Kingdomino (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Bruno Cathala
  • Publisher: Blue Orange Games, Pegasus Spiele, Others
  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 15-20 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 10

Kingdomino

I love family-weight strategy games, but so far, there haven’t been many that have stood out in 2016-2017.  Kingdomino is an exception: this is one of my favorite games of the past year, and if I were pressed to predict the Spiel des Jahres today, Kingdomino would be one of my leading choices.

Dale Yu offered first impressions of the game back in November, but more of us have had the chance to play since then, and the game was recently reprinted, so I wanted to do a re-review.  

As a good friend commented after our first play, “Kingdomino is like Lay’s Potato Chips.  Just as you can’t eat only one chip, you also can’t play Kingdomino only once.”  

The Gameplay

In Kingdomino, players vie to build the best 5×5 grid of dominoes.  The winner will be the player with the highest score at the end.  Each player starts with a single square piece, and then they have the chance to add 12 dominoes to the grid.  There are different landscapes that players are building, and their points at the end will be the number of spaces in each landscape times the number of crowns in the landscape.  

There are 48 numbered dominoes in the box, and before each game, you pull out 12 dominoes for each player and shuffle them.  Each round you’ll draw 4, with each player taking one.  (In a two-player game, players take two dominoes each round.)  Before they’re selected, these get arranged in their set of four by the numerical values on the back, lowest to highest.  

Going around the table, each player picks one domino to start, and four more are drawn from the box and arranged lowest to highest.  The person that picked the lowest numbered domino in the previous round gets to pick first among these new tiles.  Then the second person goes, and so on and so forth.  (In the two-player game, each player will pick two dominoes each round.)  This is how dominoes will be selected from now on: the person picking the lowest numbered domino in the previous round goes first, moving their pawn to the new column.  

Once all players have had the opportunity to move their pawn, players place the dominoes in their kingdom.  Dominoes must have at least one edge that matches already-placed dominoes.  For this purpose, the single tile at the start of the game is wild, so you can always place next to that.  (To be clear, you don’t need to match all edges, just one of them.)  

Players are free to discard dominoes if they can’t place them.  Players can never violate their 5×5 grid.  The single tile doesn’t necessarily have to be in the middle.  

As I mentioned above, there are 12 rounds (6 in a two-player game).  The player with the highest score wins, with points being determined by the number of tiles in each area times the number of crowns in that area.  The single tile does not count for these purposes.  If you have no crowns in an area, you get no points.

A Scoring Example

Before I walk through this example, I must say that this is the best Kingdom I’ve seen built.  A good score is 45+, but this is the only one I’ve seen go 70+!  This Kingdom (built by my friend Louisa, during her first game) scored a whopping 71 points.  Lesson learned: don’t let one person take all of one kind of territory.

Kingdomino

The water (blue) area gets 7 points: 7 squares times 1 crown.  The wheatfield (yellow) area at the top gets 1 point: 1 square times 1 crown.  The desert gets 9 points: 3 squares times 3 crowns.  The big pasture/field is 54 points: 9 squares times 6 crowns.  

My Thoughts on the Game

I love Kingdomino, and I consider it one of the best “filler plus” games in my collection.  It is easy to teach, can be played in fifteen minutes, and has a fair bit of strategy for such a simple game.  Throw in the cool theme and excellent production value, and I think this is a top-notch family game, one with smooth mechanics and well-developed gameplay.

I’ve played with both kids and adults, non-gamers and gamers, and everybody seems to enjoy Kingdomino.  This is the sort of versatile game that works well with a variety of age groups in several different gaming situations.

The game has some fun choices.  Where to place your tile is the biggest part of the game — it feels like a intriguing little puzzle — but there’s a surprising amount of strategy in selecting tiles too.  Beginners tend to focus only on the tiles they need, but after a couple of games, they’ll start keeping an eye on their opponents.  

And players need to be sure to watch turn order: I never take last unless I really, really want that tile.  Turn order is a surprisingly powerful commodity in this game.  

Kingdomino is easy to learn, and gameplay itself is generally fast-paced.  I think the only time I’ve had the game go 20 minutes was with four players on our learning game.  Subsequent plays have been under 15 minutes, with a two player game being under 10 minutes.  Kingdomino doesn’t seem to cause analysis paralysis.  There are interesting choices, but they’re not the sort of choices that can be overthought.

The artwork is beautiful, and the dominoes are thick and high-quality, even if they’re not what I think of a domino as being.  They’re a thick, almost glossy cardboard, but they’re not plastic.

This is a lighter game, and some gamers may not appreciate games of this weight.  But this is one of the best 15-minute games I’ve played, and I haven’t had anybody dislike it yet.  

But all in all, I think Kingdomino deserves more attention than it has received.  I could see this becoming my go-to “filler plus” game.  Bruno Cathala had a fantastic year last year, and this is my favorite of his newer titles.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (2 plays) Kingdomino is a very pleasant game – though one that didn’t quite have the extra spark needed to add the game to my collection.  Instead, it’s a game I’m happy to play if others wish to – I just haven’t been in that situation since my initial plays, and haven’t felt any pull to suggest the game myself.

Dale Yu (~20 plays) – Kingdomino is a nice light filler that gives players a decent amount of decision in a short period of time.  You start with a single tile and build up from that.  There is a nice balance between choosing a low number tile (which generally has no crowns on it but is easier to play) versus a higher numbered tile which gives you the crowns you need to score – but is harder to play and also puts you lower in turn order initiative for choosing the next tile.

Thus far in our games, we have been unable to make a perfect 5×5 grid – it’s apparently a pretty hard thing to do. (It’s actually not that hard – I’ve just chosen to do it because of the tiles that I’ve happened to draw!)  Of course, you’re not just focusing on the colors on the tiles, because you could have a complete 5×5 grid, but if you had no crowns, you would score nothing at all!  So, near the end of the game, there is a combination of trying to find the right tile for your own area as well as a bit of defensive maneuvering – you might feel that it’s in your best interest to take a tile only to prevent your opponent from placing it for a huge score.

This super quick game is becoming my go-to filler. The rules only take 2 or 3 minutes to teach, so you can get a whole game including a rules explanation in about fifteen minutes.  It’s hard to find many other games that play that quick and still feel like a game.

Karen Miller (about 20 plays): This game is the perfect game for families or non-gamers. It is pretty much always in my bag-o-games that I take with me whenever I am going to a game night. I have taken it with me to the local branch library game night where you get a lot of non-gamers and they always grok it in a few turns and ALWAYS want to play again a second time. As Chris said, it’s a Lays Potato Chip kind of game. One comment on the quality though…I have had my copy since October (purchased at Essen) and the tiles are showing signs of coming apart. I find this disappointing but it’s still playable. I am hoping it doesn’t get worse.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray, Dale Y, Karen M
  • I like it. Eric M., Craig V
  • Neutral. Greg S., Joe H.
  • Not for me…
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One Response to Kingdomino (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. huzonfirst says:

    Remarkably, I did manage to play Kingdomino only once. Then again, I never was that big a fan of potato chips! It’s a pleasant little game, but it definitely feels as if the result would be decided by luck of the draw or by who didn’t have defense played against them, rather than by who played best. Not something I need to play again, but I wouldn’t mind it if I did. Additional plays might get me to change my mind, but right now, my rating is Neutral.

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