Review: Queendomino

Designer: Bruno Cathala
Artist: Cyril Bouquet
Publisher: Blue Orange
Category: Family Game, Tile-Laying Game
Player Count: 2-4
Price: $29.99 MSRP
2017 has been an incredible year for tile-laying games, a genre I’ve realized I like far more than I initially thought. Simple but fascinating games like Bärenpark, Cottage Garden, Azul, and of course, Kingdomino have revitalized the genre. Kingdomino deservedly won the Spiel des Jahres in July, and to be honest, it’s still a contender for my game of the year. It’s no surprise, then, that Kingdomino already has a sequel. Queendomino takes the most common complaint from gamers—that Kingdomino is too simple—and addreses it. What’s the result? Let’s find out!

Content Guide

This is primarily just a game about laying down domino tiles to make landscapes, but Queendomino does add to some heavier fantasy elements. There’s a dragon, knights who collect taxes, and so on. It’s not really fit for younger kids, though, just because the gameplay is so much more complex than Kingdomino.

Review

Alright, I have to start this review by telling you about a bad habit of mine. Often times when I am extremely hyped about a release, my review ends up spending a lot of time talking about my issues with the game, and then ends with high praise and a high score. Not a great tonal match. Let’s get this out of the way up front: Queendomino is really very good.
The game has a lot more pieces than Kingdomino, and therefore comes with a higher—but reasonable—price, and a bigger box. While I was hoping they’d look nicer on the shelf together, the front covers make a panorama, which is awesome. And Cyril Bouquet’s artwork is just as good this time around. However, I really don’t understand why the market tiles are double-sided. It would have been less confusing to show the immediate gains (knights and towers) on the red side that you actually place in your kingdom, and skip the unnecessary process of flipping the tile over when you place it. Also, we played two entire games with the 9-coins as 6s without realizing they are supposed to be 9s—those were pretty poorly designed. Otherwise, the components are fantastic. The dragon and queen are cute, the knights and towers work great despite how small they are, and I love that they kept the tiles the same size so that it could integrate with Kingdomino. It’s also fantastic that you don’t have to punch anything out. Just start playing!
Now as for the actual game, Queendomino shares too much DNA with Kingdomino to be anything but good—it’s a question is greatness. The main difference in Queendomino is the addition of a new territory color: red. These regions have no crowns, but buildings can be placed on them. These buildings score you bonus points in a variety of different ways. The buildings, of course, cost coins, and coins can be earned by placing knights on large regions. One person each round can also “burn” a building with the Dragon, denying it to opponents. Lastly, some buildings provide towers, and whoever has the most towers at any time gets the Queen, who gives a discount on buildings, and acts as a crown for any one region at game end.
I normally don’t explain rules much in reviews, but the reason I’m telling you all that is for you to notice something: there are lots of new rules compared to the extreme simplicity of Kingdomino. And all of them center around the new red tiles. In fact, designer Bruno Cathala quite clearly thinks they are the most important tiles, as at least the last three numbered tiles (46-48) are just two red squares, where in Kingdomino they were rarer regions with several crowns. And in several ways, this focus on the red tiles does make for some interesting new gameplay. For example, many of the new buildings give you 2 points for each region you have of a specified type, regardless of size. Generally, in both Kingdomino and Queendomino, you want your squares of the same landscape to all be connected, but these tiles give you incentive to do otherwise, or a way to salvage some points if you goof up. Money can also be extremely tight if you don’t get yourself knights early on to generate more income. You definitely can go completely broke in this game and have to rely on the 0-cost space. Additionally, since the red tiles aren’t valuable without money for buildings, the decisions for which next tile to pick have usually been tougher: do I want the “boring” tile with crowns, or the tile with a red square that might get me heavy bonus points later?
That last point, however, segues into one of my complaints about Queendomino. As I said above, everything new is focused on the new tile type. In some games—especially 7×7 games—the crown multipliers can get so big that the red tiles are not worth it. I mean, that’s good! I want that to be a viable strategy. For example, in one two-player game with 7×7 grids, I had 3 buildings while my opponent had, well, the rest—10 to 15 or so—and that game was decided by a single point (158-159). On paper, that’s fantastic, but during the game, it felt like I was playing half the game. I would grab a “mathematically wise” normal landscape in five seconds, and then he would spend a minute or two laying knights, buying buildings on both of his placements, getting towers, and generally just doing more stuff. While both strategies were viable, the actual 30 minutes playing the game was more like 10 minutes of me playing and 20 minutes of him playing, akin to pursuing Big Money in Dominion against a Village / Smithy strategy. On one hand, I could have went for red tiles, but I really think what I pursued was the best strategy. But Kingdomino is so snappy and equally engaging for everyone, that having a few games like that (they’ve been rare, I admit) is a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I like all the new additions…a lot! However, I wish the new stuff was more “spread” across all of the tiles, instead of focused entirely on the new color. I feel like that would also make the integration with Kingdomino a little smoother (although I also find that extremely enjoyable as well).
My other concern with Queendomino is that maybe it has “overshot” in its aim. In my Kingdomino review, I did ask for just a touch more complexity, like a second scoring method—maybe 1/3/6/10/15 scoring for collecting some icon that appears on all the landscapes. Basically, I just wanted the decisions for which tile to pick to be tougher, and Queendomino delivers that. And Queendomino is still fast, and simple enough for me to easily play with gamers. But for me, Kingdomino has been a Codenames-level craze of teaching everyone I know the game, and just playing game after game of it. I’m absolutely certain that about half of the people I’ve taught are not going to like Queendomino, as they’ll find it unnecessarily complex and too much to learn and track. While Queendomino wasn’t really aimed at them but at gamers wanting a bit more, there’s always that risk of the more casual Kingdomino lovers wanting to pick up the sequel and then being disappointed.
While I do have those concerns about Queendomino, the game is still very, very good—yes, great. At first, I had the simple concern that turning Kingdomino to a longer, more complex game means now it’s shoving up against other tile-layers like Bärenpark and Isle of Skye, and wouldn’t we just play those excellent titles instead? But I’m finding that Queendomino is a ton of fun just like Kingdomino is, and brings enough cool new stuff to the table that I’m excited to play it again and again, even while I’ve got those other great games on my shelf too.
 Thank you to Blue Orange Games for providing a review copy of Queendomino.

The Bottom Line

While Queendomino lacks the charming simplicity of Kingdomino and might not appeal to all Kingdomino fans, gamer types who appreciated Kingdomino's mechanisms will eat this up. Its integration with Kingdomino is icing on an already delicious cake.

 

8.5