When I was a child I used to dream of strange faraway lands and the royalty presiding over them. Lands made up of perfectly shaped fields of corn and mysteriously rectangular swamps. Quadrilateral lakes and the squarest of caves filled to the brim with massive crowns. Kingdomino (2-4 players /15 mins) released by Blue Orange Games and designed by the now legendary Bruno Cathala makes these real, not even slightly fabricated dreams come true.
You’ll be playing rulers in Medieval times seeking to claim these wonderful, square new lands as your own and you will be competing to make yours the finest of these new kingdoms. Although you’re competing with other players these are peaceful times, with lands charming and vibrant in color without even the slightest hint of trouble in sight.
At a glance, it’s a simple and straightforward tile placement game which sees players taking it in turns to create their own 5x5 grid (think Patchwork crossed with dominoes) with minimal player interaction. However, the fact it’s recently taken home the prestigious ‘Spiel des Jahres’ game of the year award should be a clear sign that behind Kingdomino's cute and simple exterior lies a clever little engine.
So as this is a game about creating your own kingdom, let’s talk more about the landscapes that make these up. Your kingdom will be constructed from dominoes (the clue really is in the name) and these components are thick sturdy card with a solid durable feel to them. Additionally they are brightly coloured with charmingly miniature artwork featuring little details that bring an extra element of magic to the proceedings.
To keep things simple there are just six different kinds of landscapes and the dominoes are made up of either one or two these. For a little more complexity each landscape is available in varying amounts and in addition to this, landscapes also have special tiles containing crowns which are crucial to scoring points, but we’ll come back to that later.
How To Play Kingdomino
To better understand how the game works let’s backtrack for a moment. Firstly, I have to be mention that Kingdomino is a breeze to set-up, taking a minute or less, and is just as easy to get to grips with on your first play.
At the start of the game, each player is given a single square tile and a coloured king meeple (One for three to four players and two for two players). Next, the domino tiles are shuffled up and put to one side as a draw pile with the numbered side facing up. Even player counts use all 48 of these tiles while three players use 36.
A number of tiles are taken from the draw pile, matching the amount of King meeples in use, and these are laid out in the order of the numbers displayed. After this, they are flipped, to show their colourful landscape sides face up.
For the very first round, turn order is decided by one person taking those King meeples into their hands, shaking and drawing them out, one at a time. Once drawn, players will take it in turns to position these meeples onto the face-up tiles, regardless if the King is or isn’t their own. This brings a nice element of randomisation into the start of each game and allows a tiny element of early strategy.
From this point onward, player turns will be dictated by the order in which the Kings have been placed. Each round the top meeple, who selected lowest numbered tile from the last round, will get the first choice of newly revealed tiles with the rest getting to choose in position order afterward.
To be able to place a domino into your kingdom it has to be able to connect with at least one matching landscape square of an already placed domino, or be touching your square starter tile (which functions as a landscape wildcard). If any part of this domino would fall outside your 5x5 grid or if it doesn’t match any available landscapes in your kingdom then it can't be placed and the domino must be discarded.
At the end of the game, you can gain bonus points for completing your Kingdom or for placing the castle tile in the center so you'll need to think carefully about placement, throwing tiles away can lose you the game.
So why wouldn’t you just pick the top tiles given the chance? This is where Kingdomino makes you think. As a clever balancing mechanic the lower numbered tiles enable you to have the first choice on the next turn, however, the highest numbered tiles are the ones that contain the crowns. Remember I mentioned crowns earlier? Well without these you won’t be scoring anything and they are the crucial element in your kingdom point strategy.
As well as making turn order more interesting the crowns in Kingdomino also create an element of push your luck to the proceedings. Scoring is calculated by tallying connected landscapes tiles of the same type and then multiplying them by how many crows are within this area. Spend the game creating a wonderful grid of matching tiles but have no crowns as part of it? No points.
Additionally, the less common landscape tiles have a greater number of crowns on them and in greater regularity. The temptation will be to try to build a Kingdom purely out of these higher scoring tiles but as there are less of them you may end up struggling to complete, or towards the end of a game even block yourself off with no legal domino placements. This means in most games you’ll be wanting to strike some kind of balance in which landscapes you use, biding your time and awaiting an opportunity for big points.
Turn by turn Kingdomino requires you to adapt to the dominoes that are available and as there is a large element of chance to how the dominoes are drawn, sticking to a long-term plan may punish you. Kingdomino requires you to be aware of your options, weigh the odds and make a series of simple choices, but also to keep an eye on what your opponents are doing.
To win you’ll probably want to pick the occasional domino they need or even try to leave them with dominoes they can’t legally place. This is about as deep as the strategy gets here though, so if you’re looking for a slightly heavier tile placement game I can recommend the superb Patchwork, Castles of Mad King Ludwig or Honshu. This is a game designed to play fast with simple but intelligent mechanics, so whilst there will never be that crushing feeling of defeat a game there won't be that feeling of truly besting your opponent either.
The game is at it’s best with an even numbered player count as this uses the full domino stack, however two player games also give you the option of increasing the grid size to a larger 7x7 which you can and should do. By using all the tiles between two players the game becomes less random and allows for slightly more strategic play, giving you the opportunity for more calculated risks and greater pay off.
Final Thoughts On Kingdomino
This is a lightweight game and plays as such but this is exactly where it's strengths lie. Kingdomino is a quick, highly replay-able and well made game. Most importantly it can be taught to all ages, with solid components that are built to last making it a great choice for a family or as a travel game.
If that sounds good to you then look no further than one of 2017's most accessible releases.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on November 12th, 2018. Updated on April 20th, 2022 to improve the information available.