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Board Games

Kingdomino: The Domino Game You Need to Play

Dominoes is a ubiquitous game with simple, easy rules to grasp but also the flexibility to allow for a lot of different kinds of games akin to a deck of playing cards. As a kid I also loved the feel of a good domino and would sometimes open the box and play with them by arranging them in various shapes or organizing them in different patterns. It was pure play with no rules governing my time with the dominoes but there was something compelling about putting them together.

Kingdomino is a tile laying game that reminds me of those times of play, albeit this time with rules governing the activity. You’re tasked with building a five by five kingdom with domino shapes with different types of lands on each end of the domino. It turns my childhood puttering into a little puzzle that continues to be satisfying after numerous plays. There are two simple twists that make the game more complex than it should be given the simplicity of the rules.

Each player selects a domino from a descending row of dominoes. The back of each domino is a number and four dominoes are arranged lowest to highest, flipped over and then players will one by one select one of the unchosen dominoes. The kicker is that after the first round turn order is determined by the pick of the last round’s domino, the lower the number picked, the earlier you go in the round. 

This makes decisions deliciously tricky. What might be the optimal domino for your kingdom this round might put you last in the turn order next round. Other times there will be two equally good options and you’ll end up picking the one that lets you go earlier in the next round only to realize three turns later that choice blocked you out of legally placing an even better tile. And to top it all off, since you can see everyone else’s kingdom, you can also swoop underneath players and take a tile that would give them a big advantage, making this light little tile game also a vicious take that game in certain situations where you don’t have a great option for a round but can rob someone else from a big point turn.

I haven’t talked about points up to this point because it’s deceptively simple but is the underbelly of the game that makes all the moment to moment choices so compelling. You score a region of similar tiles by taking the number of connected squares and multiply it by the number or crowns in that territory. It’s simple multiplication but the distribution of the region tiles and crowns for each region is unique meaning that you might go for the low crowns high territory play and try to make one massive score region or you could go for the very small territory with lots of crowns that can give you just as many point in a few well placed squares. 

And going middle of the road can often result in getting a few decent scoring regions. There’s a balancing act here and you often pivot strategies depending on what other people are going for and whether or not you are getting first pick on a key round. Hold out for that one tile you need only to have it snatched up beneath you can ruin a kingdom. The safe bet is to go for the more plentiful territories but it’ll be harder to get the crowns for those as almost every player will have some of the most common territories in their kingdom.

A couple of optional rules adds depth for the more experienced players. Making a perfect 5×5 kingdom gives you bonus points as does having your starting castle square in the middle of your kingdom. It’s a great way to reward the players who go for planning, ballance, and aesthetics over optimal point play although I don’t recommend it for any game with a new player as it gives more experienced players a strong advantage to blow ahead with the bonus points score as it’s easier to achieve this when you know the distribution of tiles.

I find this game delightfully satisfying to play, one that reminds me of why I enjoyed goofing around with dominoes as a kid. There’s something satisfying with the colors and patterns that makes this game instantly click. It’s a quick, light game that you’ll likely want to play several times in a row and for good reason. It’s a satisfying puzzle that gives you a sense of accomplishment even if you don’t win.

I would put this firmly in the family and casual weight category of games. It’s an easy game to teach, especially since most people are familiar with the basics of matching dominoes. If your idea of a good game is something that takes up a whole afternoon, first, I’m impressed you’re still reading this review after so many signposts being put out there that this game is not for you. Second, this is not going to give you enough decisions and strategy to keep you engaged. That’s fine. However, if you like something you could have a light conversation over or maybe slip in after dinner, play on a double date or family night, this is your game. It’s small, it’s simple, you should probably try it. If you don’t enjoy it I can guarantee you know someone who will.

© James Blake Ewing 2021