chooses a color and takes one king (3-4 players) or two kings (2 players) of that color. You also take the starting tile and castle of the same color. The starting tile is placed in front of the player with the castle being placed on top of the starting tile.
All of the dominoes are shuffled (number side up) and placed back into the box to form the draw pile. If there are only two players, randomly remove 24 of the dominoes. If there are only three players, randomly remove 12 of the dominoes.
To set up the first round of the game draw four dominoes for a two or four player game and three dominoes for a three player game. The dominoes are sorted based on number with the lowest number placed on the top.
All of the dominoes are then flipped over to the landscape side. One player then holds all of the kings in their hand and draws one at a time. When a player’s king is drawn they get to place it on one of the face up dominoes in order to claim it. Only one king can be placed on each tile. When all of the kings have been placed, you can begin playing the game.
Playing the Game
Each round begins with a player drawing dominoes: four for a two or four player game, or three for a three player game. The dominoes are sorted by number with the lowest number placed on top. The dominoes are then flipped over.
Players will then takes turns starting with the player whose king is on the top domino and continuing until all of the kings have had a turn. In the two player game this will give both players two turns. On a player’s turn they will perform two actions:
- Place their domino
- Claim their next domino
After everyone has taken their actions a new round begins with new dominoes being drawn.
Placing a Domino
The first action that a player will take is to figure out where they would like to place the tile they claimed from the previous round. When placing dominoes a player can only place a domino if one of the domino’s squares touch a square with the same landscape. Since the starting tile is considered wild, any domino can be placed next to the starting tile.
Other than landscapes having to match, all of the dominoes must be placed within a 5 x 5 square. If a domino would make the square larger than 5 x 5 the domino cannot be placed in that location.
If a player cannot place a domino into their kingdom due to one of the previous rules, the player has to discard the domino and will receive no points from it.
Claiming a Domino
After placing or discarding a domino, the player will claim their next domino. A player can place their king on any of the face up dominoes that haven’t already been claimed. The domino that a player chooses will determine which domino they will place in the next round and will also determine the turn order for the next round.
End of Game
The game ends when all of the dominoes have been played/discarded. Players will then have to score their kingdoms.
Each players’ kingdom is broken up into properties. A property consists of all of the squares of the same landscape that are connected to one another. Two groups of the same landscape that are not connected are considered different properties. Players will score each property by counting the number of squares in the property and multiplying the total by the number of crowns in that property. If a property has no crowns in it, the property will be worth zero points.
Players will score all of their properties and the player who has scored the most total points will win the game. If there are two or more players that are tied for the most points, the player who has the single largest property will break the tie. If the game is still tied, the tied player with the most crowns will win the game. If there is still a tie, the tied players will share the victory.
Dynasty: Play three games and the player with the most points after all three games wins.
Middle Kingdom: Players earn 10 bonus points if their castle/starting tile is in the middle of their kingdom.
Harmony: Players score an additional 5 bonus points if they are able to place all of their dominoes into their kingdom.
The Mighty Duel: In a two player game the players can choose to use all of the tiles which will allow them to make a 7 x 7 kingdom instead of a 5 x 5 kingdom.
My Thoughts on Kingdomino
If the name wasn’t a giveaway, Kingdomino is a modern take on the classic game of dominoes. I will admit that I have never been a big fan of dominoes because I just don’t find the game to be all that compelling. With the game being considered a classic by a lot of people it is not surprising that quite a few designers have tried to put their own tweak on the dominoes formula in order to update it with more modern board game mechanics. In the past I might not have considered myself much of a dominoes fan but after playing Kingdomino I have changed my opinion. Kingdomino is the ultimate version of dominoes where I don’t see a reason to play the original version of Dominoes ever again.
Basically Kingdomino is what you get when you take a game that is over 500 years old and update it with what board game designers have learned in the last couple hundred years (more specifically the last 20-30 years). The basic premise of Kingdomino is pretty much the same as Dominoes as you are playing matching dominoes next to one another. Instead of connecting numbers though you are connecting similar landscapes. Kingdomino takes this premise and adds some tile placement and kingdom building mechanics from more recent games. These additions add strategy and a lot of theme to the somewhat boring game of Dominoes.
