Blue Orange Games ended up with a huge hit on their hands in 2017 when Kingdomino won the Spiel des Jahres. It was a simple, accessible tile-laying game that took the familiar rules of dominoes and turned everything up a notch. A lot of people adored it. Gamers, non-gamers, domino players, kids, adults, senior citizens, cats… Wait. Maybe not that last one. But pretty much everyone else loved the King. (No, not Elvis. Kingdomino)
In the wake of the King’s success comes Queendomino. She shares the same royal lineage as her predecessor, but the Queen is touted as the more complex, gamer-friendly game. The question is, as it always is with sequels, is this new version better than the original, or does it ruin a good thing?
How It Plays
Queendomino is, like its predecessor, a tile-laying game that takes the familiar game of dominoes and adds a few twists. The goal in Queendomino is the same as in Kingdomino: Score the most points to win the game. (Since Queendomino shares a lot of commonalities with Kingdomino, for the sake of brevity here I’ve glossed over some of the common aspects in this review, both in terms of rules and basic strategy. If you’ve never played Kingdomino, please read my earlier review to get a sense of that game.)
To begin the game, four dominoes are placed on the table in a numerically ordered column. One player then takes one king of each color in hand and draws them out one at a time. The player whose king comes out first gets the first choice of domino and then the next king’s owner selects their domino and so on until all dominoes have been chosen. (In a three player game, the extra domino is discarded. In a two player game, the first king drawn chooses a domino, the next player choses two dominoes, and then the first player takes the last one.)
Turn order is decided from top to bottom of the domino column, with the player who chose the first (or top) domino going first and followed by other players in order. On your turn you have five actions to choose from. Two are mandatory, the other three are optional.
1. Add your chosen domino to your kingdom. (Mandatory.)
When placing a domino, you must adhere to the placement rules. Your kingdom may not be larger than 5×5 (3-4 player game) or 7×7 (2 player game). No piece of a domino may extend beyond the border of the grid. At least two connecting squares must have the same terrain type, unless you’re connecting to the starting tile as those are wild and may represent any terrain type. Once a domino is placed it may not be moved.
If you take a domino that cannot fit into your kingdom, you must discard it. If it can be placed, however, you must place it, even if you don’t want to.
2. Have one or two knights collect tax on the just-placed domino. (Optional)
At the beginning of the game, you are given one knight. Others are earned through building bonuses. If you have knights available, you can place one or two on the tile you just placed. (Only one per square, though.) Immediately collect coins equal to the number of connecting squares in the territory the knight occupies. Knights stay until the end of the game and you may place a new knight on an already occupied territory in later rounds.
3. Construct a building. (Optional)
The red squares on the dominoes are for buildings. You need to have at least one open red square in order to build a building in your kingdom. The square does not have to be on the just-placed domino, however. Once built, the building remains for the duration of the game and may not be removed or replaced.
To build, you must first choose a building from the builder’s board. You cannot take a tile from the draw pile. Then you pay the cost for your building and add it to your kingdom, red side up. If the building offers any immediate bonuses, collect them now and make a note of any bonuses that are effective during the game for later use.
Bonuses comes in several forms. You may earn knights who allow you to collect taxes. You may earn towers which, when you have the most in the game, allow you to host the queen. If you are hosting the queen, she lowers your construction costs by one coin. If you are hosting her at the end of the game, you place her in your largest territory where she acts as an extra crown, boosting your score for that territory.
Some bonuses are ongoing, giving you additional coins when you collect taxes. Other bonuses only affect end-game scoring giving you victory points, or extra points for certain parts/features of your kingdom.
4. Bribe the dragon into burning a building tile on the builder’s board. (Optional)
If the dragon is still in his cave and you are not hosting the queen, you can get the dragon to torch a building. Choose any tile that’s available on the builder’s board and pay the bank one coin. Burn the building by removing the tile from the board and placing the dragon in its place.
5. Use your king meeple to select a new domino in the next column. (Mandatory.)
Select any available domino in the next column of dominoes. This will determine your start order for the next round and be the domino you will place in that round.
