Kingdoms is a unique tile-laying game designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Fantasy Flight Games. The premise of the game is to collect gold by placing your castles near valuable resources while avoiding the hazardous areas. While it’s not even remotely a wargame, the game has lots of conflict and a large “screwage” factor.
Out of the Box
Kingdoms was designed for two to four players. It plays well with two, but I think it is best with three or four. Playing time is listed at 20 to 40 minutes and that about nails it; most of our games have finished in 30 minutes or less. Components include a gameboard, 12 resource tiles, 6 hazard tiles, 2 mountain tiles, 1 gold mine tile, 1 dragon tile, 4 colored sets of 10 castle tiles, 1 epoch counter, and numerous gold counters. While the tiles and counters were fine, I was disappointed with the gameboard. It consists of 4 fairly thin cardboard pieces that interlock together like a puzzle, forming a 5 x 6 checkerboard type grid; it’s functional but I’d prefer your basic fold down the middle gameboard, even if it does have a valley. While the nice art complements the castles/knights theme, the theme is clearly pasted on and has nothing to do with the game. In fact, Kingdoms is a re-theming of Knizia’s Auf Heller und Pfennig which was the same game but with a medieval marketplace theme. Of the two themes, I think I prefer the castles.
The board is assembled and put in a central playing area. Each player picks a color and collects the castle tiles of their chosen color (red, blue, yellow, green). In each color, there are four rank 1 castles, three rank 2 castles, two rank 3 castles, and one rank 4 castle. Each player will take all the rank 2, 3, and 4 castles but the number of rank 1 castles taken depends upon the number of players. Put the gold counters to one side of the board to form a bank and give each player 50 gold. Mix all the non-castle tiles together and place them face down to form a draw pile (we put ‘em in the box top). Each player draws one tile, looks at it, and places it face-down in front of him/her. The epoch counter is then placed on the Epoch I space and play begins. The starting player is chosen randomly.
During each turn, you can do 1 of 3 actions: place one of your castle tiles, draw and place a tile, or place your secret tile (the one you drew at the beginning of the epoch). Play continues until all the spaces on the gameboard are full of tiles. When this happens, the current epoch comes to an end and each person’s castles are scored.
When you place a tile on the board, it becomes both part of a row and part of column. Each castle is scored based on the tiles in their row and their columns. Resource tiles have positive numbers on them while hazard tiles have negative numbers. The gold mine tile doubles the total sum of the resource and hazard tiles in its row and column. The dragon tile disregards all resource tiles in both its row and column, so only the hazard tiles would be totaled. The mountain tiles, when placed, divide the column and row into two columns and two rows, with each being scored separately. Another score modifier is the castles themselves; you multiply the score of each row and column of your castle by the rank. For example, if you have a total of 10 points in a row with a rank 3 castle, you’d get 30 gold; however, if in that same castle’s column, there was a total of -7 points, you’d lose 21 gold, so that castle would net you a total of 9 gold. Once you score a castle, remove it from the board and score the next one.
Once all castles have been scored, then all of the rank 1 castle tiles are given back to each player but each rank 2, 3, and 4 castles that were placed in that epoch are discarded. The rest of the tiles are mixed back together and placed back in the draw pile and each player draws a secret tile. The epoch counter is advanced one space, and play for the next epoch begins. After the third epoch is scored, the game ends. The player with the most gold wins the game.
There’s quite a bit of luck involved in Kingdoms; the tiles you draw play a large part in how well you’ll score. However, this is somewhat mitigated by skillful and timely play of your castles and your secret tile, as well as playing any bad tile you happen to draw optimally. Obviously, you can’t predict the tile you’ll draw so you just have to look at the board and place a tile where it’ll do either you the most good or your opponents the most harm. The dragon tile is probably the best tile you can draw to cripple your opponents; however, if it’s drawn too early in the epoch, it’s not so hot since every one will avoid placing a castle in its row/column. The gold mine tile is a double-edged sword; it can be placed to increase your gold (by doubling positive points in your castles’ rows/columns) or it can be placed to hurt your opponents (by doubling negative points in their castles’ rows/columns). The mountain tiles can also be used in a similar way; they can either shield your castles from hazard tiles or they can block your opponent’s castles from valuable resource tiles.
There’s more skill involved in placing your castles and your secret tile; you know their value and you have complete control on when to play them. The best place to place your castle is in a row and column that both have more resource points than hazard points but, of course, this is not possible most of the time. Also, when you play your castles is very important. Play one too soon, and your opponents can sabotage that row/column; play one too late, and your opponents’ castles have probably already been placed in the best spaces.
Placing your castles is not only a matter of when and where to place them but which rank to play. You’ve only got one rank 4 castle so you want to make it count. And if you blow your higher rank castles too early, it can have a bad impact in the last epoch. In my last game, I saw an opportunity and played my rank 4 castle in the first epoch and scored a heap of gold. However, I shot so far into the lead that the other players went after me in the last two epochs. They also all saved their higher rank castles for the endgame, and so I ended up getting my shorts handed to me in the last round. So, in my experience thus far, timing is probably even more important than placement.
I’ve found Kingdoms to be a fun, quick, and light filler game. While luck plays a big role, the tough choices, the cutthroat nature of the game, and the short playing time appeal to me. It has its exciting moments, particularly in the third epoch, and it’s also an easy game to teach. I currently rate Kingdoms a solid 7.
I have only played it once at a friends place and then I went home and made my own set of tiles and board. works just as well (though probably not for Fantasy Flight Games). But I have remembered the rules wrong I think, cause when I play we also return the rank 2 castles , and it is only the rank 3 and 4 castles that are used only once.
I think this error actually has made for a better game. Because it lets you have more margin of error, and room to play, with different castles. Recommend it to ya all.