Before getting into strategy I want to talk about the game’s complexity. Generally when games are considered for the Spiel Des Jahres the judges look for innovative games that are easy to learn and teach to new players while also hiding a surprising amount of strategy beneath the surface. Basically they usually follow the mantra that a game doesn’t need to be complex to be good. In this regard Kingdomino is the perfect example of a Spiel Des Jahres game. While young children might not be able to play the game, I think you should be able to teach the game to new players within five minutes. Basically the only mechanics in the game are choosing which domino you want and then placing it into your kingdom to maximize your points. With so few mechanics I can’t imagine the game confusing anyone even if they don’t play many board games.
One thing about Kingdomino that really surprised me was how quick the game is. When I first saw on the box that the game had an estimated playtime of 15 minutes I couldn’t believe it. I wondered how such a short game could have actually won a Spiel Des Jahres as most Spiel Des Jahres winners are more in the 45 minutes to one hour range. After playing the game the 15 minute time is pretty accurate even though I would probably say that the game is closer to 20 minutes. While I am curious on how the game would play if it was longer, I have no complaints about the game’s short length. The game is quick and to the point where you don’t have to waste time with things that aren’t important to the game. The game is also quick enough that you could easily play three to four games in an hour which you might be tempted to do.
With how quick the game is I am actually a little interested in seeing how variant rules could be used to extend the game. I really like the Middle Kingdom and Harmony variant rules and would recommend using them. I might avoid using them in games with first time players as they should probably focus on learning the main mechanics first. I think the more intriguing variant rule is the Mighty Duel. With players building a larger kingdom (7 x 7 instead of 5 x 5) you would think that there would be quite a bit more strategy. While I haven’t played it yet I plan on trying it the next time I play the game with only two players. While you obviously can’t use the Mighty Duel with four players, you could if you had two copies of the game. Instead of buying another copy of Kingdomino there is also the option of adding Queendomino to Kingdomino which should expand the number of dominoes available for the game. I am really curious on how the Mighty Duel would work with four players.
As I mentioned earlier the Spiel Des Jahres judges generally tend to pick games that are easy to pick up and yet hide quite a bit of strategy beneath the surface. In addition to being accessible I think Kingdomino does a good job with the strategy aspect of the equation. I will freely admit that Kingdomino is not the most strategic game of all time. For the most part your decision on any given turn is usually pretty obvious. That doesn’t mean that the game is not strategic though. Based on the game’s accessibility I am actually surprised by how much strategy there is in the game.
Most of the strategy in the game comes from choosing your dominoes and placing them into your kingdom. Basically when choosing and placing tiles your goal is to build as big of properties of each type of landscape as possible. You also want to try to stuff as many crowns into each property as possible. While it is usually pretty obvious how you should place a domino in your kingdom, towards the end game you actually have some interesting decisions. Trying to place dominoes in a way to craft a perfect 5 x 5 kingdom while avoiding discarding dominoes takes some work.
When I first starting playing Kingdomino my strategy was to try and build a couple really large properties. My thinking was a larger property will have more squares which gives you more squares to multiply by. The more you play the game though the value of the crowns really start to show. While it is nice to have large properties, you need crowns in that property in order to score points. A smaller property with several crowns is going to be more valuable than a large property with only one crown. The best option would be to get a large property with a lot of crowns but that usually isn’t possible. Since you usually can’t have both, it is better to build several smaller properties with several crowns as you can then take full advantage of the multiplication effect of the crowns. For example a three square property with two crowns is worth as much as a six square property with only one crown.
With crowns being quite valuable turn order becomes really important in the game. The good news is that I think the game’s best mechanic may be how it handles turn order. Most board games either let players randomly draw tiles or have players rotate who gets to choose first. Kingdomino instead gives players a value proposition. When you draw tiles you sort them by number. This is done because the “more valuable” tiles have higher numbers on them so they are placed below the other tiles. To grab these more valuable tiles you will be lower in the turn order for the next round so the other players will get to choose before you. This prevents any individual player from getting all of the most valuable dominoes. It also presents an interesting decision for players. Take a more valuable domino but be stuck with whatever dominoes the other players give you in the next round or take a less valuable domino in order to get first choice in the next round.
