Publisher: Coiledspring games, Blue Orange
Designer: Bruno Cathala
Artist: Cyril Bouquet
Publication Date: 2017
Publisher Recommended Age: 8+
Player Count: 2-4
Favouritefoe score: 8/10
Move over, Kingdomino. There is a new Queen in town. Oh and she has a DRAGON!
Worry ye not. For this is not a review of a new series of Game of Thrones (I admit that I was an early fan of Khaleesi and her crazy crew, but I don’t think I will ever recover from that last one!).
Rather, this is a review of Queendomino, Bruno Cathala’s successor-in-title to his 2017 Spiel Des Jahres award winner, Kingdomino.
But, with a bigger box and more going on than a Friday night shin-dig at the local serf-shack, does this impressive looking empress banish her predecessor into the history books? Or can they rule over board game tables together, the Sonny and Cher of medieval kingdoms everywhere?
Let’s bend the knee and find out!
The Royal Box
For those of you who haven’t played Kingdomino, there are quite a lot of components included in Queendomino; big chunky tiles, build-your-own-castles, wooden meeples and knave-ish kneeples, buildings and a building board, towers, coins, scorepad, and of course, the Queen and her devoted dragon.
For those of you who have played Kingdomino, by comparison, that is one ton of well-bred bounty! Sat next to her streamlined sovereign, Queendomino is definitely bringing the bling!
And so, deep diving into the nitty gritty of the gameplay below, I am going to let you know whether these extra servings fill up my table like a royal banquet, or leave me in need of relieving myself of a bad case of beggar’s bloat.
At its core, and just like Kingdomino, Queendomino is a tile drafting, area management game. Taking on the role of feudal Lords or Ladies competing for the Queen’s favour, you are building out your Queendom (in a 5×5 or 7×7 (2 player) grid) using a mechanism based solidly in the dominion of that most ancient of Chinese gaming grand daddies, dominoes.
And with 48 individual domino style tiles each displaying a random mix of up to two of the six available landscapes, (some with a cornucopia of point scoring crowns), the race is on over 12 rounds to make the most cohesive, profitable province of all.
A realm fit for a royal visitor.
Picking and placing the first few tiles around your own diminutive castle is relatively easy.
Want to see a lake view from your portcullis? No problem. Pop a glistening blue tile down next to your diminutive des-res. Fancy a few wheat fields nearby so that you can practice your royal wave? Fine. Set a croptastic tile down on the other side, leaving a perfect space for some wild woodland or monarchic mines.
But then, as your realm starts to spread, the adjacency rule kicks in. And with the grid formation beginning to take shape, you have to make sure that you match at least one half of any new tile going down with an identical terrain type showing on an existing tile. If you can’t match, then you can’t lay. And if you can’t lay, then you can’t score.
A royal reality check!
You see, just like Kingdomino, the process of drafting your next tile in Queendomino is not simply a mechanism of convenience. It is not just there as a way to refill the tile pool from which you may choose freely.
No, dear subjects. In Queendomino, once again, the numerical order in which the tiles are displayed has a specific meaning, and a knock-on effect upon each player’s strategy.
This is because each one of those chunky tiles is numbered. And the higher the number, the more valuable that tile in terms of crowns and connectable terrain types.
“Easy pickings” you might think as you slam your meeple down on the most bountiful of regal real estate. But not so fast there, Sir Speed-a-Lot.
Whilst you may be tempted to go for the tiles dripping in high value head gear, that will leave your meeple(s) in last place when it comes to picking tiles on the next round. And who knows what tantalisingly terrific tiles might come up next?!
And therein lies the clever crunch in Queendomino. A neat twist on drafting that makes it rise above the norm. The urge to go for the fast points pushing in direct competition with the desire to have first pick on the fresh batch of tiles. And this is before you have even considered what your opponents might need and how best to block them!
At this point, I have a confession to make. So far, pretty much everything I have told you about the gameplay in Queendomino could equally be said about her slimmer, swarthier sibling. But this isn’t about him. This review is all about her.
And so what does Queendomino bring to the table that His Royal Highness doesn’t? Well, for that, I am taking you back to that bigger box of bountiful bits because she is packing pieces.
We built this city……We built this city on……. red town tiles!
The biggest “bit” in the Queendomino box is the Building Board. Here, you will find the buildings which you can buy and place on any available red town (construction) space in your realm.
As well as making you feel like Lord or Lady of the manor, the buildings have quantifiable value. Some giving immediate bonuses (extra knights and towers) and others granting end game victory points. You can’t just take them, however. You have to manage your money in order to afford them.
