Kingdomino has got a smattering of dominoes to it, but instead of matching numbers, you’re building a multi-terrain kingdom around your castle. It’s like the Ronseal of board game titles – it does exactly what it says on the tin. Kingdom-ino? Well played, Bruno Cathala, well played, sir. This won the coveted Spiel des Jahres award in 2017 (the Best Family Game of the Year) and it’s easy to see why…
Kingdomino is a charming, colourful, tile-laying board game for 2-4 players. You are competing monarchs, acquiring rectangular 2x1 land tiles that have two different terrains on them – including lakes, mines, pastures and more. There are 48 tiles in total, and in theory, the more valuable tiles are the higher-numbered ones. Some tiles will have crowns on them – these are worth precious points. The game ends after 12 rounds (24 rounds in the two-player variant). Players then multiply the size of each continuous terrain by the number of crowns within it. Highest score wins!
The gameplay is as wonderful as it is simple. Randomly select as many tiles from the supply as there are players, then place them numerically. In turn order, players select which Kingdomino tile they want by placing their monarch on it. Then more tiles are revealed, but turn order has changed. Now the first player is the person who claimed the lowest numbered tile in the previous round. They do two things: claim another tile from those just revealed and then place the tile they claimed earlier into their own expanding kingdom.
When putting a tile into a kingdom, at least one of the two terrain types must touch a matching terrain (dominoes-style). You might wish to expand your woodland or concentrate on a giant lake instead. However, players must think strategically and plan ahead; the borders of your kingdom only stretch so far. You’re limited to building five squares high by five squares wide. (In the two-player variant, you can build a 7x7 grid, which becomes quite the pleasant puzzle.)
The rules are quick to teach and elegant to present – you’ll be up and running within two to three minutes of taking it out of the box. Games are short and snappy – they fit into that wonderful ‘Let’s play that again!’ category. The tiles are thick, chunky and therefore durable, which is handy because, believe us, you’re going to play Kingdomino again and again!
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 15 Minutes
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.Kingdomino Board Game Review - Game Content (Credit Blue Orange Games)
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.Kingdomino Board Game Review - Components (Credit: Blue Orange Games)
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.
In 2017, Kingdomino won the Spiel des Jahres – the Game of the Year award. It’s a tile-laying game with domino-style tiles (rectangular, made of ‘2x1’ squares). They don’t have numbers though, but different terrain types. You place them down to build a kingdom of territories. A kingdom of dominoes… It’s Kingdomino!
Designed by Bruno Cathala and published by Coiled Spring Games, Kingdomino is a superb treat of a game. It takes approximately 32 seconds* to set the game up! And, after reading my How To Play guide, you’ll be able to teach it in the blink of an eye, too! So, without further ado, let’s learn how to play Kingdomino…
*Please don’t rush to achieve this, especially if there are drinks on the table!
How Do You Win Kingdomino?
The aim of Kingdomino is simple: earn the most points. Players draft ‘domino’ kingdom tiles and place them around their own starting castle. Regardless of player count, Kingdomino lasts for twelve rounds. In a three- or four-player game, you’ll take 12 dominoes. In a two-player game, there’s an option to take 24 dominoes, if you want to play ‘The Mighty Duel’ variant.
Scoring occurs at the end of the game, but I’ll explain it in greater detail, further down. That way it will have more context, after you’ve grasped the core flow of the round structure.
Give each player a square starting tile. On this, they’ll place their funky 3D castle. Give the players their corresponding colour king meeple. It will match the colour of their castle’s roof. (For a two-player game, give each player a second king meeple of their colour.)
Shuffle the 48 domino tiles. Keep them in the box insert, number side facing out, not the territory side. Place the modest-sized box in the middle of the table.
Draw the same number of random dominoes from the box as there are players. (For a two-player game, draw four – two for each player.) Arrange these dominoes into numerical order, lowest to highest. Then turn them face-up, so the varying terrains are on show. Some terrain types are rarer than others. You might notice that some squares have crowns or double-crowns on them. There’s even one triple-crown tile!
Next, have players draw one of the king meeples at random. They place this meeple (wheth er it was theirs or an opponent’s king) on a tile of their choice. It’s first-come, first served – only one king per domino. Once all tiles have a king on them, then draw the same number of tiles from the box. Again, arrange them numerically, parallel to the first batch of dominoes. Then flip them so they’re face-up.
Now you’re ready to play Kingdomino! (32 seconds; was I right?)
How A Round Works
At the start of a round, there should be two rows of tiles. One line has king meeples sitting on them, while the other sits empty. The line with the meeples on it determines player order. The king that sits on the lowest-numbered domino goes first. (Remember, you placed these in numerical order?)
That player takes the domino with their king on it. They add it to their kingdom, and then place their king on one of the new dominoes in the ‘empty’ row. They’ll do this knowing that whichever domino they pick will determine two things:
1) This is the domino they’ll get to place next into their kingdom;
2) And their place in turn order for the next round. The king on the lowest-numbered domino always goes first.