After a player has taken their actions, the player whose king is on the next domino takes their turn. This continues until the player whose king is on the last domino has had their turn. At that point, a new round is set up. The dragon (if used) goes back to his cave and all remaining tiles on the builder’s board are moved to the right (making them less expensive), filling in all available spaces. New tiles are drawn and placed in the newly vacated spots. A new column of dominoes is placed next to those already claimed. Begin play with the player on the top domino. Play continues like this through twelve rounds.
After the last round, when all of the dominoes have been used, players calculate their scores. (A handy score pad is included to make it easier.) Points are awarded as follows:
- One point for every three unused coins.
- Territories with crowns: Count the number of connecting terrain squares and multiply that by the number of crowns found in that territory. No crowns, no points, no matter how many connecting squares you have.
- Value of buildings. Some buildings give straight victory points. Others only award points in conjunction with some other aspect of the kingdom. (For example, the sawmill gives 2 points per detached forest territory.) Add up all your points from your buildings.
The player with the most points wins.
The King is Dead, God Save the Queen?
When I saw that Queendomino was being released my first, cynical thought was, “Oh, great. It’s a cash grab designed to cash in on the success of Kingdomino, but it probably won’t be as good.” Yep, I’ve been burned too many times by sequels, reboots, and “updates” in everything from books to movies to games. So pardon my cynicism.
I loved Kingdomino and couldn’t bear the thought of a crummy, “cash grab” game tarnishing that legacy. So it was with some trepidation that I unboxed the Queen and began to play. And it was… Quite good. Great? Maybe, maybe not, depending on what you’re seeking in a game. But it’s definitely not the train wreck I feared it might be.
Here’s the thing. Queendomino is, as advertised, the more “gamer-y” version of Kingdomino. The buildings, the dragon, and the knights all give you some more things to think about and do on your turns. There are more ways to score points. Yay for all of that. But… It’s still not a game that will attract heavy gamers because while these extra things are present, they still don’t elevate the game into deep strategy territory.
And yet… Queendomino is not a game that’s likely to appeal to the most casual of gamers, as Kingdomino did.
Queendomino sits in an odd place in the gaming universe. She’s not quite a true gateway game, despite the fact that her rules are easy to learn. If you introduce her to a casual gamer who never played Kingdomino, they’ll probably enjoy it and have no trouble figuring it out, despite the added complexity. For those people, it works as a gateway game. There are also some who try Kingdomino and want to progress on to harder games. For them, Queendomino is a great next step.
But in an odd twist, I found that more than a few casual gamers who played Kingdomino first tended to push back on the added complexity. “Why do you have to make this complicated? I like the other one!” If you can get past that initial rejection they may love it, but for casual gamers who played Kingdomino and loved it, I find Queendomino to be a harder sell.
The extra “stuff” doesn’t appeal to them. They just want to play their dominoes and build their kingdom without worrying about buildings, bonuses, taxation, and dragons torching tiles. They like the quick, addictive nature of Kingdomino and the longer playtime of Queendomino doesn’t appeal. (Even though “longer” still isn’t “long” at only 25-30 minutes.) They don’t enjoy having to track building bonuses and worry about getting money to pay for buildings. While there isn’t a lot going on in Queendomino (at least if you’re an experienced board gamer), for some of those who loved the simplicity of Kingdomino, Queendomino is a step too far.
The scoring doesn’t help matters. Some casual gamers had trouble grasping the fiddly scoring of Kingdomino. The idea that only crowns count for scoring, no matter how many like tiles you connect, stymied some people. Queendomino doesn’t help. Despite the inclusion of a nice score pad, it’s a bit much to ask a non-gamer to track not only crowns, but also calculate how their buildings score. The ones that give straight points are easy enough, but the ones that depend on some other aspect of the kingdom in order to score get tricky.
Yet if you come from a gaming background, there is nothing in Queendomino that will trip you up. Much of the game is still Kingdomino. In fact, the mandatory actions are the same as in Kingdomino. All of the Queendomino additions are “optional.” Does that mean you can win if you don’t do them? Not likely, especially if your opponents are building buildings and gathering money. Still, if you don’t want to play any of the added actions, there’s nothing in the rules that forces you to do so.
The additions in Queendomino do crank things up a notch, but seasoned gamers may still find it to be too simplistic. The knights generate money which pays for buildings. But you also need buildings to get more knights. So there’s a balance to be struck between building buildings that give you knights and then using the knights to make money.
