Well at this point I’ve reviewed all of the Dominion, so I might as well check out one of Donald X’s other games. Kingdom Builder is a game with approximately as much theme as Dominion, in that you are a person who wants to build out their Kingdom, but rather than building out a deck you’re playing tokens to certain spots on the board. The problem is, so is everyone else. Can you edge out your competitors to build the perfect kingdom?
Setup for this game is pretty straightforward, actually — there are a bunch of quadrant boards:
So choose four (generally, at random) and assemble them into one large board, like so:
Your board may look different than mine, because of how that works. You’ll also use the back of one of the leftover boards as a scoreboard, so set that aside. Many of the boards will have hexes on them that look like this:
For each location hex on the board, there are two Extra Action tiles that correspond to them:
Put two on each. Now you’ll notice a bunch of cards — the greenish-backed cards are Terrain Cards:
And the red-backed cards are Kingdom Builder Cards:
Shuffle the Terrain Cards and deal each player one. Then, flip three random Kingdom Builder Cards. Those will set the scoring criteria for the game. For your first game, it might not be the worst idea to use Merchants, Civilians, and Lords. Should be a decent mix? I’m also a big fan of Knights, so, you do you.
Each player takes a color and all settlements of that color, and then once your play area looks like this, you’re ready to start:
Gameplay is very straightforward — you can always take one action per turn. That action is to reveal your Terrain Card and add three of your settlements to hexes of that terrain type. There are five Terrain types:
- Flower field
You cannot build on Water or Mountains unless explicitly stated.
The key thing is, you must always build a settlement on an unoccupied hex adjacent to another settlement, if you can. So if you draw a Forest Terrain card, for instance, you can play your first settlement on any of these spaces:
But once you do, you can only play on these spaces:
And that’s essentially your turn. If there are no terrain hexes adjacent to your settlements that you can place, you can place on any terrain hex on the board. If, however, you manage to play your settlement next to a Location Hex, you gain an Extra Action token, allowing you to permanently take an extra action each turn for every Extra Action token you have, which is pretty great!
There are eight different types of Extra Actions:
- Oracle: Build a settlement on a hex of the same terrain type as the terrain card you played this turn. You must build adjacent if possible. Essentially, you get to play four settlements instead of three.
- Farm: Build a settlement on a grass hex, again, adjacent if possible.
- Oasis: Build a settlement on a desert hex, again, adjacent if possible.
- Tower: Build a settlement on the edge of the game board, again, adjacent if possible. You cannot build on water or mountain hexes.
- Tavern: This is a weird one to explain in text, but I’ll do my best (or post some images). If you have a horizontal or diagonal line of three settlements, you can use this action to add a fourth one to either end of that string. Again, you cannot build on water or mountain hexes.
- Barn: Similar to the Oracle, but you move one of your existing settlements onto a hex of the same type as the terrain card you played this turn. Again, you have to build adjacent if possible.
- Harbor: This lets you move any of your existing settlements onto a water hex! Super useful. This is also (currently) the only way to build settlements on water hexes. Again, build adjacent if possible.
- Paddock: My personal favorite. You can move any of your existing hexes two hexes in a straight line in any direction onto an unoccupied hex that you could normally build on. You do not need to build adjacent with this. Go crazy. Jump over mountains, cross rivers, whatever.
Note that if you ever, for some reason, move your last settlement adjacent to a Location Hex somewhere else, you lose that Extra Action tile and it’s discarded from the game. So, don’t do that.
There are also Castle hexes:
And you’ll earn three points (“Gold”) at the end of the game per Castle hex if you have at least one of your settlements next to it.
Once a player has played their final settlement, you complete the round (a la Splendor and other games) so that every player gets the same number of turns. Once you’ve done that, the game is over and it’s time to evaluate your final score.
There are 10 Kingdom Builder cards, each with a different scoring effect:
- Fishermen: Gain 1 Gold for each of your own settlements built adjacent (not on, you crazy Harbor users) to water hexes.
- Merchants: Gain 4 Gold for each location tile connected to another by your settlements.
- Discoverers: Gain 1 Gold for each horizontal line of the board on which you’ve built at least one settlement. Have fun counting that one.
- Miners: Gain 1 Gold for each of your settlements adjacent to a mountain hex.
- Workers: Gain 1 Gold for each of your settlements adjacent to a Location or Castle hex.
- Knights: Gain 2 Gold for each of your settlements along the horizontal line with the most of your settlements. Note that if you’ve managed to tie yourself, you can only pick one line.
- Lords: Per quadrant, gain 12 Gold if you have the most settlements in that quadrant, 6 points otherwise. You must have built at least 1 settlement in that quadrant to get any points.
- Farmers: Gain 3 Gold per settlement in the quadrant with the fewest of your settlements. Like Knights, in the event of a tie, you can only choose one. And, aggressively, if you want to score Farmers at all, you must have built a settlement in each of the quadrants.
