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Subject: Kingdom Builder: My Kingdom Come rss

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Neil Robinson
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I originally posted this on my Troll in the Corner column - Three Ring Circus. I've added this as a reply to the review recently posted: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1194640/marmite-board-ga...

There are many kinds of love in the world. Perhaps none stranger than a man’s love for cardboard. Can an inanimate object really inspire love? Good heavens no! Even I would draw the line at that, but when the discussion is about a sweet little board game named Kingdom Builder, my emotions run high. Is there a chance that this review will be biased, you ask? Most certainly not! I retort in a tone reserved for the times when asked if I took the last biscuit in the tin.*

Designer Donald X Vaccarino really set the bar high when he created Dominion, the game that introduced the world to the concept of deck-building. Mr V’s follow up is Kingdom Builder, a game that asks you to carve out a territory in just over 30 minutes. Unlike Dominion, it has a board and rather than a fat deck of cards, offers just one card to ponder. Where the two show a common heritage, is in offering millions of different starting setups.

Contents
In my experience, Queen Games produce games with high quality components and Kingdom Builder is no exception. It comes with 8 hex boards, 28 location tiles, 160 wooden settlements, score markers, terrain cards and Kingdom Builder cards. The boards are heavy and cut to slot together, making a 2*2 square play area.

Going for gold
Players are competing to earn the most gold, for which read points. The points are gained by building towards the goals set by the chosen Kingdom cards. See some of the example goals in the picture below.

Setup
1). Five steps are going to see you set up and playing:
2). Pick four of the boards and put them together in any combination. This is the land you will be conquering.
3). Place the special powers tiles that will be used onto the board.
4). Draw three Kingdom Builder cards at random. These define the goals of the game.
5). Grab your settlements.
6). Shuffle the terrain cards and draw one each.
[/floatleft][/floatleft]

Play
The boards have five playable terrains; Fields, Desert, Forest, Canyons and Flowers and two that are unplayable; water and mountains. The terrain card you have drawn will be one of those shown above. On your turn, you place three settlements onto the terrain of your card and draw a new one ready for the next turn. That is the game; card - settlements - card - settlements. Or that would be the game, (barely a game you might think), were it not for the carrot and stick.

The stick is adjacency. Whenever you build into a terrain type, you have to build next to your own settlements where possible. In the worst case you could find yourself settling a large forest for a few turns and not scoring well. Adjacency is a pair of lead boots spoiling your afternoon stroll. It hampers you, but careful placement will be rewarded. Get your opening moves right and the options open up in the rest of the game.
The carrot is the location tiles which add once per turn powers. These allow settlements to be moved or added in a number of different ways. They are used either before or after you place your settlements. The powers challenge you to be creative, to combine them together and time their use to get around the restrictions of the adjacency rule and the terrain draw.

Play carries on until one player exhausts their supply of forty settlements. Each goal is scored with extra points for settling next to a city.

Playing with Three
Kingdom Builder plays 2-4. As the number of players increases, scoring gets harder and blocking more important. Playing with three is super-fine, but four is more of a challenge.
Nomads, the first expansion, adds a red fifth player for an even tighter game. How does a major game get released without a red player set? Goodness only knows.

How easy is it to teach the game?
Kingdom Builder should be easy to teach. “Pick a terrain card, play three settlements to that terrain type, no you need to play adjacent, no ad-ja-cent”. OK, once you have worked out what adjacent means, playing is fine. There are a couple of fiddly rules, (for example a fisherman can’t score when he is in the water), but that is about it.
Where the work comes, is in explaining how to work the system to your advantage. Making sure the very first placement of the game doesn’t limit options and making best use of the powers.

Can complexity be scaled?
Some cherry picking of the objectives is worth considering. Merchants, Explorers, Workers and Miners all offer a straightforward induction.

Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?
I have tried two handicapping methods, a points lead for my son and allowing him to take two turns before anyone else. A points lead didn’t really cut the mustard, (incidentally, what doesn’t cut the mustard? Was it a hard substance in the past, like a spicy diamond?) It felt like a copout.. The extra turns option was much better and allowed everyone to feel genuinely competitive.

How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?
Scoring takes place at the end, so a midpoint grump fest is not likely. Having said that, there has been unhappiness when scoring takes place because of the realisation, as each Kingdom card is scored, that you are going to fall short.

Beyond the game
We’ve worked through the maths behind the number of possible combinations and made our heads hurt.

