Keys to the Kingdom(-ino): A Kingdomino Review

by Corey Whelen
9 June 2020

2-4 Players, 15 Minutes, Low Complexity, Medium Strategy, Ages 8+

There aren’t many games with as much prestige as Kingdomino. With a list of accolades and awards longer than some menus, this simple little tile-laying, kingdom-crafting game makes a big impression!

Upon opening the box, it becomes immediately apparent how simple this game is. As the 2016 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winner, it would be easy to expect pages of complicated rules, decks of complicated cards, and a variety of plastic bits and bobbins. Kingdomino comes only with the essentials, in a box just big enough to hold the stack of cardboard dominos, some tiny castles and a handful of meeples. This lean design philosophy permeates the game, and I was amazed at how big this small-box game could feel.

Some proud property owners showing off their new homes.

There’s no getting around it, Kingdomino is a reinvention of the classic tile-laying game. Dominos can be great fun, and it’s still extremely popular all over the world, but Kingdomino manages to take the basic premise of tile-matching, layer in some fascinating new mechanics, some interaction with other players, and a light fantasy theme that fits the game perfectly. Instead of numbers, dominos are graced with different kinds of terrain. Grasslands, lakes, plains, forests, swamps and mountains are beautifully rendered and brought to life through thoughtful little details like meandering sheep, sunny windmills and even the odd shadow of a dragon passing overhead. The game looks fantastic, and it makes building your kingdom all the more enjoyable.

Kingdomino takes about fifteen minutes to play, and most of that entire time will be spent laying the dominos that make up your kingdom. The usual dominos rules apply, each new domino must be placed so that it matches an already placed domino on at least one side; matching large contiguous sections of the same terrain is actually the main way to score points. The tricky part is that you have to contain your kingdom to a five by five grid, which means you will have, at most, twelve turns to place your dominos. This means every turn is critical, and early tile placement shapes your entire game as you scramble to find a fit for everything in your kingdom.

Proud royalty with a beautiful kingdom and mostly sheep for subjects. I think I accidentally made Wales.

The other part of the game is choosing which domino to play each turn. Kingdomino adds a lot of strategy into the game by turning that simple decision into a creative game mechanic. Every domino has a number from one to forty-eight on the back; the dominos with higher numbers tend to be better, containing point-scoring crowns, or mixed terrains that are easier to build with. Every turn, before everyone takes their dominos, the dominos for the next round are drawn and placed in order from lowest to highest. The person who takes the lowest-numbered domino in one round picks theirs up first, then puts their King meeple on any of the dominos for the next round. This proceeds until every player has chosen a new domino- either a low value domino so they can take their pick of dominos for the next round, or a high value domino that can score lots of points at the cost of having options. This means going for the most valuable domino can often backfire on you, leaving you with a poorly fitting domino in the next round and costing you big points down the line. This mechanic makes every decision in Kingdomino seem weighty and important, and you can see the consequences of these actions almost immediately, since a game takes less than twenty minutes.

The wonderful art really brings your kingdom to life. The sheep are delightful.

Kingdomino has been a bonafide sensation since it came onto the scene in 2016, cementing itself as a titan in the genre. Blue Orange also released a brilliant expansion (Age of Giants), a fantastic two-player version with unique roll-and-write mechanics (Kingdomino: Duel), as well as a full-fledged sequel, the aptly named Queendomino, which is bigger and better than the original. It’s easy to see why Kingdomino is so successful; it’s perfectly balanced between easy-to-learn and hard-to-master, and it serves as a perfect introduction to hobby board games. Inviting, engaging, colourful, creative, and appealing to all ages, Kingdomino is an absolute gem of a game, and it deserves a spot in every collection.

Distributed by Outset Media for Blue Orange Games in Canada only