Kingdom Builder

Kingdom Builder

We review addictive new board game Kingdom Builder. Random boards and random goals makes this one of the cleverest board games this year. AWESOME.

Maybe the last board game you played was Monopoly at Christmas five years ago. Maybe you’re an experienced gamer who doesn’t care if it’s pixels or pawns and you love nothing more than a four hour session of Talisman with your friends. Maybe you’re a video gamer, or you don’t really play games at all, but you’re sneaking into the irresistable world of the board game. Board games are, after all, a relatively cheap way of spending quite a lot of time with your friends and getting really excited…

Whatever kind of board gamer you are, you’ll probably really enjoy Kingdom Builder, a superb new board game by Donald X. Vaccarino and probably one of the most simple (and clever) game designs this year. Kingdom Builder is for 2-4 players and takes about 45 minutes to complete, so it’s not a complete black hole for your time to slip into the way some longer board games are.

Kingdom Builder

Kingdom Builder is played on a board made of four large tiles shuffled and picked at random at the start of the game. The basic premise is elegantly simple: you have to build settlements on various terrains, and you have to WIN. What makes Kingdom Builder so clever and entertaining is that you shuffle to get different rules for winning each time, and the different terrains for each game mean every game is a very different experience indeed. Out of simple moves emerges a complex and constantly changing strategy game. You know what they say about games like this: A moment to learn, a lifetime to master.

Kingdom Builder gameplay

Each turn starts by revealing a terrain card (for example desert, canyons, plains or flower fields) and you build three settlements on this type of terrain, placing counters adjacent to ones you already own.

Players have three objectives drawn randomly at the start of the game that determine winning scores at the end. In my first game I needed to place my settlements to (1) link different cities together, (2) surround cities with my settlements and (3) make a long horizontal line of settlements to score points. Each turn, I found myself puzzling over which objective to focus on. My kingdom was divided into two burgeoning groups and I was struggling to link up cities. The eastern half of my kingdom, sprawled across desert and canyons, had managed to partially surround a couple of city hexes, but other players were doing better. Cunningly, they had prevented other players from creating trade links by surrounding several cities with their own counters. Lastly, my longest row was blocked by mountains at one end and it just wasn’t as long as the horizontal lines that the other players had managed to build.

Kingdom Builder

Each randomly chosen board features special locations that can give the player an added advantage if used cunningly. Building by a harbour will let you move your settlements onto water tiles. Capturing a tavern will let you build four settlements instead of three each round. Players fight to complete their objectives, gain added advantages and scupper their opponents’ chances…

The game ended after we’d been playing for about an hour and we counted up each player’s score. It seems that despite having the least counters on the board, I’d linked up the most cities and scored big points. I’d won! Eagerly we set up another game, wondering what we’d have to do to win this time. Different board tiles presented us with different special locations to capture; we had taverns like before, but now we had paddocks and oracles, each with their own intriguing advantages. The scoring in the second game was different too – now we had to try to capture sectors, build alongside rivers and create the biggest single settlement to score points. I could already see my strategy would have to be very different for this one…

A friend suggested that Kingdom Builder had something of the flavour of the Japanese board game GO. We all agreed it’s clever, surprising, sneaky, simple… it’s a really elegant game that’s perfect for tacticians, bedroom gamers and pub-players alike.

Really, there’s no reason not to give this one 5 stars.

Kingdom Builder

Photo: DAPD

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