What do I think?
So far on my gaming journey I have uncovered very few games that I actively dislike, but as I play more, I recognise what will set me humming like a tuning fork. Games that do this will have tiles and offer a puzzle. I think it’s the building aspect that appeals. To that end, Suburbia, Alhambra, Carcassonne and Dominion, (which is building of a sort), all count as firm favourites.

Kingdom Builder is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite game. When I play, there might as well be a neon sign above my head saying, “Building a diminutive empire and loving it.” It is a dry game and as close to abstract as you can get without being abstract, but not every game has to have dragon miniatures.

There is a real elegance to the design that says, “Here’s a scenario, some simple rules and a few tools. Now go and play”. You might even call it a sandbox game. So what are the 1.7 million variations going to offer you this time? Perhaps the landscape will have a river running through it, an island or a lovely area of flowers. The Kingdom Card targets could offer great synergy, or be at odds with each other, and then there are the selection of action tokens teasing you to extract the most out of their limited gifts.

Does drawing a single terrain card bring unwelcome randomness into the game? I don’t think so. The game is built around it and working with what you are given is part of the challenge. If the worst comes to the worst, the game is over in less than 45 minutes and you can play again.
I’m going out on a limb here, (one that many people would gladly cut off if only to stop me talking about this game), I think Kingdom Builder is a future classic. A game that will be hailed as a great, long after some of its contemporaries have been forgotten.

*I did, sorry.
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Michael Oliver
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Nice! I feel pretty much the same way about Kingdom Builder, and the expansions.

Nomads adds a red player (So, I had to get that one...)

Crossroads really adds some excellent gameplay options.
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Neil Robinson
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Thanks Michael, I have both expansions and my only problem with the game is lack of playing opportunities.
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John Bandettini
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I was in Buxton a few weeks ago, if only I had known.
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Frank Hamrick
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KB is right up there with the best IMO. But so many too quickly dismiss the became because of a perceived "the luck of the draw" problem.

But this game requires several plays (at least for some) before the beauty of the game begins to shine. And many are not willing to try 'several plays' to see the greater depth of the game.

I see this game in the same vein as Attika and Hacienda. All three are games with simple rules and simple mechanics, but with lots of subtle strategies.

It's always refreshing to find players who see the true beauty of KB. Thanks for your review.
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Neil Robinson
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JohnBandettini wrote:
I was in Buxton a few weeks ago, if only I had known.


Ah well,another time.

I hope you enjoyed Buxton and didn't find cause to use your coat or umbrella.
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Luke Hector
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This game is going to basically come down to a decision that players have to make about the game in general - do you like the idea of drawing only one card and having that dictate your whole turn? If yes, then the game will be fun for them because as you say, it's easy to teach and play. If no, then the game is just going to frustrate you beyond belief. For me, I'm the latter, I respect the game for being popular and entertaining a lot of players, but I can't stand this game!

Many will like you more for going down the "like" route though - the minute you post negatively about a game, you're burned at the stake for being a witch! whistle

Though I will say this after reading the comments. No game should require 6+ plays before you discover that the game is good. This is a simple abstract game, pretty easy to suss out. If the game doesn't captivate you from the first or MAX second play, it's failed its mission. Do you taste a piece of cheese, hate it and then decide you should eat another 6 blocks of the same cheese in case it "grows" on you?
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Russ Williams
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farmergiles wrote:
This game is going to basically come down to a decision that players have to make about the game in general - do you like the idea of drawing only one card and having that dictate your whole turn?

Saying that it "dictates your whole turn" is hyperbole which makes it sound like you have no decisions to make after drawing your card.

You could just as well assert that in Carcassonne "drawing only one tile" dictates your whole turn.

Yet you dislike KB and like C. Which is fine. But clearly your reason for disliking KB can't be the drawing only one card on your turn, otherwise you'd dislike Carcassonne doing the exact same thing.
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David B
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I like Kingdom Builder but I traded it away. The problem, for me, was that at the 2, or even 3, player count, player interaction was a bit too low for a game with such a big emphasis on spatial relations. At the 4 player count, the interaction is perfect and can be vicious. But at 2 or 3, players can stay away from each other too easily.

If you like Kingdom Builder, another game that has some similarities, especially in the simplicity of placement, check out China.
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John Bandettini
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Luke

I am pretty sure no one was taking you to task for not liking Kingdom Builder, what they were taking you to task for was claiming things in your review that were inaccurate and just plain wrong.

As you see the card draw as dictating your whole turn and not the opportunity of pursuing the goals of the game I guess you are never going to get this game. Be assured though that many do get it and enjoy it very much.

