Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hail To The King, Baby: "Kingdom Builder"

Here's the pathetic email chain that preceded game nite back on July 11'th:

(9:08 AM) 
What's tonight's game plan?

(9:35 AM) 
The plan coming into tonight is Warrior Knights at Dean's (this will likely take two nights).  Haven’t heard from him today on the topic so I’m not sure if things are still on.  If Dean isn’t ready to go we can make it a filler night.  Or if Dean is out I will host.

The ball is in your court, sir.

(9:36 AM)  
What are we doing tonight Brain?

The same thing we do every Wednesday night, Pinky: try to take over the (Medieval) world!

(9:48 AM, after laughing my ass off for the previous twelve minutes)

In a related story: funny for Cheryl to work a late shift on Wednesday night.  Why does she never work late on a Tuesday or a Monday?   Grrrrrrr!!!

Basically I'm wingeing about not having wheels.  Can anyone help?

P.S. by surrendering my car on a beautiful day like today, I'm really relying on Dean not to cancel.  Cancellation this evening will equate to an instant speedbag nut punch the next time I see you.

(9:54 AM)
I can pick you up.

(10:01 AM)
I'll prolly be out most of the day but I'll have my communicator with me.  Call me if anything goes horribly awry. 

(10:45 AM)
Pick me up too, Andrew!  You better have sandwiches ready this time.  :o)

(3:39 PM)
Hey guys, sorry for the late notice but I have a freezer issue I have to deal with (or lose a lot of money in fetal bovine serum) so I guess you'll be at Andrew's.  


I'm tellin' ya, the next time I see him, I'm gonna use his nuts like a Newton's Cradle.  

Seriously, we all love Dean and know that he's in a very specialized and demanding job which sometimes requires him to respond to emergencies.  None of us have a fucking clue what he does, but we give him the benefit of the doubt anyway.

Acutely aware of Dean's schedule, we'd already put an alternate plan into place.  Chad had recently acquired the Donald X. Vaccarino / "Cult of the New" title Kingdom Builder for Father's Day and had already run it a few times for the fam.  So, in essence, we had the perfect Plan "B" ready to go.

So, after overcoming our transportational challenges, we eventually met up at Andrew's place to throw down.


The goal of the game is to create THE GREATEST KINGDOM IN ALL THE REALM.  Players accomplish this by skillfully placing settlements in accordance to three random scoring rules which change every game.  In fact, there's a lot a variation here; just keep track of how many times I use the word "random" in the following overview. 

During set-up, a board is randomly (*DING!*) generated by drawing four quadrants made up of varying terrain types.  The play area is then seeded with four random (*DING!*) locations which, if claimed, can be used on subsequent turns to breaks the rules, such as moving settlements into water hexes or leaping them over impassible terrain.  

On every turn, players draw a random (*DING!*) terrain card and then place three of their settlements within the matching type on the board.  The tricky part is that you have to place these new buildings next to any that you've played on previous turns.  Also, by dropping settlements adjacent to those special locations, you can claim them to use on future turns.       

But ultimately the goal of the game is to earn gold.  By placing settlements adjacent to castles you earn three gold apiece at the end of the game.  That's all well and good, but most of your prime cheddah will come from the three random (*DING!*) Kingdom Builder cards that were drawn at the start of the game.  Each one of them clearly defines the specific conditions you have to meet in order to score the major pointage.  For example, one card might require you to build a clump of settlements together, another could task you to place one settlement per hex row and the third card might dictate that settlements be placed next to certain terrain types.  

"If'n it be the full rules ye seek, set yer course fer Board Game Geek.  Yaaarrrrr."



Here's what the board looked like after it was generated:

The special buildings in play for Game One were (clockwise from left):

Farm: Place a bonus settlement from your supply in a grass hex.  
Barn: Move a settlement into a hex of the same terrain type that you just drew.
Harbor: Move a settlement into an adjacent water hex.
Oasis: Place a bonus settlement from your supply in a desert hex.

And here's the spread of Kingdom Builder cards that we drew:

So, in this particular game, you'll see us going for mountain adjacency, settlements on as many different 
horizontal lines as possible, and a slew of building along any one horizontal line.  See how this works?  Pretty cool, huh?

As the oldest player, I had the dubious honor of starting the game.  I'd say that being "Kaptain Krusty" sometimes has it's perks but I honestly have no idea if going first was advantageous or not. 


