Big Enough for the Both of Us: A Kingdomino: Duel Review
2 Players, 30 Minutes, Low Complexity, Medium Strategy, Ages 8+.
It’s the time of year that makes you want to curl up next to the fire, whether it’s with your favourite book, some Christmas specials, or even some unroasted chestnuts. Board games aren’t typically top of the cozy-fireside-activity list- the board tends to limit where you can play- but some games are smaller, more compact, with all the fun and strategy of the regular size. That might sound like an advert for disposable razors, but really, I’m here to recommend Kingdomino: Duel- cozy fire and razorblades not included.
A heck of a lot of game for a box that’s smaller than a novel.
Based on the modern family classic Kingdomino from Blue Orange Games, Kingdomino: Duel is a two-player reimagining that ditches the dominos and trades them for a pen and pad of paper. Players still scrap to make the prettiest, point-getting-ist plot of land possible, but this time out, a set of dice is rolled every round to determine what options players will have available.
There are four dice, each covered in different easy-to-draw, easy-to-distinguish Coats of Arms. Every turn, players roll the dice and select them in alternating order, receiving either the 1st and 3rd selections, or the 2nd and 4th. You’ll combine these dice into your “domino” for the round, which is going to take up two side-by-side spaces of the thirty-five spaces available in your kingdom. You can either place your domino so that it connects to your castle in the middle of your sheet, or you can connect one side of your domino to a matching domino face that was placed in a previous turn- just like actual dominos.
The dice are cruel and withholding, but if you’re really, really nice to them, they’ll give you what you need.
Naturally, as you place your dominos, you’re going to end up with sections of the same Coat of Arms. These are called domains, and organizing your dominos into large, homogenous domains is one of the biggest ways you score points. Some sides of the die have not only a Coat of Arms, but sometimes, they might have one or two little crosses. These crosses represent High Dignitaries, and you mark them down onto the sheet when you include them in a domino. At the end of the game, each domain you have is worth points equal to the number of spaces in it, multiplied by the number of High Dignitaries. This means that the crux of this game, the puzzle it presents, is one of careful planning, creative placement, and a little bit of luck.
It might not be the prettiest kingdom, but it's MINE and I'm PROUD.
It’s generally wise to pick the dice with the most crosses on it, since they help you score more points, but there are benefits to choosing a die without any crosses on it at all- wizard powers. Two of my favourite words in the English language! And they’re absolutely the game changers you’re imagining. Your court wizard spices up the game by letting you bend the rules once you’ve placed enough cross-less crests. Once you’ve placed enough of a particular Coat of Arms, you can use the associated wizard power. They’re one use only though, and first come first served, so you have to play aggressively if you want to snake these powers out from under your opponent. You may receive less points from your dominions, but these powers are absolutely worth the potential sacrifice if they’re well-utilized. They can let you spilt your domino in two, place it wherever, or even implement new ways of scoring points for your dominions. It’s a clever mechanic, one that throws a fun wrench in the gameplay by adding just a touch of direct player competition and offering alternative ways to achieve your goals than just focusing on dice, domains, and dignitaries. Clever players will seize on good dice and bad to score points while denying their opponent the magic spells that could lead to victory.
Kingdomino: Duel hits the right mark for a roll n’ write. You feel that nice puzzly brain burn as you try and find spots for all your dominos, and there’s something satisfying about organizing everything into its proper spaces, especially when things start lining up. Since there’s so little player interaction, I often refer to this sort of game as a competitive sudoku- you’re really competing against yourself to get the best score you can, but there’s another player to give your score a sense of scale. One of the best feelings in board games is seeing a well thought-out plan come to fruition or fall apart in your hands. Kingdomino: Duel is that wonderful feeling distilled into a compact package that you can play nearly anywhere.