Donald X. Vaccarino had a pretty good couple of years from 2010 to 2012. His smash hit Dominion changed the world of board games and created the deck building genre. Fresh off a Spiel des Jarhes win and a number of expansions for Dominion came his hotly anticipated next title, Kingdom Builder.
I have to admit that I was super excited about this game. I played a great deal of Dominion and I couldn’t wait to see what Vaccarino would produce next. The first time I tried it, Kingdom Builder underwhelmed me. The rules seemed pretty simple (any TV host or producer should be able to figure them out) and I wasn’t too impressed with the depth. When Vaccarino won his second SDJ in three years I was pretty surprised. Possibly it was my anticipation, but KB just wasn’t a hit for me…at least not right away. It took me a few plays to realize that it was the simplicity of this game that makes it great.
In KB you’re, well, building your kingdom. The first neat thing about this game is that the board is set up differently each time you play. It consists of four of the eight different landscape tiles provided, that can be put together countless different ways. Each board is made up of different terrain types; desert, garden, forest, grassland, crevasse, mountains and lakes. Also each board will have a castle and some special locations.
On a turn players will reveal a card from a deck that indicates some kind of terrain. They can then lay down three of their settlements on that type of terrain. If possible they must build their settlements beside at least one of their other existing settlements. Settlements can’t be placed on lakes or mountains.
Now that’s the meat of of the game right there. Players will continue until the round that someone runs out of settlements. The current round will be completed and scores will be added. Here’s where I think it really gets interesting. At the start of each game, three characters will be drawn and they will indicate the scoring conditions. For example, the Fishermen will reward you with one gold (point) for each settlement that is beside at least one water hex or the Miners, who will earn you a gold for each settlement next to at least one mountain. Some of the more complicated characters offer more points in return, like the Merchants, who gives you four gold for connecting castles and location hexes or the Lords that rewards you for controlling different sectors.
The characters that come up will help to determine how you play in an effort to maximize the points you get for each round of play. The locations will affect how you are able to play out your settlements. Each of the eight board has a different special type of location on it. In one or two hexes on the board there will be location hexes piled and once players have placed at least one settlement next to the location hex, they can take the associated tile. This gives them a special ability that they can use once per turn. For example the Oasis tile will allow you to build an extra settlement on a desert hex after placing your three for that round, the Tavern allows you to build another settlement at the end of a line of three of your own. You can acquire several different location tiles and use each of them on your turn. It can be a great way to get out extra settlements, but unless those settlements are worth points to you, there’s no reason to bother. You want everything you put down on the board to be earning you gold.
Finally there’s castles. Very simply, castles are give 3 gold to each player that has at least one settlement touching it.
That’s Kingdom Builder. The beauty is in seeing the relationship between the board layout, character cards and special locations. The better you’re able to do that the better you’ll do in the game. KB teaches an important lesson, at least to me, you should always give games a few play throughs before falling in love with them or dismissing them completely. Like a good book or a fine wine, sometimes games better with age.
You hit it right on the head. The game as a whole (mechanisms, board, character cards) adds up to a wonderful game. The expansions make the game even more interesting. Scoring during the game, using stones to block off hexes, the one time use nomad tiles, all of it makes the game even better.