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…