Since I had no clue what I was doing, I just surrounded an Oasis after drawing forest and flower field terrain cards.  Although it did net me a Barn location, I made the mistake of placing settlements in the largest desert on the board.  Thank Vishnu that I had the early Oasis location since it helped me fill up this region a bit quicker.  At least I had the foresight to keep my canyon terrain settlements close to mountains for the purpose of the "Miners" card.   

Chad was all over the south eastern canyons, picking up a very valuable Harbor location in the process.  He then started edging out into the water.  After drawing a desert terrain card he also scored his very own Oasis.      

With some forest and grass terrain card draws, Mike proceeded to clump the shit out of his settlements.  This did allow him to snag a Barn, however.  

Knowing that Chad had the most Kingdom Builder experience, Andrew wisely mirrored some of his early moves.  A desert terrain card allowed him to pick up the second (and last) Harbor, place houses next to the mountains and branch out into the water.  He also claimed a Farm location by dropping three settlements in the forest and eventually branched out into some purdy-looking flower fields.       

Due to several untimely desert terrain card draws, the whole "mandatory adjacent placement" rule had me shackled to the "Sahara" for quite some time.  I did have a chance to expand into the grasslands and score a second Oasis location, which served me well in my quest to traverse the board's most expansive stretch of desert.  

Chad completely surrounded a mountain hex, horning in on Andrew's desert.  He also continued his leisurely sail across the lake, hoping to snap up an entire horizontal line right across the lower edge of the map in an effort to appease the "Knight" condition.  Also, with the "Discoverers" well in mind, he began to branch out from the western desert across the water into grassland and then down south through the canyons into my turf.  

Perhaps as oblivious to the victory conditions as I was, Mike just kept adding to his metropolis, branching into the flower fields to the south-west.  When he was forced to build elsewhere after drawing a desert terrain card, he elected to place settlements next to a city in the very same desert I was attempting to cross. 

You can also start to see things begin to click with Andrew.  Freshly inspired by the "Discoverers" card, he used his Barn to shift a settlement from a superfluous forest hex in order to to drive further north.  He also continued to exploit the "Miners" by nearly surrounding a two-hex mountain range.  He also kept branching out west, eventually beating Chad in the race across the river and placing next to a castle for three future points.     


After experiencing a long-overdue epiphany, I finally started to make a concerted effort to fulfill the conditions on the Kingdom Builder cards.  In pursuit of "Knight" points, I crossed the Gobi desert and then pondered how best to occupy every line along the north-south axis.  I begin to branch down south from the desert through the forest, eventually reaching a castle.  I also got more "Miners" in place by settling the canyons to the north-east.  

Maximizing his locations, Chad experienced a tremendous growth spurt.  He very nearly managed to occupy an entire horizontal line along the southern edge of the board.  He also drew two grass terrain cards, using them to surround a mountain up north and extend his southern reach into the southwest corner of the board.  

Still seemingly unmotivated by the game's victory conditions, Mike used a Barn to move one of his settlements back into the central canyons.  His urban sprawl then continued to drift west, but in doing so he managed to surround yet another castle.        

Finally, Andrew did his best to challenge Chad's late-game supremacy.  A grass terrain card allowed him to cut a swath up through the center of the board.  Also, after portaging across a major tributary, he attempted to mimic Chad's cross-board expansion, but ran up against another slow-going body of water.


Chad...59 points
Andrew...57 points
Me...49 points
Mike...35 points


Here's the spread of Kingdom Builder cards for our second match:

Also, we played with the following four random locations:

Paddock:  Move any one of your existing settlements two hexes in a straight line in any 
direction.  This also allows you to jump over normally impassible terrain like water. 
Oracle:  Place a bonus settlement from your supply on a hex of the same terrain type as your current terrain card.
Tower:  Place a bonus settlement from your supply on a hex along the edge of the game board.  
Tavern: Place a bonus settlement from your supply at the end of a string of at least three of 
your own settlements. 


This time Mike kicked things off.  Although he really could have used the "Citizens" card last game, he immediately went to work re-creating a brand new trailer park with his settlements.  After drawing  grasslands and forest terrain cards he also managed to snap up an Oracle location site.  A trek across the desert also landed him a Tower.         

Andrew was fortunate enough to get a good variety of terrain draws, allowing him to create some Hermits.  During his travels he also claimed the Tavern location and the incredibly agile Paddock ability.  He quickly used the latter to leap from the canyons across the river into neighboring forests.    

