The next game I’ll be talking about doesn’t interest me because of the theme, but because of the designer.
Kingdom Builder is the big Essen release for Queen Games. It was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, whose last game (and only published game to date) was Dominion. So there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny here to see how his sophomore effort works. This is actually one of three games he has coming out soon, though this one is the most visible at the moment. Kingdom Builder is playable by 2-4 players aged 10 and up, and takes around 45 minutes to play. The object of the game is to…well…build up your kingdom. The winner will be the player who is able to collect the most gold.
Kingdom Builders comes with a modular board. There are eight pieces featuring a map on one side, and a scoring track on the other. There are nine different types of terrain that you’ll come across – grass, canyon, desert, flower field, forest, water, mountain, castles, and a unique location for each board. There are 28 location tiles, including 2 oracles, 4 farms, 4 taverns, 4 towers, 2 harbors, 4 paddocks, 4 barns, and 4 oasises…oases…oasi? You also get summary cards for each type. There are 25 terrain cards, 5 for each of the five types that are suitable for building (grass, canyon, desert, flower field, and forest). There are also 10 Kingdom Builder cards, only 3 of which will be used in the game. Finally, there are 160 settlements (wooden houses) and 4 gold markers (little wooden discs), as well as a start player tile.
The playing surface is set up by choosing four of the eight boards and assembling them into a rectangle. One of the unused boards is flipped over, and all players put their gold marker on the first space. The location summary that matches each board used is placed out, and 2 corresponding location tiles go on each location hex. Each player gets 40 settlements and a terrain card for their hand. Three kingdom cards are drawn. The oldest player gets the start player tile.
A turn works like this: you play your terrain card, you build three settlements, you take an extra action if you can, you draw a new terrain card. When you play your terrain card, you have to build three settlements in unoccupied hexes of the type shown. A settlement must be adjacent to one of your existing settlements if possible. If not, it can go in any matching hex terrain. This action is mandatory.
If you ever build a settlement next to a location hex, you claim a location tile if there’s one available. You only get one tile from a location. This tile is yours for the remainder of the game (unless you move a settlement away from the area). These tiles give you extra actions (starting on your next turn), which can be completed after your mandatory build settlements action (they aren’t required, however):
- Oracle – Build an extra settlement on a hex of the same terrain type as the card you played, adjacent if possible.
- Farm – Build a settlement in a grass hex, adjacent if possible.
- Oasis – Build a settlement in a desert hex, adjacent if possible.
- Tower – Build a settlement on the edge of the playing surface in any one of the five available terrains, adjacent if possible.
- Tavern – Build a settlement at the end of a string (a straight line) of at least three of your own settlements, as long as the terrain is suitable for building.
- Barn – Move any one of your existing settlements to a hex of the same terrain type as the card you played, adjacent if possible.
- Harbor – Move any one of your existing settlements to a water hex, adjacent if possible. This is the only way to get settlements on the water.
- Paddock – Move one settlement two spaces in a straight line, jumping over anything in the way, to a suitable empty space. This one does not necessarily have to be adjacent.
After you’ve finished your actions, discard your terrain card and draw a new one. Play passes to the left.
Once someone has built their last settlement, the end game has been triggered. You keep playing until the player to the right of the start player finishes their next turn, and then the game ends with everyone having had the same number of turns. You’ll now calculate your gold. You earn three gold per castle hex next to which you have built at least one settlement. Additionally, you get gold based on the Kingdom Builder cards:
- Fishermen – You get one gold per settlements built adjacent to one or more water hexes.
- Merchants – You get four gold per castle or location that can be linked through a chain of your settlements to another castle or location.
- Discoverers – You get one gold per horizontal line of game board space in which you have built one settlement (a horizontal line is parallel to the long side of the board). This encourages you to spread out.
- Hermits – You get one gold for each settlement cluster, and for each settlement that is by itself.
- Citizens – You get one gold for every two settlements in your largest cluster.
- Miners – You get one gold for each settlement built adjacent to one or more mountain hexes.
- Workers – You get one gold per settlement built next to a castle or location hex.
- Knights – You get two gold for each settlement built on the single horizontal line with the most settlements.
- Lords – For each quadrant of the board, you get 12 gold for building the most settlements, and 6 gold for the next highest. Tied players all get the full amount.
- Farmers – You get three gold for each of your settlements in the quadrant that contains the fewest of your settlements.
The player with the most gold wins.
This looks like an extremely simple game. You don’t have a lot of decisions to make on your turn, and in fact are limited to what you can do by the card you draw. Strategies will largely be determined by the Kingdom Builder cards, and will change every game. The board layout also changes, so even if you do get the same combination of goals, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the same combination of goals with the same board setup. That variability is something we saw a lot of in Dominion, along with the loose medieval theme. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot of comparison between these two Vaccarino games.
This game is not Dominion. I highly doubt that Kingdom Builder is going to revolutionize the gaming industry the way Dominion did, but then, that’s a lofty standard to be held to. Apart from the absolutely gorgeous board layout, I don’t know that this game offers a whole lot in the way of depth. I’m sure it’s a fine game for families and people looking for lighter Euro fare, but I don’t think it will really catch on with a lot of gamers. The draw one card and play it aspect in particular might not appeal to people who would like some choice – I’m guessing some people will be advocating a hand of three cards to choose from when playing (as some people like to do with Carcassonne). That’s not to say that I don’t want to play – I do. I’m interested to see how the Kingdom Builders work together to create different experiences, as well as the way extra actions from location tiles will help your strategies along. I’m interested to try it, I just don’t know if it has legs to last for long in a collection. Thanks for reading!