“But how do I get more money?” I hear you cry. Well, back into the box we go for nestled in there are those kneeples I mentioned earlier. In Queendomino, your knights moonlight as tax collectors – raising coin from your resentful royal subjects for every matching tile in the region they cover. And coin equals construction!
Once again, however, the knights, although they may be small, are themselves a valuable resource to manage. The earlier you place kneeples, the smaller the revenue they will reap. Not putting any down at all, however, could mean you never raise enough to nab any bountiful buildings at all. And some building tiles, offering crowns, kit, and/or coins per component, are worth their weight in, well, gold!
Not only that but the Queen only bestows her favour (i.e. reduces building costs by 1 coin and giving bonus VPs at the end of the game) upon the Lord or Lady with the most impressive tower collection (ooh err!) and so it is worth doing what you can to build up, accumulate towers, and impress her royal highness during the game.
Should you not find favour with She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, however, all is not lost. Finding yourself kicked to the Queenly kerb, you can (to the exclusion of all other players) bribe the dragon to burn down a building of your choice, removing it from the track until stock is replenished on the next round.
So, with Kingdomino still vying for the throne, what is Queendomino really all about? Well, what do we want? Buildings! When do we want them? Now!
Ok, so it’s not that simple but it is definitely the headline change. And building up is a strategic exercise in balancing options and managing resources.
Let’s take a moment to compare these majestic monarchs. In Kingdomino, you make two choices –which tile to pick and then where to place it. And that elegantly simple process is where the tight gameplay and strategy in Kingdomino lies. It is worth not underestimating the level of tactical play tied up in those two simple steps, however. Determining which tile to take (bearing in mind the order in the draft) and whether to max out on crowns or block your opponents from getting the tiles they need, can often be a mind-melter in fast play form.
In Queendomino, however, the decisions on each turn include that basic gameplay and then extend beyond it. Having new and multiple ways to secure points, each nudging you towards a different action, makes you pause. A second where you consider whether what you are planning is actually the most optimal way to use your moves and your resources.
Will you get the Queen on your side or will you collect taxes and accumulate points through buildings? Will you max out on a specific terrain type or separate your regions and claim victory points across various lands? Will you? Will you?
I can’t list all of the possibilities available to you, but I can say that it is chock full of “should I do this or should I do that?” moments. Certainly, when we play Queendomino, looking at my own limited resources, I often sit there pondering elemental questions like “crowns or towers?” and “knights or the dragon?”, wishing I had more money to spend or more crowns in play.
And those choices between delayed benefits, scuppering your opponent’s chance to score big, and picking buildings that give you money every round, makes this game more thinky, bringing in a mini engine-building quality to the gameplay.
In fact, being good at managing resources in Queendomino is possibly the most defining element or at least on par with crown collecting – if you don’t have enough knights reaping in royal coin, you are going to struggle to kit out your Queendom with bonus scoring buildings.
And because of this added layer of options, I find Queendomino to be a more involved game than the quicker but no less clever Kingdomino. There is simply more going on. More to factor in. More to build. Without doubt more to remember. But ultimately, for me, more to like!
Regal Round Up
I like Queendomino as a longer game in the same way that I like Kingdomino as a faster, crunchy, elegant filler. I opened the box thinking it would be a simple either/or choice; man v woman, simplicity v stuff, Kingdomino v Queendomino. But I was wrong.
For me, Queendomino is a different, standalone game. Yes, they share a fundamental basic tile laying/variable turn order mechanic, but after that, each one offers a unique and replayable experience.
I like Kingdomino when I need crunch and I need it quick. I like Queendomino when I want to experience that same basic drafting dilemma but want a longer play time to ponder more in-game options.
And speaking of likes, the components in Queendomino are a nice combination of glossy and chunky, feeling good in the hand, though the knights are a little on the small side. The artwork and light theme will be familiar to anyone who has already played Kingdomino; a sweet depiction of a make-believe realm which (if you look closely enough) may very well reveal some funny little “easter eggs” in homage to other legends. And although being colour heavy could, at first glance make it appear trickier for players with colour vision deficiency, the terrain types do have unique symbols on them, make differentiating between them easier once familiar with the patterns.
If you like Queendomino, try Kingdomino, Kingdomino Duel, and/or Age of Giants (Expansion)
If this sounds like it could be a game for you, you can pop it in your shopping basket at Out of Town Games here
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]