As for the 6 plays question. I rated it a 10 and put it as my number 1 rated game after 2 plays. (It was 2 plays because we enjoyed the first one so much we played it a second time straight away) Two and a half years and 60 plays later I have no reason to change that assessment.
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David B
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farmergiles wrote:

Though I will say this after reading the comments. No game should require 6+ plays before you discover that the game is good. This is a simple abstract game, pretty easy to suss out. If the game doesn't captivate you from the first or MAX second play, it's failed its mission. Do you taste a piece of cheese, hate it and then decide you should eat another 6 blocks of the same cheese in case it "grows" on you?



It depends a bit on the length of a game. If it is a 2+ hour game and I do not like it on first try, I won't play again. But with shorter games (which KB is) and fillers, I am much more willing to give it several tries. If it is a game with mechanisms I usually like and I can identify reasons my first play was not enjoyable that may have been due to factors other than the game, I would probably try it again even if the length of the game was of the longer variety.
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Luke Hector
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JohnBandettini wrote:
Luke

I am pretty sure no one was taking you to task for not liking Kingdom Builder, what they were taking you to task for was claiming things in your review that were inaccurate and just plain wrong.

As you see the card draw as dictating your whole turn and not the opportunity of pursuing the goals of the game I guess you are never going to get this game. Be assured though that many do get it and enjoy it very much.


And many people can/will enjoy it and I'm pleased for that. Isn't that point of board games in general. Though the whole "plain wrong" thing, that's again merely a subjective thing usually written by those who like the game and don't like it been hated. I know people who don't like Sentinels of the Multiverse, a game I really like, but I don't say that their opinion of why they don't like it is just "plain wrong" - agree to disagree, build a bridge, walk over it and enjoy playing games!

Wished I'd mentioned the player interaction thing though that David just did, that's another issue I have - you have no interaction other than blocking.

Carcassonne is similar in the "draw 1 tile" aspect. But you always have a good option with that tile and usually about 7-10 different places you can place it after the early game is concluded. You also see a nice map be created that's always different from game to game. Many key differences there.

Interesting point David on the "plays" thing. I only started logging plays last Autumn so they aren't accurate of "all time" which is a shame as everyone latches on to those figures. But I want those hours spent on the 5-10 plays of this back!
 
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Nate Milbrath
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farmergiles wrote:
Carcassonne is similar in the "draw 1 tile" aspect. But you always have a good option with that tile and usually about 7-10 different places you can place it after the early game is concluded. You also see a nice map be created that's always different from game to game. Many key differences there.

Except if you set yourself up right in Kingdom Builder, you run into the exact same situation you do in Carcassonne. Proper placement of houses lead to those options and even if you get yourself "stuck", bonus tiles can really get you out of a jam. I've seen some rather clever plays with bonus tiles that opened up 7-10 different places to build houses.

I understand if people find this game boring or if they just don't care for it, but I often see this game associated with lack of decision making that I find blatantly false.
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Luke Hector
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"Set yourself up right" - an interesting concept in KB. In the early game you don't have those bonus tokens, hell I even won my first game without ANY bonus tokens - I didn't need any, I drew the terrain cards I needed and nabbed all the castles.

But in those first few turns, because you don't have access to those tokens, you are literally doing what the deck says. The deck may decide you will never get any tokens because you simply don't draw the terrain card that allows you to place a house there in the first place. Several games I remember one player getting all the bonus tokens from his first few card draws and then just steamrolling the game from that point on. He had plenty of decisions to make, the rest of us didn't!
 
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Fernando Robert Yu
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Most players can get a bonus token in their first few placements, you know...often times in your first move...

Especially horses..I love them horses..
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farmergiles wrote:
But in those first few turns, because you don't have access to those tokens, you are literally doing what the deck says.
In the first turns the fact that you have little or no bonus tiles is compensated by the fact that there are many terrains you don't border.

Quote:
The deck may decide you will never get any tokens because you simply don't draw the terrain card that allows you to place a house there in the first place.
This can't happen as every map section has 4 or 5 terrains that border a location.
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Daniel Kearns
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farmergiles wrote:
"Set yourself up right" - an interesting concept in KB. In the early game you don't have those bonus tokens, hell I even won my first game without ANY bonus tokens - I didn't need any, I drew the terrain cards I needed and nabbed all the castles.

...

The deck may decide you will never get any tokens because you simply don't draw the terrain card that allows you to place a house there in the first place.


Okay, something is wrong.

First, there is just no way you could beat competent opponents with no tokens.

Second, if you've played an entire game without getting tokens, you are making some very poor choices in house placement.

