#529 – Kingdomino Duel

Box

Base price: $15.
2 players.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon! (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Kingdomino Duel was provided by Blue Orange Games.

We’re back with more games from Blue Orange! I’ve got two right now (maybe a third; we’ll see if I can borrow it from my coworker): Kingdomino Duel and Slide Quest! I’ll be covering them both in the next couple weeks; very excited to see what’s going on with them. Kingdomino Duel is Blue Orange’s 2p response to the now-classic Kingdomino, which took the Spiel des Jahres a few years back (really competitive year, since it edged out Magic Maze and The Quest for El Dorado; all excellent). Let’s see how it’s different than the base game.

In Kingdomino Duel, you need to amass territory for your realm! Naturally, you have to share the land somewhat, so you’ll split it with another up-and-coming noble. Don’t worry too much about disputes; the local wizard has agreed to serve as an intermediary, and should you impress him, he may give you a bit of a boon with some of his magic. Seems like cheating, but magic usually does. Will you be able to build the greatest kingdom of all?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton to do on the setup side. Both players are going to need a sheet:

Board

Place a third in the middle of the table with the spellbook side up:

Spellbook

Set out the dice:

Dice

Choose a player to go first!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

So the game’s got a lot of similarities to Kingdomino, but it’s a roll-and-write, so that’s going to introduce some new mechanics. The game’s played over a series of rounds until either one player fills out their board or both players cannot place a domino. Either way, you’ll alternate being first player and doing some phases. I’ll cover each in turn.

Roll the Dice

The first player rolls the four dice. There’s not much more to it than that and I regret making this a whole section on its own.

Split the Dice

Now, the first player chooses one of the dice to be in the “domino” they’re trying to make. The second player chooses two, and the first player gets the remaining one. Combine both of your dice to make a “domino”. Diemino? Yeah, that sounds better but it’s harder to type.

Add Diemino to Map

Gameplay 2

Next, add your diemino to the map by drawing the symbols on each die on two empty and adjacent spaces (not diagonally) on the map, following at least one of these rules:

  • One end of the diemino must be touching the castle.
  • One end of the diemino must be touching a square with a matching symbol on it.

Beyond that, go wild. Drop it, flip it, reverse it; whatever you want. If there are crosses on the die, fill in the circles on the space with the appropriate number of crosses. If you can’t add your diemino to the map; do nothing.

Consult the Wizard

Gameplay 3

After filling out the map, you need to go to the wizard. Every time you add a coat of arms without a cross to the map, fill in the corresponding square in the spellbook. If you are the first to completely fill in the line (in the event of a tie, the first player this round wins), you gain the wizard’s power! It’s a one-time use, and your opponent cannot gain it for the game. These abilities allow you to do various things like split up your dice, go first even if it’s not your turn, ignore Connection Rules, change one of the dice you took, things like that.

Special Action

As a bonus free action, you may color in the roof of your castle to add a cross to one of the dice you just took this turn. You may only do this once per game.

End of Game

Gameplay 4

Like I mentioned earlier, when one player fills out their map or both players can’t play their diemino, the game ends. Calculate your score by doing a similar thing to Kingdomino — essentially, count each contiguous group of tiles (a “territory”), and then multiply its size by the number of crosses it has to get its value. The castle does not count as a tile of any type. Add in any bonus points, and the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

None! It’s a two-player game.

