Euros are better with dice!
In the square kingdom orthogonality is the rule and Reiner Kinzia is the king of mathematics. Anyone who's played other games designed by Knizia are in for a déjà vu experience. Kingdoms is a light tile placing game hinged entirely on mechanics; the theme, although nicely carried in the components, is completely gratuitous. But, as with other Knizia games, Kingdoms doesn't need a theme – it's a fun romp through light probability theory with the added bonus of being able to sabotage for other players.
Play time: 30 minutes
Game weight: light to medium light
Version reviewed: Fantasy Flight Games
Price (nov 2006): US $15-$25, Europe €15-€20
Kingdoms comes in a typical Fantasy Flight small game box; sturdy, with decent graphics and it will fit in any bookshelf.
Inside are two types of tiles, square point tiles (depicting towns for positive scoring tiles and monsters for negative scoring tiles) and octagonal player markers depicting castles. They are made from thick cardboard and are easy to handle, don't bend, break or tear with normal handling and are relatively easy to shuffle. The only con is that player markers have graphics based on their value and not the player color, which has caused some trouble for one of our color blind players.
There are also some point markers (looking like coins) ranging from 1 to 100 points.
The object of Kingdoms is to accumulate as many points as possible by placing your castles in highly scoring rows and columns. Each turn a player gets to either draw and place a random tile on the board (whose score ranges from +6 to -6) or place one of their castles. There are also a few special tiles that negate all positive values, double all scores or split a row or column into two.
Each player castle has a multiplier, ranging from one to four, with the higher multipliers being rarer. Each castle scores as many points as the sum of the points in its row and column multiplied by its multiplier. This makes optimal placement of your castles the key to winning a game. Timing is very important, if you place your castles too early you run the risk that opposing players will fill your rows with negative value tiles and if you wait too long the big scoring junctions will already be filled.
This gives cause to some serious soul searching. Should one risk placing a high multiplier castle in a high scoring row early, running the risk of getting a negative scoring column thus negating the castles value? Also, the game is played over three rounds and high multiplier castles are discarded after use which makes their placement an even tenser decision. After all, there might be a better slot for them in the next round.
The good thing is that there are more positive than negative scoring tiles and you can surmise how high a risk you run by looking at what's already on the board. Thus you can always make an educated guess about whether to place your high scoring castles or not.
There is also room for a surprising amount of player interaction and negative and destructive tiles become much debated over as every player tries to influence their placement.
With its short duration and moderate trickiness Kingdoms is a great filler for early in the evening. Although it is designated as a two to four player game it should be played with four players, when it shines. With three players it's still good but with two it's only decent and barely fun. Kingdoms relies heavily on interaction for player enjoyment and that dimension is nearly lost in a two player game.