The trick is that you can’t use the knights on the same turn in which you acquire them, so if you don’t have any money right now, you’re not going to gain any on this turn unless you already have a knight you can send to collect tax. This means that you have to carefully allocate your cash and your knights. If a building comes out that you really want/need and you don’t have enough money, you have to hope that building is still there when your turn comes around again. But will something better come along in the next round? Who knows. Yet if you send out your knights this turn to get money, you might not have any to use in the next round if you need to. Deciding when to hoard cash and knights, and when to spend and deploy those knights is part of the strategy.
The buildings themselves add another layer of strategy. Tiles that give you towers may bring the queen to your kingdom. If she arrives, your construction costs are cheaper. But other buildings are also valuable. As mentioned, some give you points, others give you knights. Some give you extra money or towers each time you collect tax. Some have crowns, which work as multipliers for area scoring. What do you need right now? Which strategy are you pursuing? And do you have enough money to afford any of it?
The fact that surviving tiles get cheaper each round is something else to think about. What are the odds that your desired building will survive to the next round when it will be cheaper? And what are your odds of grabbing it, given the start order rules?
It’s certainly more to think about, but none of it is brain frying, however. These aren’t the kinds of decisions that are going to induce analysis paralysis. These are “fluffy” decisions. You have to think about them and your actions will impact the game, but the game also has enough randomness in the tile draws and building line ups that perfect control isn’t possible. You’re best served to make a move and move along. It’s certainly not the level of strategy that a heavy gamer is going to find challenging.
And that’s okay. Queendomino is really more of a family game, anyway. Just be aware that while this is touted as the “gamer” version of Kingdomino, Queendomino is still a long way away from a game like Viticulture or Lisboa.
Queendomino is, like Kingdomino, still pretty much multiplayer solitaire. The interaction comes from strategically choosing your domino each round so that you either get first crack at the domino you need, or deny your opponent one that they need. You can also use the dragon to burn down a building tile that you think your opponent might be gunning for if you can’t afford or use it yourself. Beyond that, there’s nothing you can do to influence your opponents. There’s no stealing of tiles, no way to destroy your opponents’ buildings once built, or any way to seize the queen without earning her. If you need to disrupt your opponent, you’re going to have to be subtle about it.
The good news is that if you already own Kingdomino and end up loving Queendomino, there’s no need to chuck your copy. You can combine the King and the Queen and play some additional variants. You can build larger kingdoms, or play with large player counts in teams.
What I found with Queendomino is this: The Queen has her place in the gaming kingdom, but she has definitely not overthrown the King. Kingdomino will still appeal to casual gamers and is best for pulling out at those awkward family gatherings or with people who love dominoes but not much else. Kingdomino is also still my preference for those days and nights where I want to play something, but I don’t have much time or I don’t want to work very hard. Queendomino comes out when playing with newer gamers who want to try something more difficult, or on nights when I want to think a little, but still not very much.
It’s also good for those nights when I want a little more complexity but low setup and teardown time. While not as quick to set up as Kingdomino, there’s still very little to do. Shuffle some tiles, dump some components on the table, give each player their minimal starting pieces and you’re good to go. It’s about as easy to get going as Century: Spice Road.
Queendomino does seem to have one sweet spot and that is in families where the kids are familiar with hobby games, but are not quite advanced enough to tackle harder games. Kingdomino quickly gets easy for those kids, but something more advanced like Dice City might be a little beyond them. Queendomino also does a very good job of easing Kingdomino lovers into heavier games. If you find a Kingdomino lover who’s willing and excited to try more games (and not one who pushes back on the complexity increase), Queendomino is a great step up.
I think of it this way: Kingdomino is a snack (and as addictive as chips). Queendomino is dinner. Or at least brunch. It’s more filling, but not as addictive. It’s also harder to please everyone with it. Everybody loves chips and cookies, but dinner is dicier. Does your group have an appetite for more filling, nutritious material, or do they want cookies?
They’re both solid games and each may have a place in your collection, depending on your tastes and gaming partners. Just be aware that the Queen can be a bit more finicky in terms of finding an audience. She’s neither terribly complex, nor terribly simple. She has a sweet spot, but whether you have the gaming audience to hit that sweet spot is something only you can decide.
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Blue Orange Games for giving us a copy of Queendomino for review.