Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 45 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Carrying on my ongoing quest to not only collect but play and review all the Speil Des Jahres, since I picked up Kingdom Builder at UKGE and my family, who enjoy a lightweight Euro game were visiting for the weekend, I pulled it out for a quick run through and ended up playing it over quite a few times. On first look, particularly reading the rules, it’s hard to see how this game generates much tactics but once you get playing it there’s a surprising amount of depth.
The game consists of randomly picking a set of board sections consisting of various land types (forest, desert, plains, mountains, rivers and, fairly uniquely, chasms and fields of flowers) with a scattering of locations. Three points generating cards are then randomly selected from a set of ten and each player is given a card that randomly has one of the land types, other than river or mountain, on them. Players then take turns placing three buildings on the land type of their card anywhere they choose, excepting that they must place touching a previously deployed building if at all possible. They are then given new land cards at the end of each player’s turn. That’s really it, players try to place those buildings to fulfill the scoring conditions on the cards selected at the start of the game in order to win when game end is triggered by one player running out of buildings. There are extra abilities unlocked by placing buildings to control set locations which can be important to victory but all are pretty simple and logical to enact (although once all four available in some games are collected the interactions can get a little tricky).
Which all sounds pretty random and without much to it, you have to place on a land type you don’t get to choose and you have to place touching your previous building if possible so your choices are pretty limited, right? Well, that’s what makes a truly great Euro game a great Euro game in my opinion, you have one choice, limited by your previous uses of that choice. So, if you place on a land type and leave one of your buildings touching a different type when you pull the card representing that second type you’ll be trapped in your placement, but if you keep away from the borders between lands you’ll be more free in later turns. However, the handy settlements and always scoring castles tempt you towards those borders. The choices are simple and take about ten seconds to learn but the actual tactics and planning ahead are extremely intricate and well balanced. Due to the random board sections and the range of scoring options re-play value is insanely good for a Euro of this type.
As a game this more than qualifies as an SDJ winner with its gateway level mechanics and satisfying play available to a range of skills. Its smart use of scoring and replay options make it an even more clear choice. As far as components go it really doesn’t fit with the run of the award, lacking as it does anything particularly tactile or unusual, though the manner in which the board fits together with the location keys is very pleasing.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from this game, I really didn’t see it from reading the rules, but after one learning play through went back to it again and again, and will probably be squeezing the juice out of it for several sessions to come. As a Euro game it doesn’t waste time with too many routes to victory or options and the result is elegant and splendid. I don’t know why this doesn’t make more lists as a gateway game but that’s sort of how the cookie crumbles on that front. Well worth a play and don’t dismiss it until you’ve run it with three or four people.