Robert Johnson famously found the blues at a crossroads having done a deal with the devil. Was it a similar search for inspiration that caused Donald X Vaccarino to name the second Kingdom Builder expansion Crossroads? In fact is that what the ‘X’ stands for in his name?
Crossroads sees the Don address some of the criticisms of the base game of Kingdom Builder, adding new powers, mechanics and interactions.
If Nomads was a second helping of fruit cake, Crossroads is a cheese board offering complexity and variety. As Kingdom Builder is modular, this means that you can randomly combine both expansions with the base game to make an incredible helping of cheesy fruit cake. Brie-tastic! What more could the average gourmand gamer want?
In the Crossroads box you will find; 4 new boards, 16 location tiles (8 types), 6 task cards, 5 city hall tiles and 20 new player pieces representing ships, wagons and warriors.
Forester’s Lodge and Monastery complete the set of ‘place a settlement to terrain type X’ actions and Fort allows an extra settlement to be placed from a fresh terrain card draw. None of these are going to set the game alight, but hold one: there are another 5 to look at.
The Crossroads location tile is titular, so it must be important right? This power lets you draw two terrain cards and discard one. This breaks the cardinal rule of the game, that you draw a card and play to that terrain. What’s going on? Is this game breaking? Oddly not. If you have got as far as the 2nd expansion, you will most likely be rocking an expert rating in the game and the difference between a one and a two card draw isn’t as big as you might think.
City Hall gives the power to drop a one off Mega-Settlement onto the board. This floret is worth 7 settlements in addition to the usual starting settlements. This is a big difference in end games based on area majorities, but it needs to follow the normal rules. Which means that it can be tricky finding somewhere to place it legally.
Ships and Wagons offer similar powers on sea and land. Once gained, they may be placed, moved or removed on a turn. The wagon may move up to 3 spaces, even across mountains, but not past another settlement. The ship plays the same way but, not surprisingly, on water. Ships and wagons open up the opportunities to manipulate board position in a much more varied way than the base game or Nomads. Travelling to islands and traversing mountains suddenly becomes easier and tactics that feel like military advances, into foreign territory, can be used. You could also argue that movement abilities, like these, ameliorate the random nature of the card draw by offering so many possibilities.
Warriors are a mildly aggressive addition to the game. Warrior meeples can be placed or removed on a turn and, while placed, prevent any building or movement in the immediately surrounding tiles, (including your own). This opens up plenty of scope for genteel blocking, serving as a useful counter to the additional movement served up by ships and wagons.
The 6 task Cards are the little sister of Kingdom cards. They set a goal that, if completed, score extra points at the game end. The tasks vary from building a ‘road’ of 7 settlements in a diagonal line, to placing a settlement on all four sides of the board. One task is added per Crossroads board used in the game. I think these cards are a great addition to the game for experienced players. Kingdom Builder is all about juggling competing scoring conditions to maximise your score and these tasks are just another ball to be kept in the air.
What do I think?
I reckon that this expansion is Donald X Vaccarino’s attempt to cock a snook at the heretics who criticised the original release of the game. The criticisms that Kingdom Builder was simple, lacked interaction and was flawed with randomness have been addressed. The Ships, Wagons, Warriors and Crossroads powers all open up the board and create a wide range of possibilities.
I know a lot of people play the game by drawing two terrain cards each turn rather than one. Each to their own, I guess, but it doesn’t stop me internalising an Edvard Munch scream at the thought of butchering one of two fundamental rules in the game, (the other being adjacency). Did Donald X think, “So, you thought the game needed to be played with two territories drawn each turn? Well here you go.”? Will those players pull four terrain cards from the stack, if they gain the Crossroads cards?
In Yorkshire, fruit cake is traditionally served with cheese. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but it works. With Kingdom Builder and Crossroads we have a similar story: a sweet base game with a savoury expansion. If you like Kingdom Builder, then you probably owe it to yourself to pick up Crossroads. The extra variety and increased complexity make the whole package something that you will be playing for years to come.