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Subject: Kingdoms - So What's Not To Like? rss

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Joe Grundy
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I'll play almost anything, once. How much further play the game sees is largely about how much I don't like it. When it comes down to it most games are at least playable. So this review will start with a game description, move to what I don't like, and finish with whatever I think is outstanding.

So...


Kingdoms
How's your linear algebra / matrix multiplication?

Take turns placing values of -6 to +6 into a 5x6 grid, or placing one of your scoring markers. At the end of each round each scoring marker scores x1 to x4 the total of the row and column it's in.

Hey look! There's castles and ogres and things painted on the pieces! (I wonder what that's for?)


If you reckon you know your way around how Kingdoms works, you can skip the Contents and Rules Overview, and go down to the guts of Notes On Play Feel, What's Not To Like, and What Stands Out.


Contents
(Fantasy Flight edition)
+ The board ... four giant interlocking jigsaw pieces which make a grid of 5 x 6 squares.
+ Monochrome rulebook in seven (!) languages. Each language is two pages.
+ Eighteen Value Tiles (2 ea of 1 to 6, 1 ea of -1 to -6) and four Special Tiles (2 "mountains", 1 "gold mine", 1 "dragon")
+ Player's Scoring Markers, which are multipliers... four colours each having four x1s, three x2s, two x3s, and one x4
+ Victory point Gold counters (cardboard disks)



Production quality is really really basic, but it'll do. Everything is heavy cardboard. Printing is misaligned, the colour quality is fairly poor. The (unrelated) fantasy/medievil artwork is dark and brooding and for me detracts from playing the game.

I find the box inset pretty much useless.

The rules are simple (elegant?) enough that it would have been hard to get the rulebook wrong.


Kingdoms Rules Overview (You can of course skip this bit.)

Objective score the most points total over three rounds.

The board is a 5x6 grid of squares. In each round, each square will end up with one Tile or Scoring Marker in it. Each round ends when the grid is full.

Setup is really quick. Choose a colour each, take the player's Scoring Markers of your colour, assemble the jigsaw board (ok maybe setup isn't quick) and take some start victory points (because it's possible to score negative). Each player takes one face down Tile, looks at it and keeps it secret from the other players. The remaining Value and Special Tiles are placed face down near the board as a draw pile.




Each turn a player puts one thing on the board. Any one of
+ A Tile drawn randomly from the remaining Tile draw pile (which will be either a Value Tile or a Special Tile)
+ Their secret Tile (not secret once played, and the player doesn't draw a new secret Tile)
+ One of their remaining Scoring Markers

Although there's not much choice in what to play, the player chooses which vacant space in the grid to play into.

Players take turns until the grid is full. The grid is then scored. Each Scoring Marker is worth its multiplier times the total value on the Tiles in the same row and column as the Scoring Marker. (This might be negative.)

After scoring, any x2 to x4 Scoring Markers that were played are removed from the game, and the Setup is (otherwise) completely reset for the next round. (Players can re-use x1 Scoring Markers in subsequent rounds.)


Special Tiles...
Mountains block the flow of scoring. A Score Marker doesn't score any Value Tile that's "on the other side" of a mountain.

Dragon cancels the value of any positive Value Tiles in its row or column. Negative Tiles still score. Correction: Note the Tiles are not affected for scoring as they appear in other rows and columns, only the total for the Dragon row and column are affected.

Gold Mine doubles the Value Tiles in its row and column. Correction: Again, the Tiles are unaffected regarding other rows and columns, only the total for the row and column containing the Gold Mine are affected.




Variants are included in the rulebook.


Notes On Play Feel
Kingdoms is kind of like tic-tac-toe on steroids with stock options and bonus spinners thrown in for good measure. I shouldn't say "thrown in" since the inclusion of the Special Tiles is by no means casual but is carefully calculated in the usual Knizia style.

Each Tile changes the potential Value along an entire row and column, and that row/column may cross another high potential column/row. But any time you set up a high potential location in the grid, your opponent/s get first crack at it. You cannot usually deliberately set up a winning combination for yourself during most of play. The only mitigations to this are...
+ in a two player game... Note that a high scoring Tile at row 3 col 2 creates joint potential twice with a high scoring Tile at row 5 col 6... the two points being row 3 col 6 and row 5 col 2. In a 2P game you and your opponent can get one each.
+ near the end of a round, you can see what Tiles are remaining and who can play where. Sometimes there's an opportunity to exploit the Tiles running out forcing people to play Scoring Markers, or situations where all remaining Tiles are eg negative.

Like a massively complicated tic-tac-toe, Kingdoms can be largely a game of reactive survival. Don't open high-leverage possibilities, and don't expose yourself to high-leverage vacant spaces (unless most/all the -ve Value Tiles are already played.) Most playing seems to be about leaving the board as balanced as possible, and then jumping in with an appropriate Score Marker on the rare occassions when your opponent is forced to unbalance the board. You can try to set up highly negative potential spaces and force your opponent to play a Score Marker, but it's hard to engineer deliberately.


So What's Not To Like?
Personally I'm currently avoiding this game. Here's some possible niggles...

It's Completely Abstract / Dry. Q: Why did they even bother to theme this? A: Because even for an abstract game this would be dry dry dry. As dry as the game "Sprouts" in a drought.

