Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kingdom Builder Review

I picked up a new board game the other day and thought I would offer a review.

My game collection up here at the Beta facility is small but growing. I have Alhambra and Twilight Struggle, along with a few RPG resources for Deathwatch and Savage Worlds. In a pinch I can put together a game of 40K or Malifaux. I have really been in the mood for a good 4X board game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate). Back home, at the Alpha Site, I have Civilization, Starcraft, and Twilight Imperium. Rune Wars is another example, but it is not yet on the shelf. I like these kinds of games because you can combine all aspects of gaming, including building and research, expansion of an empire, role playing through alliances, and tabletop battles. Because of the interaction between players, each game is very different from the last.

At the FLGS I found several that seemed to fit the bill. First was Civilization. I knew it was what I wanted to play, but I held back since I already owned this one. Next was A Game of Thrones. I have heard good things about this one and I have read all the books. The problem was that it required 3 players and usually I only have one opponent here at the Beta Site. I needed a game that could be played with two. Also, sadly, few of my friends have read the books and the theme might fall a bit flat for them. Next, I found a game called Space Empires 4X by GMT. These guys also made Twilight Struggle, and I have enjoyed that game for the most part. The problem was that I wasn't blown away by the components or the board design. There also wasn't any fluff that I could sink my teeth into. For example, on the cover of Twilight Imperium there is a picture of many weird alien races posing dramatically against the sun. This one was just black and blue with hexes on a board. There were also no miniatures, which I feel are important in this kind of game. Reviews online are fairly positive, so it is one I will probably give a look to in the future. I settled on a game called "Kingdom Builder" from Queen Games

No one at the store could tell me anything about it, but it had a fairly high rating on Board Game Geek. From the description, it looked like a simplified 4X game that could be played in under an hour. It also supported play for 2-4, which was right on. The back of the box talked about building a kingdom and earning gold, so it looked like what I wanted.

The game comes with eight map tiles, which can be laid out in any order, four at a time, to create the game board. The board has terrain and features built in and is of fairly decent quality. Each player receives a bunch of little houses, representing settlements, and a scoring marker. There is a deck of objective cards that are dealt randomly to set up how the game will be scored. These vary from creating the largest group of settlements to the longest line of them and many other such variations on placement and map control. Certain features on the map grant you a special ability if you build a settlement next to them. A second deck of cards is composed of all the different terrain types featured on the board.

Game play is very simple. Each player draws a card and places three settlements on the terrain type indicated (forests, plains, canyons, etc...) All settlements must be adjacent to others if possible. This leads to some interesting tactics where players will try to block out a certain terrain type to allow them to start a new settlement area in a completely different part of the map. Players will get extra moves if they have captured any of the special features on the board. The game ends on the round when one player runs out of pieces to place. The scoring is resolved according to the scoring cards and a bonus is given for any cities that the players have captured.

The game is quick and fun, but it is not really a 4X game. It is really a worker placement mechanic with randomized scoring objectives. It felt like a tightened-up version of Carcasonne, except the map is out before the game starts. There is a nice competitive aspect to the game since both players are fighting to achieve the same objectives. I think this would be especially true in a four player game where real estate is at a premium. I liked that there were different map tiles and a number of different scoring cards. The artwork is nice and the components are of good quality. best of all, there are only about three pages of rules.

I would not rate this as a deeply strategic game, but it is nice as a warm-up or a party game since it can be played and reset very quickly. Veteran gamers could probably finish a game in about a half hour barring any analysis paralysis. It is fun, but not too deep. While I like the game, it was not really what I was looking for. Using the patent-pending D6G rating system, the average gamer will like this on a 4+, but 5+ if you were looking for a 4X game.



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