“Oh Lackey, come hither!  A little more water over there, next to the beach.  No, no, not next to the mines!  Off with your own head! Pfft.  Good lackeys are hard to keep alive”

Kingdomino, the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner1 from superstar developer Bruno Cathala2 pits you against 1-3 other potential kings to build a kingdom by laying tiles made of forests, plains, fields mountains, deserts, and oceans.  The catch?  Taking a page from dominos, tiles laid after your first must match a terrain that you’ve already played.  And you’re constrained to a small square grid to accomplish your task.

Sound simple?  Well, it’s not! You’ll be faced with tradeoffs galore in your battle to have the most beautiful kingdom.

Click to see gameplay explanation

The Nitty Gritty of Game Play

Let’s talk components first.  Like dominos, each tile consists of two halves that contains one of six types of terrain.  Both halves may be the same type of terrain as well.  The other critical item on the tiles are crowns, which are critical to scoring.  Yes, this is a “get the most points” game.  But we’ll come back to the crowns in a little bit.  Each tile also has a number on it, with higher numbered tiles generally worth more points at the end of the game.

At the start of the game, each person gets a 1×1 tile on which they place their castle.  This serves as the starting tile that all other dominos (tiles) must connect to in some fashion.

The main mechanic is tile selection and placement.  For each turn, there are four3 tiles drawn randomly and placed in a column, from the lowest to the highest tile number.  Each player’s turn consists of placing their meeple on the tile they want and then placing the tile their had selected on their last turn.  Turn order4 is determined by who has their meeple on the lowest numbered tile to the highest numbered tile.

To place the tile, the player has two limitations.  First, the tile must touch another tile with similar terrain on the connected side – EXCEPT a player can have a tile touch his or her starting tile as a sort of wild card.  Think dominos – to place a tile, the connecting sides needs to match in some way, 6 pips to 6 pips for example.  The major difference here is that you only need to match 1/2 of the tile.  It is perfectly legal to match a mountain and a sea as long as the other side is a plains and another plains.

In Kingdomino, you have your own little playing field to place your tiles on.  And you’re constrained to a 5 by 5 square.  You absolutely cannot extend past that 5 by 5 grid.  If you have no other options, you discard the tile and lose your turn.

Play continues until all the tiles are gone.

As was said earlier, this is a most victory points win game.  To score, you seek to create large contiguous areas of the same terrain type.  For example, you may have three seas together.  You then multiply the number of tiles in a contiguous areas by the number of crowns in that area. Wait a minute….. Yes. That’s right.  You can have a huge contiguous area – for example, 5 deserts – but if you have zero crowns, that area will net you 0 points.  Meantime, your opponent has 2 mountain tiles with 5 crowns.  Whoopsie.  You continue counting all the contiguous terrains in your grid.

In addition to terrain points, there are two bonus criteria.  If you have completed a perfect square (no empty spaces, no dominos discarded) you gain 5 extra points.  If your castle is in the center of your grid, you gain 10 extra points.

And the person with the most points has created the most beautiful kingdom and wins!

Now that we’re done with the explanation, let’s talk about the game!

I’ll start with the punchline.  Kingdomino is recommended.  Go buy it.  It’s a filler game – 15-20 minutes – but what a filler game!

Yeah, but is it really original?

If I take apart the game, I can trace it to other game.  Matching sides of tiles?  Dominos or Carcassonne.  Restrained grid? What not to mention here? Blokus? New York 1901?  Points for contiguity? Between Two Cities The core mechanics are not new.  But like all good inventions, it’s the way they’re put together that matter.  The two key mechanics that tie it together are the use of the tile drafting mechanic and the necessity to place crowns.

By placing the tiles in approximate value from least to most forces players to make a decision – do they sacrifice a tile that may be of some value in order to get first pick next time?  Do they take that crown not because they need it but because it will give the next person a huge multiplier?  Kingdomino definitely falls more on the side of multiplayer solitaire5 but it includes just enough of that Eurogame passive-aggressive resource denial to keep it interesting.  Each turn past the first is a balance of scoring points for yourself and denying points for your opponents.

The components are good enough. The are sturdy cardboard that is close to indestructible and are brightly colored in a cartoonish Eurogame sort of way6.  They are not extremely special, but they do what they’re supposed to do without getting in the way.  The one exception is the castles that go on the starting tile – four pieces that need to be constructed.  They’re nice enough but they have absolutely no bearing on the game.  I can envision the graphic designers and the production people getting together with the following conversation:

Production: Hey, we’ve got extra space on the printers’ punchouts.  What can you add that won’t cost more beyond scoring?

Graphics Designers:  Hmmmm, what if we were to add a three dimensional element to the board?

Production:  Three dimensional element?  Sounds expensive.

Graphic Designers:  No, no, no.  Just print out these 8 castle pieces and these 8 side pieces.  We’ll have the players put them together.

A small, unimportant nit.  Why on earth are you making me assemble pieces that are of no value to the game itself?  Please.  Just no. /RANTOFF

From a teaching perspective, Kingdomino is flexible.  I taught my 7 year old daughter in 5 minutes.  She hasn’t beat me yet, but she’s come close.  I’m fairly sure I could teach my retired, non-gaming mother as well.  The rules are straightforward and easy to digest.  If you are having problems processing them, here’s Rodney.  Once you watch that, go buy Kingdomino.

Here’s a link to the Amazon page if you don’t have a local game store.