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Kingdom Builder is a Territory Building game where you will have a board with different types of regions on which players will claim their own kingdoms using little wooden settlement houses. It will support 2 to 4 players and take about 45 minutes to play.

This short amount of time is complimented by the variety of setups as you get 8 modular boards to build a 4 board map with. You also get a deck of 10 scoring cards to randomly choose 3. These will define your game's specific scoring goals.

Right away you will notice Donald's game design touch in providing a lot of variety dependant on the game set up; no 2 games you play will be exactly the same. After your first game, you'll want to play again using different boards and scoring cards to explore new strategies and abilities; kind of like Dominion. The 2 rules that are consistent for every game are as follows:

  • 1) Each player is dealt a land card from the land deck. On your turn, you will take 1 Mandatory Action of revealing the land card placing 3 settlement tokens on 3 hexes matching the card you revealed. You must place them adjacent to any existing settlement clusters if able; if not you may start a new settlement cluster anywhere on the matching land type hexes. Almost of all your placement rules follow this, "adjacent if possible", rule. At the end of their turn the player will draw a new land card to use for next turn.

  • 2) At the end of the game you will earn 3 Gold (victory points) for each Castle hex your settlements are adjacent to. These points will be added to points granted by the 3 scoring cards and the player with the most gold at the end of the game wins. The game ends when a player runs out of settlement tokens to place on the board. The first player is marked, so play will continue until every one has taken the same number of turns after the end game condition is met.

Each board comes with its own special location hexes on which 2 extra action tokens are available. For example, this board has the Barn location:

When a player first builds a settlement on a hex adjacent to the barn, they will take a barn token and place it in front of themselves. Starting with their next turn they can use the Barn's ability to move any existing settlement on the board to a new hex matching the card they revealed.

The other 7 locations grant similar abilities, from getting to add new buildings to the board or moving existing ones in a variety of ways. You can collect multiple extra action tokens in a game, increasing the number of total actions you can take on each of your turn. The extra actions are optional, unlike the basic Mandatory Action I described above.

Kingdom builder is quite a different game from Dominion, it is more of a classic Euro-style board game with a bit of the variety spice from Dominion sprinkled in. It feels medium in depth as there is lot of variables to take in to consideration when placing settlements but sometimes your options are restricted by the land cards you draw. Because you have to build adjacent to your other existing settlement clusters if able, your hands are sometimes tied. This forces you to watch where your early placements go, strategically looking for spots that won't be adjacent to all the land types available. Being able to place multiple clusters and claim tiles from multiple locations on the board will give you more actions later in the game.

The first night we played the game, we played about 4 or 5 games in quick succession exploring the different location powers and variety of score cards. It was quite enjoyable, but the next time we played it started to feel like once everyone was acquainted with the basic strategy that your options were dictated for you dependant on the cards you drew. Drawing the same land type 3 or more times in a row is quite frustrating and limiting. Even when you draw different land types, you sometimes find your settlements stuck in one cluster because you have to build adjacently.

Most games have a balance of abstract concept to theme, sometimes being completely one or the other. Chess is a game that feels about 95% abstract, and 5% war/royalty themed. Dungeons & Dragons feels more like 90% theme with 10% abstract for a rules/mechanics system. Kingdom Builder feels to me about 85% abstract, with a theme that contributes mostly as flavor.

Personally it's going to get about another eight or so plays before I'll feel like I've explored everything there is until an expansion comes out. This will satisfy my feeling of value given what I paid for it. If you and your group likes a decent abstract style thinking game this is for you as analysing your turn can take some time until you learn all the things to look for. If you liked the quick pace and super variety of Dominion, this one may be a little too slow and limiting for you. There is variety in the different scoring condition combinations of the cards, but this also means you will need to take more time learning what to watch for according to the cards' rules.

A game that it reminds me the most of is Hacienda, but I feel that even though Hacienda doesn't have the variety in boards and scoring that Kingdom Builder does, you have a lot more options every turn to choose from. You aren't as limited in strategy and options and Hacienda makes you feel like you are more in control of your own destiny where Kingdom Builder makes me feel little more enslaved to the single Land Card I have to follow every turn. Hacienda uses a similar land card system, but you start with a hand full of options and the drawing style is similar to Ticket to Ride in that you can buy a random card off the deck, or you can choose from a selection of 4 face up cards at a higher price.

Hopefully that gives you enough of an idea on whether Kingdom Builder is for you. To put my final feelings in to perspective I'd give it a 7 out of 10 where as Dominion gets a 10 and Hacienda gets an 8. I'm satisfied by the purchase, I'm enjoying the games I'm playing now and I look forward to expansions that may add more options.

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