The Artwork Sucks is Unappealing. Entirely a subjective opinion of course.

Is it Random? I still haven't worked out if the random elements totally dominate this game. Sure, it feels like I'm probably making meaningful choices, but the choices are pretty much driven by just trying to survive. You can't afford to offer anything on the board in Kingdoms. You can't set up a future win. And the first time you get a bum Tile it's all there for your opponent. Or they happen to draw the Dragon just when you put out your x4.

Analysis Paralysis can easily happen here, as you try to work out if perhaps you can set up a future win. Surely it must be possible... it's so clearly a mathematical game.

It's Another Knizia. Yeah, one of those. It's 120% maths and 30% spatial. (Maybe you can guess why I don't enjoy this so much?)

Why Is It Even Boxed? You can set this up in Excel pretty easily.

Very Strong Player Order Binding. The player after the poorest player should usually win. For me that makes it a 2P game.

You Don't Win. You don't win at Kingdoms. You just try to be the player that did the least losing.


So What Stands Out?

Brain Burning analysis is a distinct possibility. Sure you can "knock this out" in about 20 minutes, but you can also lapse into deep contemplation of the potentials on the board.

Quick and Light is also a distinct possibility. If you choose to yield your psyche to the random forces at work then much responsibility is off your shoulders and you can take an approach of "I'm Lady Luck's partner... I'll do what I can with what she gives me".

It's a Knizia. You can be sure the maths is right.

My Wife Asks To Play! Ok my wife is not your partner. But any game that can prompt her to ask for a play gets at least a little thumbs up in my book. I think this is because the rules are plain enough that she got comfortable with them quickly. She wins her share.

Portability is pretty good. The box is small enough already. You can even play this on a plane on your way to Egypt. (Or wherever you're going.) (Experience suggests that for plane trips you should leave the "gold" counters at home and score on paper.)

Socially Acceptable or perhaps even a newbie "draw". I took this to the office one day and three different people wanted to know about it. (Albeit that I work in a financial institution among actuaries.) From there I was able to introduce some more fun things.



Overall... well you probably caught my drift by now. It's mathematically interesting, frustratingly tantalising in teasing you with the idea you can set up a win, finely balanced in its basic framework to the extent that the Special Tiles can sometimes be killers. This game begs more brain burning analytics than I want to give to something which I think is so dominated by luck. Kudos to those who can play it as a light game... that's probably the way to enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, I can play a game or two. But I choose something else.
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mrbass
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jgrundy wrote:


Although there's not much choice in what to play, the player chooses which vacant space in the grid to play into.

Is it Random? I still haven't worked out if the random elements totally dominate this game. Sure, it feels like I'm probably making meaningful choices, but the choices are pretty much driven by just trying to survive. You can't afford to offer anything on the board in Kingdoms. You can't set up a future win. And the first time you get a bum Tile it's all there for your opponent. Or they happen to draw the Dragon just when you put out your x4.

It's Another Knizia. Yeah, one of those. It's 120% maths and 30% spatial. (Maybe you can guess why I don't enjoy this so much?)

Very Strong Player Order Binding. The player after the poorest player should usually win. For me that makes it a 2P game.

You Don't Win. You don't win at Kingdoms. You just try to be the player that did the least losing.

Overall... well you probably caught my drift by now. It's mathematically interesting, frustratingly tantalising in teasing you with the idea you can set up a win, finely balanced in its basic framework to the extent that the Special Tiles can sometimes be killers. This game begs more brain burning analytics than I want to give to something which I think is so dominated by luck. Kudos to those who can play it as a light game... that's probably the way to enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, I can play a game or two. But I choose something else.


I agree with your sentiments above 100%. It definitely feels like it's a cool game but honestly there isn't many choices to make. The choices before you are pretty obvious what you should do. Definitely way too chaotic 3 or 4 player. 2 player still it's pretty much luck of the draw. The randomness is for replayability but it destroys it in the process unfortunately as I like the calculation aspect of it.

I guess people who play it like Diamant would enjoy this game but playing an abstract game I don't particularly enjoy playing it that way. I love Diamant though.
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Daniel Val
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Awesome review! Congratulations!
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Joe Grundy
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Thanks for all the positive feedback.
 
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Joe Grundy
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Note: Corrections have been made in the fiddly details of scoring relating to Dragon and Gold Mine tiles. If scored that the Dragon and Gold Mine only affect the totals for their own row and column than the full example included in the rule book adds correctly.
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Mark Haberman
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I disagree about it being random. You really need to know how to set it up so you have a good play for any tile you come across. I probably win 75% of my 3-player games on here. I can easily spend 5 minutes deciding where to put a tile when playing online.

I especially like the cooperative aspects of the game.
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Christopher Rao
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Q:When I say "lawyer" what pops into your head? A:Someone who designs games about penguins." - Dormammu
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Excellent, very tightly written review. I gotta learn to write as pithily as you do.

topher
 
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Matt Connellan
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So, from what I'm reading here, it's EXACTLY like Knizia's Beowulf: The Movie board game? I mean, it sounds like almost the exact same game.
 
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Justin
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Pintsizepete wrote:
So, from what I'm reading here, it's EXACTLY like Knizia's Beowulf: The Movie board game? I mean, it sounds like almost the exact same game.


http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/29308/beowulf-the-mov...

"This is a reworking of the game: Kingdoms"

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