Review: Kingdoms (iPhone)

Posted by James (admin) on December 12th, 2010

Kingdoms is a tile-placement game by Reiner Knizia which has some similarities to his game Robot Master.  In Kingdoms, players place tiles and their own castles in order to sc0re victory points (VPs).  The player with the most VPs after 3 rounds wins.

Next to the board, there’s a stack of land tiles too which each have values from -6 up to +6, as well as a few special tiles.  Each player starts the game with a set of castle tiles (value 1 to 4) and 1 land tile.

Players take turns placing tiles onto a 6 x 5 grid and a player can either place one of their castle tiles or a land tile.  When placing a land tile from the stack, players commit to drawing it before they see what it is.

When a row or column is full, VPs are calculated.  Players score the total of the land tiles multiplied by the total value of their castles, which can be negative.  A round ends when the grid is full – all tiles are removed and players get their value 1 castle tiles back.

Kingdoms is a fast-playing game which requires continual short-term, tactical decision-making.  As you don’t know what tiles will be placed later in the game, you’re never working with perfect information and that’s what gives the game its excitement.  Your placements are always based on an uncertain future.  If you’re a player that doesn’t like this type of unpredictability, then this definitely isn’t a game for you.

In essence, it’s really an abstract number game with a thin visual theme but this doesn’t matter if you like the logical decisions required from this type of game: Working out where to place your castles, when to play your high-valued castles and where to place land tiles to help you and hinder your opponents.  Player interaction is constant as most tile placements affect opponents.

Placing tiles to bag yourself loads of points, or making other players lose points, is very satisfying and there are times when you tensely wait to see if anyone takes the space where you want to lay your next tile.

One downside is that there is some luck in the drawing of land tiles.  If you draw the high value tiles or the special tiles then you get to have a lot more impact on the game.  Also, if you draw mainly negative tiles then you can only influence your opponents scores and can’t build your own (which is fine in a 2-player game but a disadvantage when playing a 3- or 4-player game).  Kingdoms is meant to be a light and quick game, so this aspect is easily forgiven; however, I can’t help but think each player having their own stack of tiles to draw from (or a small hand of several tiles to choose from) would be an interesting variation that could be more balanced and reduce the luck factor.

Kingdoms plays fast as there are very limited options to choose from and the AI take their turns very quickly.  On iPhone, it’s a good game that you can play when you have a few minutes spare especially as it handles switching between apps too.

The drag-and-drop of the tiles is simple.  Occasionally, it can be hard to see which tile you’ve grabbed or where you are about to place a tile on the iPhone screen if you have large fingers, but it’s usually accurate and I prefer this to having to place a tile and then press confirm every turn.

Kingdoms on iPhone is single player only so it’s played against AI only.  You can alter the AI difficulty and the speed of the AI too which is always good to see in a game.  I like that the AI is quite challenging (which is better than it being too easy).  I’ve mostly played 4-player games and it can feel a bit unfair if all 3 other players start hindering you at the same time (but that can happen with most games).  However, the developer has assured me that the AI plays fair and never colludes against the human player which is good to know.

I don’t miss online play with this game as it’s light and fast, but it would have been nice to have had ‘hotseat’ play (one iPhone passed between multiple players in the same room).

The imagery is okay but quite basic.  The tiles look like simple physical boardgame pieces which is a shame as the iPhone version could have given the opportunity to increase the fantasy theming and add some extra visual appeal.  For example, rather than the green table, the background could have been a fantasy landscape; also, rather than octagonal tiles, the castles could have been small 3D castles with player-coloured turrets.

Kingdoms is a nice, light and fast-playing game with continuous decision-making.  It’s well-executed and smooth, even if looking relatively plain.  After too many consecutive plays, games can feel quite similar, but I find it compelling so that I quite regularly open it up for ‘just one more quick game’.


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Reiner Knizia's Kingdoms - Skotos Tech For iPhone (reviewed)
Reiner Knizia's Kingdoms - Skotos Tech For iPad

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