Strategy

  • It seems to make the most sense to go deep. I think that’s pretty similar to Kingdomino, though; if you have 7 Territories with one crown each, that’s only 7 points. If you have one 7-block Territory with seven crowns each, that’s 49 points; I mean, that’s just sort of how the game works. There is a Wizard Ability that gives you points for having multiple different Territories of one type, but that seems like a late-game saving throw, if anything. I certainly wouldn’t let you have that if that seemed like what you were going for.
  • If your opponent keeps passing up the two-cross tiles, take them. They’re not incredibly useful on their own, but they’re a quick way to make a very small Territory that’s worth a very large number of points. If you can get enough of them, you’re done.
  • Keep an eye on what your opponent is taking and what they want. You may end up needing to try and hate draft a little bit if you want to prevent them from breaking away, points-wise. If you just leave them to their own devices they may end up in a place that’s much farther ahead than you. A lot of this game is figuring out when it’s best to focus on your needs and when it’s best to dump on your opponent.
  • You’ll need a few of those wizard abilities for yourself. Don’t end up letting your opponent beat you to every wizard ability; that’s just a surefire recipe for losing. Figure out which ones you want and try to snag them when you can. Trying to catch up to your opponent when they’re two or so spaces ahead of you on the track (without an ability) is generally a losing bargain, in my experience.
  • Don’t box yourself into a corner. This is pretty much always the Classic Kingdomino Rule; make sure you don’t end up splitting the board such that you can’t take your last turn. Not only does it kind of suck, but then you miss out on a bunch of points.
  • Don’t constantly take jokers, either. If you do that, you’ll basically always be ceding Wizard Abilities to your opponent. Turns out when you get enough of them, you just win.
  • Just like Kingdomino, plan ahead. This is the primary way to make sure that you don’t miss out in every Wizard Ability and you don’t end up splitting your board in an unrecoverable way. Just keep an eye on how things are progressing and don’t be afraid to pivot if you need to stop your opponent from running away with the whole game.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Still pretty quick. It’s a surprisingly fast game. I think the base Kingdomino is still faster, but it’s definitely zippy. It helps that you’re snake drafting four dice, I guess, so it can’t take all that long.
  • Very portable. The box is very small! I respect that.
  • The Wizard abilities are interesting. They’re definitely a bunch of abilities I wish I had during base-game Kingdomino. Naturally, they work a lot better if you’re using single dice rather than pre-made tiles.
  • I am very pro-magnetic clasp boxes. They just work so well. It’s got a satisfying click when it shuts and all the pieces stay inside? I really like them and I wish every game used them.

Mehs

  • The symbols are kind of a pain to draw. The double diagonals are probably the worst. A simpler and less type-A person would probably just draw lines rather than trying to fill them in like bars, but I contain multitudes and if I can’t be artistic then I’m gonna settle on being demanding. Other ones aren’t too bad; the dot is my favorite.
  • The game feels a bit wasteful, since you end up using the third sheet every time as well. You can use the other previously-used game sheets as the third sheet in subsequent games, provided nobody used a pen that bleeds too much. That’s where it stops working.
  • It’s sort of odd that you need to actually choose to use your Castle Ability. If you’re going to do it every game and you’re just going to choose whatever gives you the most points, why not just … include that as part of scoring? Just pick your largest contiguous area and add one cross to it. That seems fine. It’s rare to see people get totally shut out on this; once my space is at least 7 or 8 spots, I just go for it on the next chance I get (and it almost always happens).

Cons

  • It can feel kind of swingy. At least with the tiles, you’ve got the sense that eventually the tile you need can come up. With the dice, it’s possible that you’ve already had the two best rolls that you’re going to have for the entire game. We had one game were almost no crosses came up; incredibly low-scoring game, and the only real reason I won was that I got an early cross of one type and just kept building on top of it. Sure, there’s an element of luck to the tile game, but the variance of this one makes Weirdly Bad games a possibility that the tile game doesn’t allow.

Overall: 6.25 / 10

In Progress

Overall, though, I think Kingdomino Duel is fine. Its main issue is that it comes at the approaching end of two curves: the “duel games” craze and the “roll-and-write version” craze that’s been hitting a lot of games lately. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not always bad. Imhotep: The Duel is quite fun, in my opinion, and Lanterns Dice is every bit a worthy adaptation of the classic game. Something about this one just doesn’t quite work as well as those two, though. It ends up feeling a bit hollow, being honest, as though something was supposed to be in the game and got overlooked? The games can swing wildly based on what dice get rolled when, and even with a good plan you’d need some prescience to get the necessary information to do well with some of them. This leads to a spot where you can tell halfway through the game whether or not it’s going to go your way, at times, which never feels great. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places where you can intervene to make your situation less bad, but there’s not always a “good” decision, and that’s disappointing. Kingdomino’s base game feels like it allows for more interesting choices because you’re guaranteed that those choices eventually exist (assuming you’re playing with all the tiles; if not, you’re at least guaranteed that some interesting choices exist). With dice, there’s no guarantee. You may just end up falling victim to variance and the cold hand of an cruel and uncaring universe. The game might also not go well. Either way, it’s got enough going for it that I think it’s a fine adaptation of the base game, but I don’t think that it manages to distinguish itself sufficiently from its predecessor to justify me playing it rather than Kingdomino’s awesome two-player mode. Personally, I usually just end up doing that. If you hate tiles, though, or you love roll-and-write games the most, Kingdomino Duel might be exactly what you’re looking for! It just wasn’t quite that for me.

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