A Game Fit for a….Queen?

Queendomino_PackagingIf you have been following board gaming news recently, you might have heard of a little tile-laying game called Kingdomino. It won the board game equivalent of an Oscar when it took home the Spiel des Jahres this past July, putting both its designer, Bruno Cathala, and publisher, Blue Orange Games, at the forefront of the gaming scene.

According to the Spiel des Jahres jury, Kingdomino was given the award because it “lifts the time-honored principle of dominoes to a new level – without losing any of the sleek elegance of its predecessor. On the contrary: the dual mechanics of planning the far-reaching lands surrounding the castle and the clever method of selecting tiles fit together extraordinarily well, they are expertly reduced to their essential components.”

For those unfamiliar with Kingdomino, first of all buy it – we promise you won’t regret it. Second of all, the jury’s praise of the game’s simple yet elegant mechanics is an opinion shared by many in the gaming world. During a turn in the game, you select a new tile and add a previously selected tile to your kingdom, making sure to match one side of the domino to a like terrain type already in play (just like how in dominoes two sides must match in order for you to place a domino). Each turn, players select a domino in an order determined by their previous selection. It is this mechanic, coupled with the planning and strategizing required to build a kingdom within the constraints of a 5×5 grid, which makes the game so clever.

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Queendomino for sale at Essen in October.

Less than a year after Kingdomino was released, Bruno Cathala announced the next in line to the throne: Queendomino. The announcement was understated in the US. It involved a little sly product placement at Blue Orange Games’ Gen Con Booth, and a quiet BoardGameGeek.com listing. Both piqued the interest of many in the gaming world ahead its release, which happened in October at the Internationale Spieltage in Essen, Germany.

Kingdomino was launched at that very same festival, in 2016, and according to the game designer himself Queendomino was thought of soon after that. “I started working on Queendomino right after coming back from Essen 2016, so just a few days after Kingdomino was released.” It was a game born from his desire for something more challenging, as he had been playing his crown jewel for over two years before it finally launched.

“Of course, after playing a game as simple as Kingdomino 200 times, I wanted something more challenging,” he said, continuing with, “ I wanted a game with the same mechanic of building a Kingdom through domino selection and placement, but with a little more complexity that required players to be more methodical in their gameplay.” Thus, the idea for Queendomino was born.

The largest difference that Kingdomino fans can expect to see between the two games is that in Queendomino there are many more options which make game play richer and more complex. The biggest addition is the inclusion of a 7th terrain, towns, on which players can construct buildings. Cathala highlights other differences saying, “Another one is money, because in order to build you need to pay. There are many different building you can put in your kingdom, each with their own way to score points, allowing many different strategies.  A fun twist is that in the towns there are no point-earning crowns, so to get points you need to build on them.” He continues with, “There are other fun additions like towers that help you host the queen, knights that help you collect tax, and a dragon who has the tendency to burn coveted buildings if bribed….” Needless to say, the additions definitely elevate the simplicity of the original game.

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Richer gameplay and heavier strategy require a few more game pieces than Kingdomino!

What is interesting is that during Queendomino’s development, Kingdomino’s Spiel des Jahres win was a nonfactor. Cathala elaborates on this saying, “At the time of the nomination, the prototype was already finished and validated. Then when the award was announced, Queendomino was already in production.”

While the development process for Kingdomino took over 2 years, Queendomino’s was much shorter, as details such as the basic rules, components, and illustrator were already set.  According to Cathala, “The main concern was making sure that all the additional elements made the game attractive and balanced, and not unpalatable or cluttered. In fact, the hardest part was to make it so that Kingdomino and Queendomino could be played both separately and together.”

Cathala’s work in making the game both an expansion and a standalone was well worth it, as it is this quality that intrigues a lot of Kingdomino fans. The game was designed so that you can combine a Queendomino with a Kingdomino in what is affectionately called “The Royal Wedding”. This allows for 4 players to play with more expansive 7×7 kingdoms, or for 6 players to play with the traditional 5×5 grid. Just like in the original game, Queendomino can be played by itself with 2, 3, or 4 player counts.

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Cathala states the reason behind this decision was because, “This type of game has rarely been done in the past, so the challenge of making a game that worked by itself but also in conjunction with another game was interesting to me. This also allows me to have a game on the market for the general public [Kingdomino], and another one completely independent for the more expert public [Queendomino], without the 2 games competing with each other for attention.” He continued with another motive saying, “A more personal reason was because I love playing the 2 player 7×7 variant in Kingdomino, and having both games allows for 4 players to play this way.”

Although Cathala himself, and reviewers who received advanced copies, praise the game for its complexities he still believes there is room in anyone’s game cabinet for both, as they serve different purposes.“I don’t prefer one over the other. It depends on who I am playing with and how much time I have in front of me, as Queendomino games are a little longer”.

When asked about his future plans for the Kingdomino universe Cathala teased an upcoming expansion saying, “I thought of Kingdomino fans playing with younger children, or not wanting too many more options during game play. This is the reason I am refining an expansion for Kingdomino. It will allow 5 players to play at once and will add a few elements, very simple but fun. All I can say right now is that it involves giants!”

Kingdomino and Queendomino are both currently available in stores and online.

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Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Meeple Monthly magazine.

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