So the fellow who gave us the wonderful game of Dominion released a surprising new game at the end of last year titled Kingdom Builder. Because Dominion was such a unique and enjoyable game, the release of Kingdom Builder was preceded by a fair amount of anticipation within the hobby gaming community. Well, upon its release, Kingdom Builder turned a lot of smiles upside down, and a small turbulent fire was lit on the online game forums, where the minority of folks who enjoyed the game desperately tried to defend it against the waves of trolls attempting to crush every copy in existence.
After the initial flames burned down, Kingdom Builder quietly crept into dark corners where the proud few stealthily huddled over it, hoping to avoid the ire of their serious gamer friends. The hard core forum trolls aimed their spray of venomous spittle at other new and exciting games, believing that they had obliterated any hope of Kingdom Builder making a lasting impression. Well, they were very, very wrong; Kingdom Builder was just nominated for arguably the most prestigious board game award in the world, an award that guarantees lasting international success: The Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year). So now, the forum flames burn bright again, but this time the trolls have lost some strength, for some of them upon playing Kingdom Builder a few more times have begun to recognize the game for what it is, a very interesting light strategy game that nearly anyone can play and enjoy.
The purpose of the Spiel des Jahres is to highlight recently released games (in Germany) that, above all, offer fun and challenging experiences for a very broad audience in a relatively short period of time. For your average German family or group of friends (who, I’ve been told, play far more games together than we do here in the United States of Electronica), the Spiel des Jahres award provides assurance that all will have a satisfying game experience. Really, without any knowledge of a game whatsoever, someone could purchase an award nominee or winner, then learn it and play it in a single social evening and have a great time doing so.
Kingdom Builder, I believe, is a perfect nominee for the Spiel des Jahres award. At its heart, it is an abstract area control strategy game. The basic rules are very straightforward: on your turn play the only card you have in your hand by placing 3 of your settlement pieces on the terrain type that matches your card. That is it folks, seriously, that is how you play the game, you play your only card and put 3 pieces on the board, and 45 minutes later you tally the scores. Now, not all spaces on the map are equally valuable, and this is where things get very interesting. First, some map spaces are near specific locations, which can allow you to do more actions on your turn. Also, the conditions for victory change every game, so different map spaces hold different potential values depending on the conditions in effect. Furthermore, your piece placement options during future turns will be dramatically limited by the pieces you place on your current turn, so some careful thought is required. Combine all of these implications for piece placement and you end up with a fascinatingly rich though confined set of choices. Oh, and let me repeat: to play this game you simply play your only card and put 3 pieces on spaces on the board that match that card. How awesome is that, best game ever to explain to new players!
Well, enough said. Absolutely give this game a try, we have it on our rental shelf to make it easy. And play it more than once, the first game often leaves players feeling that luck dominates. Like a nice pot of chili, Kingdom Builder thickens and grows richer over time. Even the trolls will be crawling out from under the bridges and eating humble pie once they play a few more games.