Designer: Bruno Cathala
Artist: Cyril Bouquet, Hervine Galliou
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
Every time I think of a take-and-make game, Kingdomino comes to mind. As a Spiel das Jahres winner, it is a game that has successfully captured the interest of the general populace….well, at least the German populace. Kingdomino is also a fine example of this genre because the game has distilled the take-and-make mechanism down to its core, and for that reason, I enjoy it for its sheer simplicity. The basic game itself is simple enough that a 6 year old, perhaps even younger, can grasp. This is a good Euro gateway for a young one.
In brief, the take-and-make mechanism involves players choosing a tile/card/token/item from a common pool and then assembling them in a personal space to score points. The innovation from this genre comes from designers tweaking how items are selected and also how points are scored. In the case of Kingdomino, both aspects of the designs are kept to the minimum – which is a great decision seeing that the game is targeted at families. Keeping things to the minimum also means the core mechanism is not obscured by layers upon layers of unnecessary complexity, which allows it to shine.
Indeed, the rules for Kingdomino can be summarized in the length of time it takes to set up the game. Players take turns choosing dominos featuring different terrains from a common pool to build a kingdom that is 5×5 in size. Common to all domino tiles, each tile features two terrain types. Once a tile is chosen and placed in a kingdom, a player subsequently decides which tile they want for their next placement by staking their meeple on the next row of tiles. Tiles are arranged in descending order with tiles at the bottom of the row being more valuable. The kicker here is that turn order is performed from top to bottom which means if you choose a valuable tile this turn, you will go last in tile selection the following turn. This mechanism serves to ensure that the rich do not get richer: if you get a good tile this turn, then it’s unlikely you will get a good one the following turn. This tile selection mechanism may sound simple, but is pretty much the main strategic component for the game. Choosing which tile to pick and how it may impact others is what Kingdomino is all about.
Of course, good is relative and a lucky tile draw still holds sway on the final outcome of the game. If you build your kingdom on a terrain ignored by others, then there is a good chance the tile you covet might still be available when your turn swings around. The old concept of “do what others aren’t doing” pretty much holds true in Kingdomino. Again, for any other complex game where you spend hours plotting, a simple concept may not be the enough to sustain long-term interest. Thankfully, Kingdomino is stripped of its chrome, leaving each session brief enough that a lucky turn of events should hopefully leave you with just a chuckle of disbelief instead of indignation.
Scoring is also a strength for Kingdomino as there is only one scoring matrix- a feature that is atypical for other games of this genre. The temptation here is to add multiple scoring categories to muddy the true winner until all the points are tabulated. This is common in virtually all take-and-make games. This is not the case for Kingdomino and I am thankful for it. Essentially, territories are scored based on adjacency with similar terrains, multiplied by the number of crowns found on the terrain. You basically want to build up a large territory consisting of one terrain type containing as many valuable “crown” symbols as possible. Sum up the score for all terrains in the kingdom and a King or Queen shall be crowned.
While not a huge fan of takes-and-makes, I’d still play Kingdomino with my family over the weekday evenings where free time is a premium. I don’t derive the same type of pleasure as I do from playing Samurai or Babylonia, but then again, I am not expecting that from Kingdomino. If I want to enjoy a short game of this genre with my 7 year old, this works.