Kingdomino Origins board game: A four-sided review

The Kingdomino Origins board game is a 2-4 player tile/domino laying game that takes about 30 minutes to play. It’s listed for ages 8+, which seems about right. And the simplest version in the box is very much a family game that anyone can enjoy.

If you’re familiar with the original Kingdomino, you’re on incredibly familiar ground here. The concept is identical. Lay dominoes in a grid to create areas of the same terrain to score points. It has the same number of dominoes, and largely the same terrain types etc. But here you have a caveman theme – plus a few little tweaks and optional extras.

The component quality is high, as I’ve come to expect from publisher Blue Orange. In the box you’ll find 48 cardboard domino tiles, 45 other cardboard tokens, 57 wooden pieces and a scorepad. all of fitting snuggly into a well-designed insert. You can find it for just over £20 delivered at comparison site Board Game Prices. Which I’d say is good value for money.

Teaching the Kingdomino Origins board game

I’m not going to go into the basics here, as this is so like the original. If you want a rules breakdown of that, check out my full review of the original Kingdomino. Origins has three ‘modes’, or levels of complexity: Discovery, Totem and Tribe. What I’ll do here is walk through the key differences from the original game.

Discovery mode plays as the original Kingdomino, with one key alteration. The mountain tiles are now volcano tiles. And each has an associated fire token (fire ‘thematically’ replacing crowns as the way to work out scoring). Where mountain tiles had standard (but high) scoring, volcanoes don’t score. Instead, when you place the tile in your territory, you move the fire token to a nearby square. You move the fire token 1/2/3 spaces depending on how many fire symbols (3/2/1) it has. So, the stronger it is the less versatile for movement. And you can’t move the token to a space that already has a fire symbol/token on it.

Changing things up

Totem mode sees you add resources as a form of majorities scoring. Around half the tile halves have a resource symbol on them. When these are put out, you place the matching resource/resources on the domino. When you add one to your territory, check to see if you now have the majority of a resource. If you do, take the associated bonus marker. These will score you 3-6 points each at the end of the game. But beware. If you put a volcano’s fire token on a space with a resource, it destroys it – potentially taking away your majority.

Tribe mode is the most complex, keeping the resources from Totem mode but replacing the majority scoring tokens with cavemen tokens. Anyone familiar with 2020 print-and-play Kingdomino expansion ‘The Court’ will get another dose of deja vu here. You can spend resources to attract cavemen, who then score for you (at the end) in various simple ways. But all via association to either resources or other cavemen.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: The brilliance of the original Kingdomino is its simplicity. Taking an old concept and making it just gamery enough to bring it up to date. While keeping things simple enough to appeal to the average family gamer. but I’ve seen little value in the complicated expansions, or modes, that have embellished the series since. Why try and turn a family game into a euro game? It’s not as if there aren’t enough of those already. And for me these modes don’t do it well enough to see this game move beyond its original audience.
  • The thinker: Compared to most family games, the elegance of the base game (or ‘Discovery’ mode here) is enough to compel me to play on occasion. While there is some luck, it’s not as evident as you may think. The decision of where you’ll be in the next round’s pecking order really sings. And the volcanoes have added to this, putting in a few extra decisions without complicating the basic idea. Which brings us to the more complex modes, which do the opposite. They just blur the lines of what a tile really offers. And the luck of the draw – on the cavemen especially – can spoil a game. But I can see it being a nice step up for gateway gamers with smaller collections.
  • The trasher: I quite like the Totem mode. It forces you to think about what others are doing in what can otherwise be a pretty solitary experience. But it adds quite a bit of fiddliness. Same with the cavemen. Unchecked, a player can get big scores – especially from a few good warriors (who multiply as you get more). But I can’t help thinking, why not play a game that’s purpose-built for that kind of tussle?
  • The dabbler: I love me some Kingdomino! And this version is no different. You can even still play with the old ‘start spot in the centre’ and ‘complete 5×5/7×7’ bonuses from the original, which I like. The little artistic touches on the dominoes are still fun too, with what look like tusked sheep (and Tarzan!) on the dominoes. And the awesome wooden mammoths! I don’t like the other modes though. They just take away from what makes KD great. I was losing the will a bit when we played with the resources.

Key observations

There’s a cynicism around this release that doesn’t sit easily with some – me included. A bunch of fiddly rules for new ‘versions’ which add little or nothing to versions you can find attached to the original. If asked, “Do you need both?”, the answer would be absolutely not. I really fail to see what this version is adding to the Kingdomino canon beyond the great volcano mechanism. Yes, it’s great. But a million miles from being worthy of a whole new themed release.

Some are describing it as a happy medium between the simple original and the overblown sequel, Queendomino. Again, I don’t think there was enough to bother salvaging from Queendomino to make this worthy of a big box. But that game also did well, so other opinions are clearly available. The overriding sense I get from those positive reviews is this is the best, most definitive version yet. And with that I would agree. For a good price you get good versions of all the complexity levels you could want from a family game. If nothing else, I think Origins will put Queendomino to bed for good. Which for me is a good thing.

Finally, the theme and art get little bit of negativity from some. True, the colours are a little more muted and generally the tiles are a bit less fun. The cavemen theme doesn’t work too hard either. And you can’t help thinking they’ve missed a bit of a trick there. But these really are minor complaints. It’s still Kingdomino. Which is still a great game.

Conclusion: Kingdomino Origins board game

As you can probably tell, I’m pretty down on the complex versions of Kingdomino Origins. Which is a shame, as this is a bigger box than the original with a bunch of bits in that I won’t be using. But I’ll still be keeping this version in my collection, while putting the original on the trade pile. Because the volcanoes make a great game just a little bit greater. For me, if you added the random scoring tiles from the Age of Giants expansion to the Discovery Mode here, you’d have my ultimate Kingdomino experience. But this version is closest to that, so I’ll be keeping it on my shelves.

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