The Kingdomino Duel board game is the third in the Kingdomino series. It takes the dice/terrain matching mechanism from the award-winning original, cleverly applying it to the roll-and-write format. But did we need a dice – and specifically two-player – version of this already hugely popular game?
You’ll need a single pal to play with, with the box suggesting they be aged eight-plus (which feels about right). The box also suggests a game takes about 20 minutes, which again is pretty accurate.
The original ‘theme’ is largely retained, but you’re now wizards vying for territory (via spells you fight over). But it’s still very much an abstract. In the nicely compact box, you’ll find four over-sized dice, two pencils, and a score pad. Yup, that’s it. The artwork and iconography are largely intact from earlier versions, but with coats of arms replacing terrain colours and crosses replacing crowns. Both clearly in the name of making it easier to draw things onto pads with pencils. At around £10, it feels solid value for money.
The score sheet design makes Kingdomino players feel right at home. You’ll see a washed-out image of a completed kingdom, split neatly into a 7×5 grid of squares. And with the familiar (wild) castle space at its centre. The right of the sheet has eight blank spaces (immediately familiar to roll-and-write players) for scoring. The back of the sheet is where the unfamiliar stuff lives – but more on that later.
On a turn, the start player (which alternates) rolls the dice. They pick one, their opponent picks two, then the start player takes the final one. Your two dice are now pushed together, essentially making a domino. You then draw the two dice coats-of-arms onto two adjoining spaces on your sheet, following the original game’s rules. Basically, one half of the domino must match an adjoining space. (The central castle space acts as a wild throughout, so your kingdom slowly spreads out from the middle.)
The dice have symbol probabilities that roughly mirror the original game. Some terrain types are more common than others – but the more common faces have less crosses on them. For example, only two of the 24 die faces have the most uncommon symbol – but one of those has two crosses (read crowns: or score multipliers). While five of the 24 have the most common symbol – but just one of those has a single cross.
For the uninitiated, Kingdomino games revolve around scoring areas of matching symbols (here, coats of arms). So large areas carrying the same coat of arms are desirable – but scores by their area size multiplied by crosses in the area. So, an area of five identical coats of arms which includes two crosses equates to 10 points. But if the same area had no crosses, it would be worth nothing.
So far, so Kingdomino. Which is where the wizardy bit steps in. The back of each score sheet is split into two sides, one for each duellist (including a name box if you want to get creative). Down the middle are six special powers (each connected to one of the game’s coats of arms). While on each side of them there are 3-5 tick boxes, depending on the frequency the coat appears on the dice.
Once you have your two dice for the round, you cross off one matching box on the duel sheet for each coat of arms that doesn’t have a cross. The first player to cross out all the boxes next to a power gets it – with the other player missing out. All the powers are worth having, if sometimes situational. Examples including adding a free cross to a coat of arms, placing a domino out of position, or even splitting your domino.
I should also note two of the die faces have question marks. These act as wilds, so you can pick any coat of arms. This can be strong, but on the negative side you get no cross – and you also can’t mark off one of the spell boxes on the duel sheet.
The game continues until the turn in which at least one player completes their 7×5 grid, or when neither player can use the dice they drafted. Players now add up the points for each of their areas – and (you guessed it) highest score wins.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: I’m extremely sceptical about roll-and-writes – and ‘duel’ games. Most seem to be immediately forgettable, or weak versions of their more illustrious namesakes. What Kingdomino Duel manages to do is keep a very strong essence from the original, but actually add an element – rather than taking some away to make it simpler/quicker/lighter. Games such as That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome to… have paved the way for a smarter level of the genre, genuinely aimed at gamers. And while the market is still being flooded with way too many, at least a few are leaving an impression now.
- The thinker: I liked the original game as a filler, as long as you added in the bells and whistles such as differing scoring tiles. In Kingdomino Duel, the choice of potentially taking a die face to grab a special ability adds a little extra interest. But the luck spoils this for me. You knew what tiles were in the box with Kingdomino – where here you may not get what you want, ever, by pure chance. And no, the two ‘?’ sides do not equate to an adequate level of mitigation. I’ll stick to the original.
- The trasher: I’m on the fence about this one. I miss the decision in the base game of taking a crap tile this turn to be in a better place for next time. But the competition for spells kind of makes up for it. So, I’ll happily play this or the original when put in front of me. But don’t feel the need to own either.
- The dabbler: Loved it! While it is a shame it doesn’t end up looking as pretty as the original, all the fun game play of the original is essentially there. Plus a few special powers! It’s a little disappointing they went with drawing coats of arms, as it doesn’t leave space for imagination in the drawing that some roll-and-writes offer. I’d rather me and my family had been drawing dragons and sea monsters, rather than straight lines. But overall, having a practically pocket-sized version of one of my favourites makes up for any artistic shortcomings. A hit!
Strategists will immediately point to the luck here versus the stability of drawing all the tiles of the original. In comparison, games of Kingdomino Duel can certainly be swingy and potentially luck dependent. And no, there really isn’t much dice mitigation available. So, if you like your games deterministic, you should probably avoid this one.
The term ‘duel’ suggested this version should be cutthroat. And hate-drafting can certainly be part of the game. But unfortunately, the aesthetic chosen doesn’t lend well to reading your opponent’s sheet. It can be quite hard to parse what’s going on across the table, even in good light. As for being cutthroat, that’s going to depend on your opponent. This game can be played pretty friendly, or quite the opposite…
Finally, there’s no getting away from the fact the original Kingdomino was good with two players – and wasn’t exactly a monster to transport. Plus it was more tactile and strategic, especially with the extra scoring tiles from the Age of Giants expansion. But if you do love a bit of Kingdomino, I think there is enough new here to at least give it a try. And at such a great price point, it’s hard to argue against giving it a try for series fans. However, I can’t see this version converting those who don’t like the original.
Conclusion: Kingdomino Duel board game
I wasn’t impressed by my first play of Kingdomino Duel. I like the aesthetic of the original, which this only takes away from. While I was quite happy with the two-player version of the base game, thank you very much. The ‘duel’ didn’t seem to add much, while drawing was a faff where the final outcome looked a mess. And boy, can luck screw you over. If your opponent keeps rolling one dice with a cross, and you keep rolling two (so you get one each), good luck with that. But we stuck at it…
And I’ve really warmed to it now. As you start to understand the special powers, you get favourites – which make going for them an interesting extra decision (rather than something that might just happen). And the small box and low price point are definite feathers in its cap. Simply as a travel game, it holds its own. But more than that, if feels like a genuinely worthwhile standalone addition to an already strong franchise. Which is a lot more than can be said for many ‘the dice game’ versions I could mention.
- Thanks to Blue Orange (via Coiledspring Games) for providing a copy for review.
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