After this, the king on the next-lowest domino does the same. They remove their domino and place it in the kingdom. Then they place their king on a new tile among those remaining. Play continues; the last player in turn order has to place their king on the tile that remains unpicked, thus far. Then, draw the same number of domino tiles out from the box. Sort them in ascending order, parallel to the previous dominoes and flip them. The king on the lowest-valued domino is now the first player, and the next round begins.
(In a two-player game, players have two kings each. There are four tiles to pick from, though – the same as if it were a four-player game. The difference is that each player gets to pick two tiles each round, instead of one.)
Placing The Dominoes
The ‘Dominoes’ part of the game is with regards to placing tiles into your kingdom. Think of each tile like being two squares. Each square is one of six different terrains. Like in Dominoes, sometimes you get a ‘double’ – two terrains of the same type on the same tile.
When placing a tile, one square must always touch at least one other square in your kingdom. You can’t have ‘floating’ tiles, off on their own. You have to ensure that at least one terrain type on this tile touches and matches that of an adjacent tile. It’s great if you can match both (scoring-wise), but only one is essential. The exception is your starting square. This is wild – any terrain can connect to this.
Your kingdom has a boundary – it has to sit within a 5x5 grid. (That’s like 2.5 dominoes wide/high, considering one domino is 2x1). Your castle does not have to sit in the middle; it could end up anywhere, being in one of the corners, if you want. In a two-player ‘Mighty Duel’ variant, you play with a 7x7 grid.
This grants flexibility, but don’t get too lazy with your placement! At the beginning, this restriction doesn’t feel tough. But soon, if you’re not careful, you might not be able to place tiles in the latter stages. If you cannot place a tile (due to a terrain not matching, or if it breaches the grid’s boundary), you have to discard that tile. Ouch.
How Do You Score?
Kingdomino lasts 12 rounds. Note that in a three-player game, not all the dominoes will get used. Don’t rely on a specific one turning up! All tiles get used in a two- or four-player game. Have you made a perfect square kingdom? Does it have any holes? Now’s the time to score it and see who’s won Kingdomino!
Go through your kingdom, territory at a time. A territory is a group of same-terrain type squares, connected horizontally and/or vertically. Count the number of squares in the territory. Then multiply that by the number of crown symbols in that territory. (For example, a territory of eight contiguous tiles housing two crowns scores 16 points. Meanwhile, a territory of five contiguous tiles housing zero crowns scores… zero points!) Kingdomino is all about those crowns. Add up your total for your grid, and the most points wins. Ties get broken by the player with the biggest territory, and then by the player with the most crowns.
There’s a couple of variants you can add in, which offer extra scoring opportunities. ‘The Middle Kingdom’ grants an extra 10 points for players that finish with their castle in their kingdom’s middle square. It requires a bit of extra kingdom planning to achieve this!
The ‘Harmony’ variant offers players an extra five points if they build a complete square, without holes. The castle doesn’t have to be in the middle. You can, however, combine Harmony with The Middle Kingdom. A perfect square, and the castle in the middle is worth 15 points! These two modules for the Mighty Duel (7x7 grid) becomes a wonderful puzzle to solve.
Tom’s Top Tile Tips
It’s no secret that Kingdomino has a beautiful balance. There are 48 tiles, and they always get placed in numerical order, when drawn at random. The player that picks the lowest numbered tile gets to go first. Why? Because in theory, the highest value dominoes are the higher-numbered tiles. The lower numbers tend to be common terrains, without crowns.
Common? The terrain types are not even. There’s 48 dominoes. If you split them in half, that’s 96 squares. Of these, the most frequent is the yellow field territory (there’s 26 of them). Of those 26, only five of them have crowns. Meanwhile, there’s only six black mine tiles, but most feature one, two or three crowns! Page two of the rulebook has the quota of these territory squares, and those with crowns. It’s only fair that you explain this to the players at the start!
It’s risky letting one player monopolise the mines. Should you hate-draft (taking a tile you don’t need, so your opponent can’t get it)? I’d suggest only do this if it can somehow benefit you. Sometimes it’s worth picking the lowest-value domino one round, so you’ll get free pick of the tiles in the next round. Being first in turn order is nice, but if a tile with crowns on it pops up, you might have to prioritise it. Herein lies the genius of designer Bruno Cathala!
One thing’s for sure, though: it’s worth considering picking the weakest tile in the penultimate round. That way you’ll get first pick in the last round. This means you stand a better chance of picking a final tile that completes your kingdom. Remember, that’s an extra five points, if you’re playing the Harmony variant…
You might like
- Fast set-up.
- Quick play time.
- Good replay-ability.
Might not like
- More random with three players.
- Very light game play.
- Minimal player interaction.