With all of these things working in its’ favor, Kingdomino is a fantastic game. While the game is not perfect (which I will get to shortly), Kingdomino is worthy of the game of the year award that it won. It might not have been the best game of last year but it has to be considered one of the best games from 2016. What is so great about the game is that it is the perfect blend between being accessible while also having quite a bit of strategy. In general these are the type of games that I enjoy most. While there are great games that are less accessible and great games with less strategy, I think the best games find the perfect blend between accessibility and strategy. That is ultimately what Kingdomino is, a great fun game for basically everyone.
While Kingdomino is a great game, it is not a perfect game. The biggest problem that I had with the game has to deal with luck. While the game has quite a bit of strategy for its’ complexity, I will admit that there is more luck to the game than I would have liked. Most of the luck in the game comes from how the dominoes are shuffled. The order of the dominoes plays a pretty big role in the game. If a player could somehow know how the dominoes were going to come out, they would have a huge advantage in the game. This advantage would allow you to plan ahead for what dominoes you wanted to take. For example if you knew a domino that your really needed would come out in the next round you would likely take one of the lower valued dominoes in order to increase your odds of being able to take the domino you really want in the next round.
Luck also comes into play due to the variety of tiles that come out each round. In one round all of the dominoes that are revealed might not work in your kingdom and you will be forced to discard your domino or mess up the strategy you were pursuing for your kingdom. In another round there could be multiple tiles that you could really use and you are only able to take one of them. Outside of cheating you really have no way of impacting what dominoes will come out each round and since you won’t know ahead of time you just have to hope that you choose the right strategy early in the game.
This reliance on luck could be even worse in two or three player games since you will be discarding some of the dominoes. As you don’t know what dominoes will be discarded you need to hope that you don’t focus on a landscape type that will have several of its’ most valuable dominoes discarded before the game even begins.
While I wish Kingdomino had less luck involved, it doesn’t ruin the game. With these type of games you have to expect some luck as the game wouldn’t be that interesting if there wasn’t any luck. The only way Kingdomino could have limited most of its’ luck would have been to have the dominoes come out in the same order every single game which would have gotten repetitive pretty quickly. When you factor in that most games should only take 15-20 minutes, the reliance on luck can be annoying at times but it doesn’t hurt the game that much.
Before wrapping up I want to quickly talk about Kingdomino’s components. I can’t really find anything to complain about. The game mostly uses cardboard but the cardboard is really thick. The game’s artwork is fantastic. The attention to detail is fantastic as I love looking for the little details included on a lot of the dominoes. The king meeples are also pretty nice. On top of it all I was surprised by how small the box is. Most games tend to use a larger box than needed so it is refreshing to see Kingdomino use a box that is just as large as it needed to be.
Should You Buy Kingdomino?
Being a Spiel Des Jahres winner and a highly regarded game I had a lot of expectations for Kingdomino going in. While Kingdomino is not perfect, it did not disappoint. Kingdomino epitomizes the idea of board games not having to be complex to be enjoyable. The game is quite simple to the point where you can teach the game to new players within five minutes. This accessibility is combined with a surprising amount of strategy. At times your optimal move is pretty obviously but you really feel like your actions have an impact on the outcome of the game. Add in the game’s short length and the game is perfect for people who like lighter games and people who don’t play a lot of board games. The game does rely a little too much on luck but it doesn’t distract too much from the game. Kingdomino might not have been the best game from last year but it definitely should be in the running.
If you are only into highly strategic games or really hate Dominoes/tile laying games, Kingdomino might not be for you. Otherwise I would highly recommend picking up Kingdomino as it is one of the best board games of 2016.
We would like to thank Blue Orange Games for the review copy of Kingdomino used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.