• Game Length: 10 – 15 minutes
  • Mechanics: Tile Laying, Set Collection
  • Release Year: 2016
  • Designer: Bruno Cathala
  • Artist: Cyril Bouquet

Intro

In 2016 I had been into hobby board games for a couple of years and was rapidly searching out the heaviest games I could find, and players to sucker into playing them. I quickly descended from the fresh faced kid walking into a game store for the first time saying “wow, these board games are kind of neat” into a contemptous snob. “I only play heavy board games. Anything under two hours is a waste of my time.” Trust me, I was insufferable.

Luckily, one of the people who I regularly play with was the anthesis to my snobbery. Where I was aspiring to get into deeper and heavier games as I was sure the key to lifelong joy was buried under complex rulesets, he kept pulling me back, asserting that simpler, fast to play games have a spot at my table, whether I was willing to admit it not not.

I’ll admit that I had some serious doubts when Kingdomino was about to hit the table for the first time and it was pitched with: “They’ve taken the tile matching from dominos, and made an actual good game out of it!” I honestly didn’t think I’d hear that statement in my lifetime. As a kid, we played Double-Eighteen Mexican Train Dominos and I have vivid memories of having dozens of dominos in front of me, not being able to play any of them, and just drawing a new domino, and passing my turn. Over and over and over again.

But we aren’t here to talk about Mexican Train. Let’s talk about Bruno Cathala’s 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, Kingdomino.

How to Play

Kingdomino begins with a single tile, which your kingdom calls home. In the centre of the table, sits a row of player meeples, indicating the turn order. Each round, a new set of domino tiles gets laid out in numerical order, lowest on top to largest on bottom.

Next, a new set of tiles is laid out numerically, and going from top to bottom. Each player takes their meeple off the old tile, and places it on a tile that just came out. Each player then takes the tile they moved their meeple off of, and places it in their kingdom.

Following the laws of dominos, when you place a tile in your kingdom, one of the two sides must touch a matching tile (or your home tile, which is a wildcard). When placing tiles, you must not exceed 5 squares wide, or 5 squares tall, so that at the end of the game, if you’ve done everything correctly, you’ll have a perfect 5×5 grid of tiles.

Once all the tiles have been claimed and laid, it’s time to score. First, each player counts up the number of squares of each terrain type that are connected to one another. You then multiply that score by the number of crowns present in that terrain type. Hopefully you got at least one crown, because anything times 0, is a recipe for a sad time.

Review

The production of Kingdomino is charming. The tiles are wonderfully thick and glossy, and just the right amount of heft. The art on the tiles is bright and cheery, with charming details sprinkled throughout (like a panicked sheep staring up at the shadow of a dragon, or the shadow of a lake monster tearing up fishermen’s nets. The four king meeples are cute and unique, but my major qualm is my preferred colour red has been replaced with pink. It’s the most minor of squabbles, but I still feel compelled to mention it. To those who have been yearning for pink to replace red in games, I have found your champion.

Kingdomino plays quickly, almost criminally so. You’re just getting into the groove of the gameplay loop when suddenly you notice there’s only space in your tableau for three more tiles and somehow all your careful plans are crashing down. that last tile you put down just made your kingdom 5 squares tall, but you were also counting on putting another tile along the bottom! Now you’ll have a single square gap that you just can’t reconcile.

Because all the tiles are numbered, and get sorted from worst to best, it creates a interesting decision. Do you take the better tile with a crown on it now, but select a tile later in the turn next round? Or do you pick the top most tile (which will likely just be two terrain tiles without any crowns) but guarantee the ability to go first next round? That clever design is what makes the game interesting.

Because Kingdomino is so fast, it’s the kind of game that can be used to start or end an evening. It is a perfect palate cleanser of easy mathematics and simple rules that feels refreshing after a game with a dozen interlocking mechanisms and three different rulebooks. If one game ends and you have time for something fast and easy, Kingdomino is an obvious pick.

As I said in the beginning, when Kingdomino first hit my table, I wasn’t in the mindset to give simpler games the time they deserve. Since then, I’ve given Kingdomino as gifts and used it to introduce games to my family, and have even requested to play it on occasion.

There is elegance in the simplicity of Kingdomino. I played Kingdomino’s sequel, Queendomino when it was first released. Queendomino adds layers of complexity to the core gameplay of Kingdomino, but in doing so, loses some of the charm of the original. Perhaps one day I’ll seek out Queendomino again to reassess my opinion, but until that happens, Kingdomino is my domino game of choice.