Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two: Kingdom Builder

Thank you for checking out my third review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Kingdom Builder

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Kingdom Builder is a game designed by Donald X. Vaccarino is published by Queen Games. The box states that is can play 2-4 players and has a 45 minute play time. This game was a nominee for, and winner of, several awards including winning the 2012 Spiel des Jahres award.

In Kingdom Builder you take turns placing three settlements of your color onto the board. The location where you can place these is limited by two factors: the terrain type shown on the card you have in your hand, and whether or not you have a current settlement on the board that is adjacent to that terrain type. If you have no settlements adjacent, it can be placed on any empty hex of that terrain type on the board. There are special power tiles located on each of the boards, which having a settlement adjacent to that spot will allow you to take one of the two tiles on that space so you can use that power every turn after the turn in which you receive that power. Each board also has at least one castle hex, which will earn you three points at the end of the game for every castle hex you have at least one settlement adjacent to. Also, there are three scoring cards that dictate where the majority of the points can be earned, such as being adjacent to water or having many settlements on a horizontal line. Once a person is out of settlements, play continues back to the person who was first player, and then the points are tallied.

Setup for 2 Players

There is no change in the setup from two players. There are still four boards used, three scoring cards, and the full regiment of 40 settlements per player.

My Thoughts

This game is deceptively simple. I watched the Tabletop episode and that put this game on my radar. It is light enough, and easy enough, to qualify as a gateway game to teach new players. Yet underneath that simple exterior is a game that has depth and strategy. I still have a fresh experience after dozens of plays, and expect that to continue. But it is also something that I can bring along to teach to those who don’t play games very often. That makes this a near-perfect game to have in the collection.

The game is very modular, adding to the replay value by an incredible amount. You will use four of the eight boards in each game, which means you will see only four of the eight powers. They will be aligned in different spots, which will affect the intersection of the boards. And there will be three out of the ten scoring cards used in each game, so your goals and objectives are different every time you play. Even if you played twice on the same board, the three cards could make your starting moves play out very differently.

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Having only one card to play each turn is part of what makes this game really shine. It not only limits the AP-factor for players, but it also forces you to really consider what you want to do and how you want to accomplish it. You need to know early on where to place those early settlements so that you can earn points, gain powers, and still have a high chance of being able to play a different terrain in a new part of the board. Sure, there are the occasional games where you seem to always draw the same terrain, or the only terrain that you are touching which then binds you to one spot on the board. But the game plays fast enough that even a hopeless game is over soon and you can play again to get better results. Adding in a variant to draw two cards and play one, or something similar, is completely unnecessary. Most of the time, that card draw does not make or break a person’s game if they strategize effectively.

Even with two players, there is plenty of opportunity to block and interfere with your opponent. The board feels bigger with 2, but at the same time you are likely to want to vie for the same powers and features. Blocking a key power tile by surrounding it becomes a very important strategy with 2 players, as does claiming the center corners when farmers and/or lords are in play. Some games the mountains are scarce when you need them, other times the coastlines are primarily in one section of the board. So there is plenty of room to play against your opponent as much as you are playing to maximize your own scoring potential.

The setup, teardown, and play time of this game is perfect. It is a game we can pull out when we don’t have a lot of time, or don’t feel like a long game, but want something deeper than a filler game. It is the sort of game we can play once and be done, or can play multiple times in a row with relative ease. This combination of attributes makes it likely to hit our table often, especially considering the modular replayability of the game.

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The artwork is nice and the components are all solid. This has stood up well to plenty of plays, and there is a ton of room in the box to add expansions. The rulebook is short and has good visual demonstrations of the powers and the scoring cards. The power summary tiles, which fit in on the edges of the board, are a wonderful addition when playing with newer players. The settlements are nice, solid wood. Overall, great component quality.

Because all the scoring happens at the end of the game, it is hard to have a real grasp on where you might stand in regards to the other players for points. This certainly helps everyone to stay engaged in the game, but it can also lead to some eyebrow-raising moments when someone blew past you on points but you thought it was going to be a close game.

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My biggest complaint? One of the four player “colors” is unpainted. No green, red, yellow, white. They chose unpainted. Or, rather, natural. My beloved wife helped me out and painted them green, which I suppose might have been the point: give the owner a chance to paint them in their favorite color.

Final Verdict

I love this game. It worked its way quickly into my Top 10 board games. It was a much harder sell for my wife, who would play it but never requested the game. For the longest time, she thought I was wanting to play Castles of Mad King Ludwig when I asked to play Kingdom Builder, and her deflated face when I pulled this game out was almost comedic. It wasn’t until about 4-5 months ago, when we downloaded the app on my wife’s phone, that it became a hit for her as well. This game is quick, easy, fun, yet contains a lot of strategic choices (especially early in the game). The modular setup of the board, powers, and point cards makes this a game that can hit the table time and again while remaining fresh. It plays well with all player counts. It may take a few games to really see the charm of this game, but once you do it will be one of those games you’ll love having in your collection.

Check out this Geeklist for other games I have reviewed: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas…

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4 thoughts on “Review for Two: Kingdom Builder

    1. Of course! It is a game that I feel is underrated on BGG, and is a really solid game that is great for experienced and novice players. I’m hoping to play through a few expansions for it this year to see how they change things!

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