Kingdom Builders review.

The travail of board gaming clubs seems to be I get forced to play games I’m not exactly thrilled with. Oh well, its a life experience I suppose.

This week it was Kingdom builder, which somewhat deceptively markets itself as a brain intensive Eurogame. I’d had a couple of beers and very little sleep. Not a good omen.

Firstly while the victory point scoring conditions change every game adding variety, it also feels like you are learning the game from scratch every time you play and learning a game is the most boring part of being a gamer.

Secondly the ways you score said points aren’t exactly thrilling and the pictures that denote how to utilise special abilities you can acquire were indecipherable requiring constant explanation.

While we are on the subject, you acquire those special abilities by building next to cities, why are their ready built cities in a game called Kingdom builder? so more like suburbia builder then… where everyone lives in strictly regimented identical wooden houses. Perhaps we are creating a little fascist/communist utopia? Where do I put the gulags?

Kingdom builder has a medieval theme, but the game made the feudal expansionist process utterly dull. Where was the warfare?where was the intrigue? where was the egomania? Game of Thrones this was not. This was yet another soft German game where you place little wooden houses, except with even less conflict and player interaction than Settlers of Catan.

Catan isn’t the greatest game in the world, but it makes use of the most important component in any game, the players. Who to trade with, or not, and why is the most important part of the game. You have to be aware of who you are handing a victory to even if you desperately want that sheep being proffered.

Resource collection in Catan is simultaneous for all the players keeping people in the game at all times, the trading mechanic means potential for player activity outside your turn too. In kingdom builder the already interminable wait for your turn is exacerbated by the player going first one round going last in the next.

There were no clear benefit to this, (Perhaps for some communistic obsession with equality?) but it meant the downtime between turns is far longer than need be. Especially since Catan shows that said downtime can be disposed with entirely.

In Catan the robber lends a healthy pressure to proceedings forcing resource disposal and adds a much needed sense of conflict to the game in both which tile to nix and who to steal from. You can also see the victory points on the board. At a glance you know who is getting closer to winning which builds tension. In kingdom builders you just tot up the scores at the end and find out who won, which is underwhelming even if you have won (as I did first time through beginners luck).

So finally we get to my biggest gripe with the game, when I won my first game it did indeed feel like luck in that there are a lot of arbitrary rules about where you can (and more likely cannot) place your little wooden houses. In fact all the rules seemed arbitrary. This is supposed to be a brain intensive game, but player agency is diminished by forcing you to conform to all those bizarre planning regulations needed to build that little communist/fascist utopia you always wanted.

The rules seemed especially arbitrary because there was very little interaction with the theme at all, in fact I think it would have been better as a purely abstract game. Why? Because playing it you wouldn’t constantly be thinking that you could be having more fun with a game that was filled with the exciting ups and downs of medieval geopolitics. *cough* Game of thrones *cough*

The third game I was subjected to was that Godfather yahtzee game I mentioned a couple of posts back, and yes it was exactly as boring to play as it looked. What irritated me was that I’d suggested playing King of Tokyo to inject some much needed fun into proceedings… but no.

Its very difficult to tell someone that a game they like is as dull as dishwater without seeming you are raining on their parade. I don’t want to be seen as a downer, I just know there are ways we could be having more fun. Thank God for small mercies: I managed to end the game early by getting seven of a kind then winning a role off which arguably invalidated the entire game up to that point.

We did play The resistance: Avalon at the beginning of the session though, which was the saving grace of the evening. A good game, though rather hard if you can’t see everyone’s face (or two-face as the case might be) to tell if they are lying through their teeth.

I really wasn’t very good at it, for one thing I don’t know the other members of the club well enough to tell if they are lying. I was a loyal servant of King Arthur both rounds, which was probably for the best because I’m a hopeless liar. I approved missions that with retrospect I shouldn’t have, needless to say, the minions of Mordred won both times.

Personally I think the addition of Merlin made it much harder for the Arthurian forces, which is a bit odd if you think about it. I think I might have preferred the simplicity of the original resistance game. Still good fun though. Player interaction is the entire game in The Resistance, arguably the biggest missing factor in the other games I played.

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