Going Full Nerd
It’s probably only within the last couple of years that I have taken an interest in Spiel Des Jahres. I’d not previously taken much of an interest as I believe there’s a line of Nerd-ery (yes, I just made that word up, what of it?) which once you have crossed then there’s a point of no return. There’s taking an interest in the hobby and subscribing to things like Casual Game Insider (which is really good if you’re only interested in casual gaming) and then there’s immersing yourself in the hobby, attending conventions, watching hobby videos on Youtube and writing reviews for people in your spare time. Yep. I went full nerd.
“You should never go Full Nerd”
Spiel Des Jahres
However, for those of you not in the know about Speil Des Jahres (it’s fine, I’m not judging) it is the highest honour to be bestowed on a board game. It’s the German public board game of the year. It’s often an odd time somewhat akin to the Oscars where you can completely understand why a game has been nominated or you could sit and wonder how much of that delicious German beer the judges had consumed before making the nominations.
This year’s nominations were seemingly completely out of the blue and I don’t think any kind of betting man would have been able to predict the choices they made.
Up for the prestigious award this year are El Dorado, Magic Maze and the subject of this review Kingdomino.
I have come to realise over the last couple of years that Spiel Des Jahres is all about family games and obviously not for hardcore board gamers. Kingdomino though, is a fantastic example of a family game… and with all honesty, it’s pretty good to play with adults too.
Kingdomino-no you didn’t!
Before you commence with your first game of Kingdomino, you need to shuffle all of your domino tiles and hand out a beginning tile and 4 “majestic meeples” (I’m going to TM that all to myself) to each player. You also give each player a corresponding coloured castle to place on the start tile for your kingdom. Once these have all been given out then you can begin the game in earnest.
Kingdomino is the very definition of simplicity to play. Even if you have never played Dominos before (eating Dominos doesn’t count as experience- otherwise I’d be a professional by now) it’s very easy to pick up and learn. You pick 4 tiles from the box and place them between all of the players in ascending order. After the first player has been chosen via any means (eeny meeny miny mo, rock paper scissors, “it’s my game so it’s me”, “you’re the youngest so you can go first”, and of course fighting to the death all work really well. The last especially if you have too many players) you take turns placing your meeple on one of the numbered tiles. Once all of the initial tiles have been claimed, you can then take your choice of a second set of tiles which is then put face up next to the first ones in the same ascending order.
The higher numbered tiles are generally better for scoring points, however, whoever chooses the lowest numbered Kingdomino tile on the first turn gets first choice of any of the tiles on the second turn. As such, despite its simplicity there is a definite level of strategy to be employed right from the get-go.
Each tile placed in your kingdom has to be able to connect to a tile of the same type of terrain to be legal, and some of the terrain tiles will have crowns on them which is how you score points at the end of the game. If the tile you have chosen is not able to connect to your grid and still remain legal (the grid cannot over extend 5×5 tiles) it will need to be discarded and is lost to the annals of “aw nuts it wouldn’t fit”, otherwise known as the discard pile.
Kingdomino is then played through several rounds of choosing tiles as mentioned before until all of the tiles are exhausted or you have played enough turns to complete a 5×5 grid. Once this has been completed, the game is scored by multiplying the amount of terrain tiles by the amount of crowns on the same terrain. Whoever has the most amount of points after this wins.
There are some additional points up for grabs should you wish to employ them for having your castle in the middle of your “kingdom”, making a complete 5×5 grid or being the most handsome person at the table (that’s a house rule) and there’s also another 2 variants on play. Since Kingdomino plays in around 15 minutes, you can add some more meat to it by playing 3 games in a row and then declaring the winner overall, or you can play the 2 player duel where you have to make a 7×7 grid each and that can add some more gameplay to a relatively light game as well. Bear in mind though, that these additional rules can be added or left in at your discretion because most small children aren’t going to be interested in trying to play something more in depth than the bar of entry game, but most adult gamers likely will.
That is Kingdomino in a nutshell… it’s really that easy to pick up and play.
Kingdomino or Cacky Court Jester?
The first thing I have to say about Kingdomino is that I actually really liked it. It’s very very light so it’s not something which I could see finding its way to the table on a serious game night; probably not even for a filler. It would ruin my credibility of being a tyrannical gaming host and that reputation being in tatters would be awful. However, the first time I played, I asked my elder son to play with me as a litmus test to see how family friendly it was and he also really liked it. He found the strategy of having first dibs on the second set of tiles really interesting and had it not been for some pretty sneaky strategy on my part, he’d likely have won. But, he didn’t. So, as tradition dictates I kept shouting loser at him for the rest of the day while making an L shape on my forehead* (*not actually true).
As I often like to do when my first born helps me with a review, I like to get him to chime in his own mini review of what he thought about the game. Here’s his opinion about Kingdomino:
“The artwork, the gameplay mechanics and the game in general was amazing”.
There you go, a lad of concise words, but his opinion does sit quite well alongside my own. The artwork for Kingdomino is bright and cheery and as I have alluded to already, there is a surprising amount of strategy involved in such a light game, and playing with adults definitely means that you have to work a lot harder for the win. Also, if you try the suggested rules about playing a few games in a row it graduates Kingdomino from being a filler to the main event for a little while at least if that tickles your fancy.
I actually do find that I enjoy playing Kingdomino too. It’s something I have not played before and it’s something which is a new twist on a classic game which feels like it’s breathing life into what can be a tired old tile game.
I’m glad that I have a copy of Kingdomino as I think it’s also a game that my kids could play together as well as the rest of the family. It doesn’t take too much to learn and it’s really simple once you grasp the fundamental idea. After that, it would just be damage control for when someone gets upset because they didn’t win.
That being said, as much as I like Kingdomino, I would be surprised if it wins Spiel Des Jahres. My money is on Magic Maze as I think there’s much more to it for gamers at large instead of the casual gamer. I guess we’ll find out whether my hunch is correct soon enough though as the announcement of the winner is on the 17th of July.
As far as rating Kingdomino goes, I think I’ll have to give it a nice, solid, family friendly 7 out of 10. If it was more likely to find its way to the table with my gaming friends I wouldn’t have hesitated to give it a higher mark; but sadly I can’t.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.