- Hermits: Gain 1 Gold for each cluster of settlements that you have. A cluster is one or more adjacent settlements belonging to one player.
- Citizens: Gain 1 Gold for every two settlements in your largest cluster of adjacent settlements. Good for people who like clustering or mess up the adjacency rules. Probably not bad for your first game.
The player with the most Gold at the end of the game wins!
Player Count Differences
I find as player count increases the game board gets more crowded and there’s more contention. In some ways that’s helpful, as it prevents you from being forced to build on terrain spaces occupied by another player, which might give you more options.
The major thing to keep in mind is that you only ever have two Extra Action tokens on a location hex. This means that you gotta act fast to get something, if you want it, if you’re playing with more than two players.
Humorously, like Dominion, I like this game less as player counts increase. Enjoy at two and three, still like but feels crowded at four.
Decently strategic game — it’s kind of an abstract strategy game in my mind, since the theme is … present. Not bad, just … there.
- Try not to pidgeonhole yourself. This is tough to avoid in your first game while you’re still figuring it out, but one of the hardest parts of the game is that “build adjacent when possible” rule. You’ll basically want to play most turns trying to minimize the types of terrain that you touch so that you can get more settlements in a variety of places on the board. This lets you get Extra Action tokens which, in turn, change up the game a bit for you.
- You should go after an Extra Action token on your first turn. Not really up for discussion. Just do it. You should pretty much always try to get Extra Actions, especially early in the game.
- Pay attention to the Kingdom Builder cards. A lot of your strategy is dependent on what these cards are, so I’m not going to give a ton of generic advice. Make sure your moves are designed to give you maximal points off of your Kingdom Builder cards. If Miners is in play, build near mountains, etc.
- Remember that you can use your Extra Action abilities before you play your Terrain card, on your turn. That might be useful to set your turn up to do something smooth, or to allow you more options to play on.when it’s time for your Terrain card action.
- The Paddock is amazing. For most strategies, it’s super useful. You can use it to hop a river and colonize a new area, you can use it to break apart settlements for the Hermits card, or you can even use it to get closer to Castle tiles.
- Other than that, the Tavern is pretty useful. Towards the end of the game you can use it to break into new quadrants and explore new terrain, or even to build towards a Castle tile and get some extra points.
- Don’t be afraid to block your opponents. If you can keep a player from getting a Paddock or Harbor or something, it’s totally worth the effort.
- Don’t forget that there are only two Extra Action tokens per location tile. If you’re playing a four-player game, those will go quickly. Make sure not to miss out!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty easy to learn. I appreciate that there’s not a whole lot to it, complexity-wise, though there’s a bit of depth to the placement game. It’s simple enough to teach, though the Extra Action tiles kind of add a bit of mental overhead. Usually I just keep the rules handy so people can look them up, and I explain them beforehand.
- I think the placement rules are really interesting. There’s a good amount of chance in this game (with what your Terrain cards are), but it’s still interesting given how you can force placement options by where you’ve placed previously.
- Plays reasonably quickly. Or, at least, it never feels long, which is nice.
- Good amount of variety. Between the Kingdom Builder cards, the quadrant boards, and the random draws on Terrain (plus their interactions), the game setup pretty much never has to be the same. Even more so since you can place the quadrants anywhere. This only increases with the expansions.
- Feels vaguely interactive without explicit take-that actions. There’s blocking, but at lower player counts you might not even notice the other player. I’m sure there’re interesting solo variants.
- Not super thematic. Just kind of your standard fantasy castle kingdom thing, just like the Dominion base game.
- The Kingdom Builder Cards don’t feel super varied. Nice thing is that this is easily fixed by expansions, so I’m not as bothered by this. There are definitely a few in this that I find kind of uninteresting (Citizens, for instance).
- I’m not sure why they provide score tokens. If you only calculate your score at the end of the game, why have score tokens? Or a score board? I guess just for the slight tension at the end? Seems like you could have pulled a 7 Wonders and just given players a pad of paper. I hear there’s more variable scoring in expansions, so this might also be rectified, too.
- Understanding the nuances of how building works gives experienced players a significant edge over new players, in my experience. They tend to misplay their first turn and put their settlements near a bunch of different types of terrain, forcing them to somewhat cluster around that spot unless they make a lucky draw. This causes some consternation among new players, so I either try to double-down on explaining that or I let new players only play against each other. I find that that’s something you kind of learn on your own.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’m sold on Kingdom Builder, provided I’m not playing it with new people, or, rather, the people I’m playing with are familiar with the rules. I think it’s a fairly light game with some cool strategy elements that has a lot of replay value, for me. I like the placement rules and I like the game that’s been built around that, in which you’re trying to keep your options open while still playing to some randomly-decided criteria, which keeps it interesting for me. I’m interested in seeing where the expansions take us, as well. In my mind, Donald X. has another solid winner, here, so if this seems up your alley, check it out!