Simply put, I've never seen either of these things happen.
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Luke Hector
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Never said the opponents were competent in the first game!
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that Matt
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farmergiles wrote:
Though I will say this after reading the comments. No game should require 6+ plays before you discover that the game is good. This is a simple abstract game, pretty easy to suss out. If the game doesn't captivate you from the first or MAX second play, it's failed its mission. Do you taste a piece of cheese, hate it and then decide you should eat another 6 blocks of the same cheese in case it "grows" on you?

Yeah, I do. The list of things that I've disliked but tried a lot until I grew to appreciate them includes beer, white wine, coffee, Oreos, dark chocolate, dill pickles, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chess, and Carcassonne... despite each of these things failing in their missions to be immediately delicious/fun.
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Neil Robinson
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dkearns wrote:
farmergiles wrote:
"Set yourself up right" - an interesting concept in KB. In the early game you don't have those bonus tokens, hell I even won my first game without ANY bonus tokens - I didn't need any, I drew the terrain cards I needed and nabbed all the castles.

...

The deck may decide you will never get any tokens because you simply don't draw the terrain card that allows you to place a house there in the first place.


Okay, something is wrong.

First, there is just no way you could beat competent opponents with no tokens.

Second, if you've played an entire game without getting tokens, you are making some very poor choices in house placement.

Simply put, I've never seen either of these things happen.


I really am enjoying the discussion here, all of it argued much better than I could.

Farmergiles, it really seems like you have put yourself in an indefensible position. To win a game without any tokens would be like winning King of Tokyo without a full set of dice. It suggests you haven't given the game your full attention.

I think it's fine to publish a review, but to do so without exploring how to play the game is a little like reviewing a film where you only watch the first 10 minutes. It's less a review and more an opinion with a hatchet.
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Rick Teverbaugh
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farmergiles wrote:
Never said the opponents were competent in the first game!


But the way you win or lose with incompetent players says far less about the game and more about the players.
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firepile wrote:
dkearns wrote:
farmergiles wrote:
"Set yourself up right" - an interesting concept in KB. In the early game you don't have those bonus tokens, hell I even won my first game without ANY bonus tokens - I didn't need any, I drew the terrain cards I needed and nabbed all the castles.

...

The deck may decide you will never get any tokens because you simply don't draw the terrain card that allows you to place a house there in the first place.


Okay, something is wrong.

First, there is just no way you could beat competent opponents with no tokens.

Second, if you've played an entire game without getting tokens, you are making some very poor choices in house placement.

Simply put, I've never seen either of these things happen.


I really am enjoying the discussion here, all of it argued much better than I could.

Farmergiles, it really seems like you have put yourself in an indefensible position. To win a game without any tokens would be like winning King of Tokyo without a full set of dice. It suggests you haven't given the game your full attention.

I think it's fine to publish a review, but to do so without exploring how to play the game is a little like reviewing a film where you only watch the first 10 minutes. It's less a review and more an opinion with a hatchet.


People think they can say anything they want if it is labeled as a review and none of it can be wrong. That just isn't true. The quality of reviews would get a major upgrade if more people were of the opinion that reviews are only of value when they are written with bias or outrageous expectations and are done by people who understand the game being reviewed.
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Luke Hector
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Funny how the word bias only gets mentioned when talking about negative reviews.. . . . Just saying. . .

From rough memory I think this clocked in about seven games, max ten. I recall a peeps it got played loads at a club but now I never see it being played. I think ten plays is pretty good enough to make a decision about a game. If you disagree, fine, I don't mind, army of one. You do end up finding out just how many people out there can't construct a argument to rebute without being insulting.
 
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Luke Hector
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Also can you give an example of a review where someone has specifically stated that they can't be wrong because that's a bold claim if I ever heard one.
 
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farmergiles wrote:
Funny how the word bias only gets mentioned when talking about negative reviews.. . . . Just saying. . .

From rough memory I think this clocked in about seven games, max ten. I recall a peeps it got played loads at a club but now I never see it being played. I think ten plays is pretty good enough to make a decision about a game. If you disagree, fine, I don't mind, army of one. You do end up finding out just how many people out there can't construct a argument to rebute without being insulting.


The problem is that you played the game very badly. I'm not saying that's why you don't like the game. I'm saying that's why you think your card dictates your entire turn, which it doesn't, not by a mile.

I can't think of a way to say, "You are bad at this game," without sounding insulting. But it's not meant as an insult. Just a point of fact. And it's important to understand that if you're NOT bad at the game, you have tons of options each turn.
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