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Beer & Board Games: Kingdom Builder (Part 2: Board Games)

Continuing from last time: we had tried the beer, and so we gamed.

Erik and Carly each scoring on a castle

Erik and Carly each scoring on a castle

The game

In Kingdom Builder you place three pieces on the hex-based board. The board has five different terrain types, and you can only build on the type you’ve drawn that turn. You must place contiguously if possible, and each quadrant of the board has some tiles which give special abilities.

Four different pieces make up the board, and between rotating the pieces and swapping out new ones the it rarely has the same board from one game to the next. Victory conditions have the same sort of variability: you always get three points for placing adjacent to a castle hex, but each game has three randomly drawn victory conditions.

You know what? This video explains it better than I can.

We also played with the Nomads expansion, which added some rules and embiggened the max player count to five.

We had to punch out the game chits: Justin had sold his copy of the game to me, but he hadn’t played it. Luckily I had downloaded the iOS version of the game so I at least knew most of the rules. I had been a little confused on advanced rules like “when does the game end” so I read the rulebook as everyone pitched in to (dis)assemble the game.

Our three victory conditions:

  • Hermits: 1 point for each noncontiguous settlement area you have
  • Ambassadors: 1 point for each settlement built adjacent to another player’s settlement (colloquially known as “cuddling”, “snuggling” or “bumping and grinding” as we played)
  • Families: Unlike the others, this scored immediately: build all three of your settlements in a straight line and receive 2 points
Cuddling, illustrated

Cuddling, illustrated

The boards we randomly chose contained two Nomads boards, which replaced castles with nomad hexes: building next to one would give you an ability that, unlike the others you could obtain, you had to use on your next turn and then discard. They were different, as I ineloquently explained when Carly idly flipped one over and I barked “Don’t look at that!” Sorry.

We quickly settled into our usual mix of beer and silliness, with Justin making the “bling” sound from Mario games when you pick up a coin whenever he would score from the Families rule. I did it for a while as well, until people forgot about Mario and thought I was trying to talk about having bling. If I had it would have sounded like Mitt Romney asking “who let the dogs out”.

Alex took on the role of sergeant-at-arms for passing the current player token1, saying “I may not win but I’ll know who’s supposed to be going.”

Luckily I had given up on appearing professional for people I haven’t met, as I described the “Barn” space — with a picture of a horse, allowing you to “jump” a token two hexes away — as the “horsey jump” ability, bemoaning that we couldn’t use it in this game. Then at one point I reached for the rules and grabbed my beer notebook instead.

Oh, right, the game. Everyone took to it very quickly, with Erik and Alex becoming cuddle buddies. Justin scored lots of 3 point bonuses from Nomad tiles he picked up, and while I kept mostly to myself Carly managed to snuggle as well, though not with anyone as exclusively as the Erik/Alex OTP. Polyamorous snuggling.

One of the key strategies in Kingdom Builder — from my week of obsessive playing of the iOS app — comes from properly managing your placement. You can only place on hexes adjacent to hexes you control, but you have to place adjacent if you can. Sometimes you want to have options: draw a Flower card but aren’t next to the Flower section that would give you access to a castle hex? Too bad. Other times this can bite you: if you have no legal options you can play anywhere.

One of the Nomad expansion abilities allowed you to permanently block off hexes. At first I thought I would use this to block other people, but I wound up blocking myself in to open up other avenues.

Erik also used this to his advantage, at one point placing his three tokens on three different sections, giving him an advantage both in terms of cuddles and with end-game Hermit scoring. He also snuck into a Forest area I thought I had cut off (and, in fact, had decided against blocking off out of hubris) to gain access to a castle.

Eventually Erik used all of his pieces, ending the game. We tallied the scoring…

VICTORY FOR ME!

A man excited and surprised at winning a gameshow

Hermoine cheering

Hannah Hart dancing in a carrot onesie

The final score:

  • Dan: 46
  • Justin: 45
  • Erik: 45
  • Alex: 40
  • Carly: 36

“Winning by 1 is like tying,” Justin said.

Oprah strutting, captioned You real mad

In the end

Alex had the idea to ask the players what they thought after the game, instead of me just unilaterally including my decisions. I guess what other people think matters?

Sherlock shutting a door, captioned Yes, thank you for your input

(I’m not sure when this became a Goose’s Roost style “as told in gifs” post but I am 100% okay with that development)

Alex and Carly both enjoyed it but thought it suffered from a lack of choices, especially as the game went on. Alex thought the randomness helped give variation as you played, but that so much of it came at the expense of excitement: the game had too much going on, too many objectives to juggle.

Erik agreed that the game had lots of rules, which it certainly did! I found myself glad I had bought the iOS version the week before because otherwise we would have had a solid 45 minutes of stumbling through the rules and explanations. Maybe my experience helped me, but I loved the game, even more than I had digitally. It has a lot of strategy, more than it appears initially. Much of that comes from the land management, where you do and don’t go. I think in the future I might make sure we include the “horsey jump” section for peoples’ first game, as it helps mitigate the “oh damn I’ve locked myself in a corner” factor.

2014-09-03 22.06.13

Justin called the game “Settlers Plus,” which I found apt. It had many of the characteristics of Settlers of Catan, with the dice replaced by cards, although without the obligatory “wood for sheep” jokes. He had heard it called “multiplayer solitaire” but disagreed. I did as well: I think it takes on more of that aspect in a two player game, where you can go the entire game and never run into each other. With five people you can’t help but rub elbows.

In the end you couldn’t really call it an area control game, or a worker placement game, but instead it had elements of both along with random victory conditions. Justin saw why there was excitement when it was released in 2012, and thought that it would hold up well with some of the newer expansions (currently it has two full expansions and one mini expansion).

Oh, and also, for the record, who won?

a gif of excited jumping jello


  1. I actually think this denotes the first player, not the current one, but hey, it worked for us.