Game Title: Kingdom Builder
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Manufacturer: Queen Games
“And I thought being a lord would be easy, every year the King, long may he rule us, grants me a permit to build on some land, I put up some hovels, move in some peasants and collect taxes. Easy right? Well it would be if not for the fact that in his 83rd year our King, long may he rule us, has gone completely loopy! This year he granted me a permit to build on flowers, anywhere on the kingdom I please so long as I’m crushing someone’s geraniums! As it happens I hate geraniums, but the other lords were all given the same permit, so all the prime rose bushes have already be built on! Still it beats last year when he decided I could build in the desert, It actually costs me money to send my tax collectors out to that godforsaken hell-hole! I wouldn’t send them, but then my other citizens might start getting ideas about not paying their taxes too! A toast, to our king, long may he rule us, let him be as sound of body as he is of mind!”
Kingdom builder is a 2-4 player strategy game in which players take turn to build settlements on 5 different types of land in order to fulfil objectives and earn gold. Every game the map changes, the objective changes and the special abilities available swap around, so no two games of Kingdom Builder are the same.
The turn structure is simple, every turn you will have a card representing one of the 5 terrain types (chasms, fields, forests, deserts and… flowers) when you reveal it you place 3 of your settlements on hexes on the map that match the terrain type on your card. The first turn you can put your first settlement anywhere on the map; however your second settlement must be built in an adjacent hex if possible. All built settlements must be next to an existing one, however if you have drawn a terrain type which isn’t touching any of your existing settlements then once again you have free reign of the entire map (of that terrain type anyway). After playing your three settlements you draw a new card (which you can look at secretly) and it’s the next player’s turn.
|The game set up ready to play, there are 8 boards in total, you use 4 each game, and a 5th on it's reverse side as a score track. Each board has a different ability on it with either 2 locations to get abilities or 2 castles.|
Across the board there will be several places where you can pick up one of 8 special buildings, if you build a settlement next to one of these hexes then you claim one of the 2 tiles on it. In future turns you can use these abilities once per turn, you can use them before or after revealing your card (which may significantly change where you can build your 3 card settlements). These abilities generally do one of two things, either allowing you to build an extra settlement in a specific way, or move an already built settlement from one hex to another according to the rules of the building.
That’s about it for building rules, so on to the main event, earning gold! There is 1 constant way to earn gold and that’s to build a settlement next to a castle. Every castle rewards each person with at least one settlement next to it with 3 gold, so building all around a castle doesn’t help you (depending on objectives), though it can block off your opponents from their gold! The rest of the game’s gold is found in the random objectives, each game you draw 3 of the 10 objective cards to play with. These vary in complexity and ease to complete, but also in their rewards. Some cards reward building in 1 big blob, while another rewards building small separate settlements, a third yet rewards building settlements of about equal size on all 4 of the map segments you used to make the map this game. Ultimately the game ends when 1 player has placed all of their settlements and everyone has had an equal number of turns, which does mean you can rush towards finishing first if you try to get as many special buildings that place extra settlements. The winner is the person with the most gold.
|The special abilities and terrain cards,the bottom 5 abilities let you build extra settlements while the top three let you move an existing settlement to a new spot.|
Kingdom builder is a rare game in that it gets better with more players, with a full complement of 4 you will find that the map fills up much faster, when you get in each other’s way more you are more likely to be able to build your settlements all over the map which adds more strategy to the game. Since you can peek at your upcoming card you can plan ahead so usually turns should be quick, however since you have to work with the card you drew you might not always be able to make the best tactical move.
The simplicity of the rules makes Kingdom builder quick to teach and the variety of the objectives and map tiles provides a vast amount of replay value. You can make the argument that winner can be based on luck as much as anything (nothing sucks at your will more than drawing the same terrain type 3 turns in a row),and the biggest strategic decision you make is probably placing your first settlement which is a little unfair on newer players. Still Kingdom Builder is a solid game for when you want a lighter strategy game that won’t take all night.