Kingdomino* is a very light and fast ‘kingdom’ building ‘domino’ game (see what they did there?). It will take two to four players 15-30 minutes to play with an age range of 8+ on the box – but a bright younger child would pick it up just fine.
It has lovely whimsical artwork to help make it family friendly, while the 48 chunky cardboard domino tiles have the same great art (while staying functional) and are very well produced.
Also in the small (8x8x1-inch) box you’ll find four cardboard start tiles and mini castles, along with eight wooden player ‘kings’ (two of each in the four player colours) – all in all, very reasonable value for the £15-ish you’ll pay for it.
As with all the best family games, Kingdomino’s rules get out of the way fast and let you get straight to the action. Each player starts with their castle (single start tile) and around it they will add up to 12 dominoes/tiles (each made up of two squares, as in traditional dominoes, but with images instead of numbers).
The restrictions are each tile must connect (at least on one side) to a matching type (there are six – forest, meadow, water etc – your castle is a wild), while you can never build outside of a 5×5 grid. This means as the game goes on, placing becomes more difficult or even impossible – so not everyone may end end up with a perfect square.
Of the 48 dominoes, 30 have 1-3 crowns printed on one of their squares. The plan is to get these crowns into areas where you have a large area of that terrain, as at the end of the game your score the best area you’ve made for each terrain type: the score being amount of crowns multiplies by the number of squares of connected terrain (so if you have four forest squares with three crowns between them, that’s 12 points).
What makes this very simple game sing is the way you choose the dominoes. Each has a number on its back (1-48) and these are drawn (one per player) and placed in ascending order, with the low numbers being those with the least or no crowns and the high ones being the most valuable.
Players place their king on a domino in turn order – starting with the player who took the lowest number (so theoretically worst) tile in the last turn. As you place your king on your new domino you take and place your previous one, so you always have knowledge of what both you – and your opponents – are looking for. 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: As a nominee for the 2017 Spiel de Jahres award, Kingdomino seems to tick all the boxes. While being light enough to teach almost anyone, you soon realise there is more here than meets the eye. Sure, you can still be doomed by a bum draw – but who cares in a game that lasts 15 minutes? And no one I’ve played with has minded playing a second or even third time straight afterwards. It’s a perfect opener or closer for a games night, but also sets up fast enough to be a great go-to for a quick gaming fix – and is small enough to pack for a trip.
- The thinker: While the base game itself is very light, there are a few additional rules you can add in. These include adding a bonus if you have your castle dead centre in your kingdom, and/or if you make a complete 5×5 grid, adding additional pressure in placement: and I’m sure that with such a simple rule set the internet will soon be full of variants to add even more complexity for those who want it. I quite enjoyed the two-player game where you instead make a 7×7 grid, using all the dominoes – but for me to really get behind it, the game would need to add a few more rules into the mix. Still, I’d happily play as a filler.
- The trasher: Kingdomino’s cutesy art and simple rules initially left me cold, but half way through my first game I could see the massive underlying competitive element. While early on you are thinking solely about building your own kingdom, a quick glance around the table around half way shows you some have started better than others – and certain players really need to be kept away from certain tiles! Brinkmanship and table talk then come into play – no one wants the player going third to have tile A, but if I leave it as first player, will the second player take it to stop them? This makes it a great game for any group.
- The dabbler: I’m impressed that such a casual game can also appeal to ‘proper’ gamers. The lovely art makes it fun to simply build your kingdom, as the creatures and activities depicted on the tiles are fun. Who cares about winning if you’ve made a lovely looking settlement – or managed to get both the sea monster and dragon tiles (they don’t do anything – they’re just cool!)? In fact with younger children you can simply use the dominoes to make a lovely image on the table, like a jigsaw – then introduce them to the ‘proper;’ rules as they get older.
For some players, Kingdomino is just too simple – and that is fair enough. There will never be a game for everyone, and if you really have no need for family level filler games in your life then you should probably look elsewhere.
Player counts is also worth mentioning. It really sings at four, or with two playing the 7×7 variant, as you use all the tiles. However with the simple two-player or with three people, you don’t use all the tiles – so there’s a much greater chance of people being screwed by bad luck.
There are, though, ways to solve this. I’d suggest turning over some of the tiles each round that are out of the game, so you have the same knowledge you would in the four player game – but I’m surprised this issue wasn’t addressed in the rules.
Finally, for a game so simple, adding up the scores at the end is a bit of a job – and sends everyone scurrying off to find pen and paper. Adding score pads would have been a really nice touch without adding hugely to the cost.
Kingdomino is storming up the board game rankings and rightly so. It has mass appeal, a low price point and is hugely accessible to a wide range of gamers. I was hooked on my first play and, as various groups/gamers have enjoyed it with me, my admiration for the design (from the excellent Bruno Cathala) has only grown.
I’d highly recommend it for anyone with children in the 6-10 age range, or anyone looking to add to their family game collection. It will definitely be staying in my collection and I’d be amazed if it didn’t win the German Game of the Year award – alongside many other accolades.
* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.