Kingdomino & Age of Giants (Brandon Kempf)
Kingdomino & Kingdomino Age of Giants
Designed by Bruno Cathala
Art by Cyril Bouquet
Published by Blue Orange Games
The What Did You Play This Week Podcast was provided with a review copy of Kingdomino Age of Giants by the publisher, Blue Orange Games, in return for an honest review.
I sat here curious. Wondering why I had never reviewed Kingdomino, the Spiel des Jahres winning game that topped my Top 25 Games of 2016 List. I think at the time, my mind just told me that I didn’t need to, it had won the most prestigious award in gaming and had reviews everywhere, from the most niche of channels to mentions in every Top 10 list of the year. But a funny thing happened, even with all that love from both me and from all around me, we kind of forgot about Kingdomino, we moved on to the next 15 minute game that packs a lot of punch. Then we all got really excited about Kingdomino again because of Queendomino, but were a bit disappointed it came and it didn’t quite live up to its predecessor. It was a fine game, it just tried to be too much. Then, along came an expansion, a true expansion for Kingdomino, and we got excited again, but with a bit more reserve. After reviewing a couple summer titles for Blue Orange Games, the opportunity came up for us to review this new expansion, Age of Giants, and we took them up on it. What do we think of it? Read on to find out.
To start with, Kingdomino is a tile placement, tile drafting game that plays 2-4 people in about 15 minutes, give or take a minute or two. In the game you are a Lord trying to expand your lands and find the best plots. You do this by drafting tiles and placing them in your 5x5 kingdom hopefully in a way that scores you more points than the other Lords in the game trying to do the same thing. In a turn, you place a set number of domino tiles out facedown, order them in ascending order and then flip them over. The first player gets to pick which tile they want by placing their king on that domino. Once everyone has picked, put out another row, ordered in ascending order and flip them. Then the player who picked the lowest numbered tile, the tile on top, takes back their king and takes the tile they chose and places it in their kingdom. Starting off, each kingdom has a single tile — a castle — and around that castle you may orthogonally place a tile of any terrain type. Building off of those new tiles in your kingdom requires at least one block of the new domino to match at least one landscape of the one you are placing adjacent to. After you place your tile, you choose your next tile from the face up available ones by placing your king on that tile. Then the play continues like this for everyone else, repeating the process once everyone has placed their tile. You can never build your lands out larger than a 5x5 grid.
In placing dominoes, you want like terrains to match up and you want crowns on those matching terrains. At the end of the game, every crown acts as a multiplier for your score of that specific terrain type. So if you have 7 adjacent squares of forest with 2 crowns in it, you would score 14 points for that section. But if you have 7 adjacent squares of forest with 0 crowns, you score 0 for that section. You do this for every terrain type in your kingdom at the end of the game. We always played with the additional rules of Harmony, which gives you 5 bonus points if your 5x5 square kingdom is complete with no missing spaces. You see, if you get stuck drafting a tile you can’t use because of adjacency rules, you have to discard it. We also play with The Middle Kingdom rule which gives you 10 points if you keep your castle in the center of your kingdom.
That’s Kingdomino, it’s as wonderful now as it was then. It really is the game that kind of started my family and I down this road of understanding that games don’t have to have these big, bulky rule sets and long play times to be fulfilling. Other shorter games had come before Kingdomino sure, but none had nearly as much an impact on our family gaming as Kingdomino did.
So it’s that simplicity, that streamlined play that we really loved, and we kind of ended up losing in Queendomino, which I still lobby as a fine game, but it never caught on nearly as much with my family. It felt to us like why mess with something as wonderful and perfect as Kingdomino was — and that leads us into the trepidation we felt about playing Kingdomino Age of Giants. Would it add too much? Would it make a beloved, yet mostly unplayed lately game, a bit more cumbersome than we really wanted?
So first off, Age of Giants added a couple things to game play. Firstly, you get Giants now. These giants introduce a bit of interactivity among the players. While Kingdomino had instances where you are directly affecting what your opponents can pick, that’s really all. You can’t really mess with another player’s kingdom. That changes with these Giants. There are 6 new domino tiles added to the game that have Giants pictured on them, they are notated by having the letters A-F on their backs. These tiles are placed before the numerals in order when revealed. When someone gains a Giant tile — either by their choice or being forced to — they have to take a Giant from the supply and place it on top of one of the crowns in their kingdom, thus nullifying that crown’s scoring ability. I know, I know, that’s not interactive at all, that just hurts yourself, but wait, there’s more! There are also 6 other tiles added to the game and these tiles are numbered 49-54 so they go to the bottom of the drafting lines. These tiles are adorned with Giant footprints on them. What this means is if you draft one of these tiles into your kingdom and you have a Giant, you can then choose to move your Giant to another player’s kingdom, and they then have to place it on a crown of their choice in their kingdom, thus negating that crown’s scoring potential unless they can then move the Giant off of their kingdom. This little bit is just interactive enough to change the way you play, but literally does nothing to change the game itself.
Second thing that Age of Giants adds are 17 new Challenge Tiles. These little shots of brilliance change up your thinking when building your kingdom. Gone are the days of only playing with Harmony or The Middle Kingdom — you could still be playing with them they are part of the tile set — instead you now have 2 randomly drawn Challenge Tiles before any game. These change scoring up dramatically, some want you to build specific terrain types around your castle, (5 points for each square that matches), or they may want you to have specific terrain types on the corners of you kingdom (5 points for each of those that match). One of our favorites is the 20 point Lost Corner Bonus which gives you 20 points if your Castle is in one of the 4 corners of your kingdom — it’s more difficult than it sounds.There are more, but we’ll let you discover these as they just get more fun from this point. This simple little change is everything we needed to invigorate us again to get Kingdomino back on the table and keep it on the table. It’s a fantastic infusion of change, that doesn’t really change the gameplay at all, it doesn’t get in the way of anything. It just changes the way you go about scoring bonuses.
Other than that, Age of Giants gives you another castle and two more kings and enough extra tiles that you can now play it at five players. The new kings are brown for what it’s worth. It also includes a tower for your tiles. Previously Blue Orange Games had made towers available via promos to store and pull your tiles from to help with randomizing, but now you have one in the box as well. If you were a Kingdomino nut like me, now you have two towers, one for all the tiles in the game and one for the Challenge Tiles, adding just a little more table presence to the game and also an interesting storage quandary. You see, put together these towers won’t fit in your base box, so you are probably stuck using two boxes. Or if you are like me, I just use the base box for all the pieces and keep the tiles in the towers and just carry the game around like that.
I said on Twitter that this was probably the best expansion for a game I have had the pleasure of playing, and I am not being hyperbolic here. I’m not a huge expansion fan, expansions tend to add bloat and add unnecessary rules complexity that designers seem to feel is necessary to liven up a game. Age of Giants doesn’t do that, it adds simple little tweaks to an already great game and helps it expand. The Giants are a simple addition that adds a bit more interactivity between the players, and the Challenge Tiles add variety in the form of different ways to score the game, nothing earth shattering, but enough to make you look at what you are doing a bit differently than you ever did before. Everything in this expansion box seems to have been thought out in great detail, from the wonderful new tower down to the actual scoring pad for scoring your games. This — Age of Giants — is what an expansion should be, something that doesn’t take what is already there and make it unrecognizable, but rather it takes what is there and makes it even more recognizable and makes it even more fun.