I also attempted to build as many isolated settlement clusters as possible.  A flower field draw earned me an incredibly handy Oracle location.  This allowed me to place a bonus settlement after my subsequent desert draw gave me a Paddock.  Scoring a Tavern let me infiltrate a forest and I used the Oracle once again to try and fend off Andrew's incursions. 

Chad's draws weren't quite as varied but he did end up with two Paddocks after frolicking unhindered through a flower field and a patch of grasslands. 


Mike continued to work on his super-city, reaching a three-point castle in the process.  He also accelerated his turf war with Andrew over some prime desert real estate.  

Speaking of Andrew, he became bound and determined to wrestle control of the Tavern quadrant away from me.  He was well-placed to do just that, using his Tower to out-flank me along the edge of the map.  He also used the Paddock ability to cozy up to a castle.  Finally, he kept butting heads with Mike over their mutual desert ambitions and soon both of them were neck and neck in that area.

Instead of continuing my arms race with Andrew I unwisely chose to create some mid-board "Hermit" holes, not realizing that the "Lords" card would prove to be much juicier.  I employed the Paddock jump to leap across a river and drop settlements by a castle in the forest.  Hopping to a field in another direction proved to be less productive since my wave was immediately dashed upon the rocks of Cape Chad.  For some reason I became fixated on creating a presence on the Tower tile but my uncooperative terrain draws and inability to maneuver around Chad ultimately made this a fool's errand.           

With two Paddocks, Chad was a leapin' machine!  He made for the middle of the board, taking my strategy but doing it more effectively.  After several hops, he made himself a slew of disparate settlements all around the board while achieving a presence in all four quadrants.  But could he achieve dominance in any of them?   


I'm not sure how deliberate the strategy was, but Mike managed to sneak a settlement into the battleground between me and Andrew right at the last minute.  This innocent little move would eventually provide a nice windfall of points for him.  Knowing that he already enjoyed an insurmountable dominance over Paddockland, Mike wisely worked at achieving parity with Andrew in the Tower quadrant.  His ability to pick and choose his battles really served him well.

Taking advantage of my mushy strategy, Andrew swarmed the Tavern section of the board.  He also used his Paddock to create a few last-minute isolated settlements and get one of his orange huts adjacent to a castle.

I tried to recapture the Tavern quadrant but it was too little, too late.  Much to my chagrin, I'd also failed to create very many isolated settlements in strict accordance to the "Hermit" score card.  To make matters worse, numerically my presence around the board was so scattered that I hadn't achieve dominance anywhere.  In fact, my last few turns really boiled down to a bunch of mid-board dickery that ultimately achieved nothing.

At face value, it looked as if Chad's efforts were similarly scattered but he was much more attuned to the "Hermit" scoring.  He also made a point of achieving numerical superiority in at least one quadrant.


Mike...55 points
Andrew & Chad...49 points
Me...40 points


Days later when Dean asked me what I'd thought of Kingdom Builder I told him: "I like it more then I should like it."  At the time I wasn't sure what that meant but I think it's probably because Kingdom Builder feels about as much like kingdom building as Dominion feels like, well...kingdom building.

And, yes, I've also heard rumors about broken strategies in the game.  Whatever they may be, I'm pretty sure we didn't stumble upon them in these two games.  Then again, we're not exactly the sort of people to poke around in Halo for seventeen hundred hours looking for glitches which allow us to jump half way across the map and kill someone with a plasma sword.  We may be geeks but we still have some semblance of a life.

Despite the pasted-on theme, I still liked this game quite a bit.  I loved the colorful terrain boards and anyone who knows me also knows that I'm irrationally predisposed to games with hexes.  It may sound cliche, but with a different spread of Kingdom Builder cards (three of ten), locations (four of eight) and map quadrants (four of eight) you should get a pretty unique game experience every time you sit down to play.    

Kingdom Builder scores four pips out of six.

P.S. One word of advice: when the Kingdom Builder cards are reveled, pick them up and read them yourself.  Twice, if possible.

Honestly, my biggest oversight was trying to play the game after half-listening to Chad read through the cards just once.  HUGE mistake.

Additional photos by Michael Chiasson.  


  1. If it wasn't for the high price, this would be on my "buy" list.

  2. I totally agree, sir. I keep thinking about this game incessantly; it's like a sickness...