Huge Tracts of Land—A Double-Take Review of Spiel des Jahres Winner Kingdomino

Today’s review is Kingdomino, from Blue Orange Games and designer Bruno Cathala. Each player is lord of a kingdom, and trying to expand that kingdom better than the other lords. Fresh off the heels of its Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) win, you might be wondering if this tile-laying game is worth the hype. So is Kingdomino a crowning achievement, or will it leave you feeling swampy? Let’s find out!


The Components

  • 4 Starting tiles
  • 4 3D Castles in 4 player
  • 8 wooden Kings in 4 player colors
  • 48 Domino tiles, with various terrains on the front, and numbered 1-48 on the back

The Setup

(We’re assuming a 3- or 4-player game here. The rules for 2 players are slightly different.)

Each player takes a Starting tile, and a Castle and King of a matching color—then place the Castle on the Starting tile.

Then you shuffle up and blindly draw Domino tiles equal to the number of Kings in the game, from a starting pool of...

  • 24 random tiles in a 2-player game.
  • 36 random tiles in a 3-player game.
  • All 48 tiles in a 4-player game.

Place the Dominos in ascending order based on the number on the back. Place all of the Kings in the game in a hand or cup, and each player takes turns blindly drawing a King and placing it on one of those starting Dominos. You might not draw and place your own King, and for this first round that’s okay.

Each Domino can only have one King on it. Once each King is on a tile, draw a new set of Dominos from the pile, place them in a second column in ascending order, and you’re ready to start!


The Gameplay

The gameplay is super simple. You take and place the Domino with your King on it, and then place your King on one of the Dominos from the new column. That’s it! Okay, here are a few details.

Some Dominos only have one type of terrain across both halves of the tile, and others have two (one on each half of the Domino). In addition, a few tiles have between one and three crowns on them in addition to the terrain. Crowns are important because they’re the only ways to actually score points.

The player whose King is on the lowest-numbered Domino takes the tile with his or her King and places it in his or her tableau, according to a couple of placement rules. Dominos must either connect to the Starting tile, which is a Wild terrain, or you must place the Domino next to the same terrain. You only have to connect one type of terrain, but it must connect orthogonally and not diagonally.

Another important rule is that your “kingdom” can never be larger than 5 x5.

So if you don’t have a terrain that matches the Domino you grabbed, or if placing it will create a space larger than 5 x 5, you simply discard that Domino.

Once you’ve placed your Domino, you place your King on one of the remaining empty Dominos from the next “batch.” That is, the Domino you’ll be playing next round.

Generally, the lower-numbered Dominos have one terrain type across both halves, and no Crowns. As you rise in numbers, there are generally two types on the tile, with a few Crowns. And the highest numbers have the rarest terrain types, and more Crowns. Because you lay out tiles in ascending order, you might want to place your King on a high Domino because of terrain and/or Crowns, but you’re also choosing to go later in turn order, which decreases your choices in the next round. It’s a brilliant tension.

The game ends once you run through all of the tiles, and you count up scores.

Your kingdom will consist of several Territories, which are orthogonally connected sections of a single terrain type. You’ll multiply the number of squares in a Territory times the number of Crowns on that section of terrain. It’s possible for a Territory to have more than one Crown in it. It’s also possible for a Territory to have no Crowns in it, in which case you score NO points for that Territory. You’re a crappy King!

The highest score wins. If there’s a tie, the winner is the tied player with the most squares in his Kingdom. If there’s still a tie, the winner is the tied player who has the most Crowns in her Kingdom. If there’s still a tie, it’s just a tie. Or you have an old-fashioned knife fight. Whatever.

There are a few variants, the most interesting of which is that if you manage to get your Starting tile in the exact center of your 5 x 5 grid, you get an extra 10 VPs. (Normally your Starting tile can end up anywhere in the grid--it doesn’t have to end up in the center, and usually doesn’t.)


The Verdict

Firestone—Well, color me surprised. While I enjoy a good,simple game, it still has to be something special to linger on my radar. Well Kingdomino is still pinging away. It still gets played often at my game group as a between-games filler. It’s a solid title with interesting decisions. And while my game group plays it as a filler, this is a game you could easily bring out with nongamers. In fact, the length (15 minutes) makes this an excellent gateway game.

Jeremiah—Agreed. The depth of strategy, and meaty decisions, is surprising for such a streamlined design. Meanwhile Kingdomino works across just about every demographic of gamer type (at least that I normally find myself at a table with) from family, to full-on gamer.

Firestone—Most games that claim to play quickly only play sorta quickly. But Kingdomino is the real deal. It says 15 minutes on the box, and that’s just how long it takes. But it crams so much game into those 15 minutes. It’s no wonder this won the Spiel des Jahres.

Jeremiah—It does occasionally lend itself to giving folks a touch of the analysis paralysis, as you try to think ahead for the next turn, but it generally plays quickly, especially with players who have already played at least once. It’s super-smooth sailing after that. Which is great because it slides right into that family game time after dinner/homework etc. We can have a nice game time without staying up super late!

Firestone—The components are terrific. The Dominos have a glossy finish on them that makes me think they’ll stand up to more use than your normal tile coating. And the Castles are completely unnecessary, but appreciated. Even the artwork is great; there are subtle touches in the Domino artwork that surprise and delight.

Jeremiah—Yes, the dragon and sea monster tiles are favorites in the Isley home. It’s those nice touches that give the game some aesthetic nuance and show that effort and passion went into the production.

Firestone—The game is dead simple, but as we said, that “simple” decision of which Domino to play next turn is so good. Do I take that better-scoring tile now, knowing I’ll get stuck with no choice on tiles next turn? Or do I take a decent tile now for more options next turn? But the game is so simple that it doesn’t bog down!

Jeremiah—Yep. It has that whiff of action selection (a la Race for the Galaxy, Viticulture, etc.) which will please non-gamers and kids as they get a little deeper into the hobby, because they will have already gained experience in trading poor turn order for better resources/choices.

Jeremiah’s Final Verdict—Congrats to Blue Orange and Bruno Cathala on not just winning the Spiel, but also on a flat-out fun game. Games such as Kingdomino do a great service to the hobby and will make tabletop gaming even more accessible to more folks who want to test the waters. Kingdomino is simply incredible!

Firestone’s Final Verdict—Kingdomino is easy to set up, easy to explain, and plays in 15 minutes--but still has interesting and meaningful decisions. It’s staying in my collection. A well-deserved win for Bruno Cathala and Blue Orange Games.

Thanks for reading! Have you played Kingdomino? What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments!

Theology of Games would like to thank Blue Orange Games for providing review copies of Kingdomino. This in no way affected our opinions of the game.