There has been a colossal bun fight going on at Boardgamegeek recently. The subject? My favorite game, Kingdom Builder. A review that totally panned the game was posted:- BGG – Shocking review
On reading it, my thought process went something like this:
“Ouch, that is harsh.”
“Everyone has a right to an opinion.”
“But, it’s so wrong. I must write a reply”
“Ooh, is that a biscuit?”*
In response I posted my review on the geek and made a comment on the other review. I felt that this would serve as balance. What happened next was utterly heart-warming. Kingdom Builder fans came out of the woodwork like cardboard zombies and ripped the critical review to shreds using the only weapon to hand: cold, hard logic. The reviewer was last seen on page 4 of the comments defending manfully, before being swamped by the hoard. Battle was recommenced on the comments section of my review too. So, yes, I was cheered. I had found out that I was not alone and other people cared for Kingdom Builder.
Nomads: Expanding the Kingdom
Nomads is the first expansion for Kingdom Builder. It takes the traditional board game expansion approach of bringing more of the same plus an extra player. Yes, you read that correctly: Kingdom Builder can now be played with 5! I have yet to play a five player game, (my ability to bribe and threaten friends or family is not what it was). It is on the list of things I want to do before I die; nestled between ‘own a pocket protector’ and ‘drive a racing car’.
The expansion throws three new concepts into the mix; in-game scoring, one-off powers and blocking. As you would hope the expansion drops seamlessly into the game. Just add the new boards, and Kingdom Builder cards to the main game and select from them at random.
In the box
The expansion comes with new 3 Kingdom cards, 4 boards, 29 locations tiles, 25 stone walls (wooden actually) and a set of red settlements for the fifth player.
Kingdom Builder Cards
All the new objective cards reward you instantly for placement of settlements:
- Families – for placement in a straight line of three.
- Shepherds – for building in a hex with no free adjacents hexes of the same terrain type.
- Ambassadors – for building next to an opponent’s settlements.
I wouldn’t want to be playing with all three these goals at the same time, it would slow the game down, (although not the end game scoring). Incidentally, these in-round scoring opportunities only come when building, not moving.
I prefer to call these power tokens, ‘deploying power tokens’ sounds much cooler than using location tiles, but – hey – maybe that’s just me. There are five new types to add into the mix.
Gardens allow you to build an extra settlement in flower fields, village an extra settlement if it can be snuggled next to three of your own settlements.
The Quarry power allows one or two stone walls to be added to the current terrain type. These walls don’t score points but they block areas off. Their strategic value increases with the player count.
Caravans give you the chance to move one settlement in a straight line. Your settlement ups sticks and doesn’t stop until it reaches an immovable object like a mountain, water or another settlement. This is a great power, opening a wide range of options. Hide the board with caravans on if your opponent likes to do a lot of thinking.
Nomads are a wild card. They appear on all four of the expansion’s boards and offer a one off ‘use it or lose it’ power. The Nomad tokens are shuffled and just one is placed on each hex, (these locations also count for Merchant and Worker end-game goals). The extra action must be used on your next turn. They are split into:
- Donation – Add three extra settlements to the terrain on the token, (this could even be water or mountains).
- Resettlement – move settlements 4 spaces, (this could be one settlement 4 spaces, or 4 – one space).
- Outpost – ignore the adjacency rule when you build one of your settlements.
- Sword – take a settlement off the board for each other player and give it back to them.
- Treasure – gain three gold.
Nearly half the Nomad tokens are donation actions which will give you a three extra settlements on the board. The rest get two each. There are some neat effects, but you don’t know what you are going to get.
Well, this is a bit different.
As this is more of a mini review, I’m not going to do my ‘playing with three’, ‘how likely is your child to flip the table’ sections this time.
What do I think?
Really? You’re asking me for an opinion on a Kingdom Builder expansion? Is that wise? Isn’t that like asking a cat what they think of sleeping? Let me surprise you here, I’ll be exercising my critical faculties just a little bit.
Lets start with the good:
- The fifth player. It’s red. Playing with five makes the game even tighter and ups the thinking time ,(I’m extrapolating here, but I can do that). A five player game should be over in a little less than an hour and for a stuff on the map sort of game that is good.
- The new special powers, boards and objectives add a whole bunch more replayability. The number of starting variations is kicked up by a big number.
- The in-game scoring forces another layer of thinking into the game. Its no longer just about the end game. How do you maximise your immediate point scoring opportunities without compromising the other objectives? Its another chance to let your skillful use of the special tokens shine.
- The Caravan offers up so much mobility. Mobility that drivers on the A47, (a single carriageway from Kings Lynn to Norwich that attracts caravans, yet discourages overtaking), can only marvel at. Over the course of a few turns, a settlement of three buildings can be spread across the board. I think of this as the commando tactic; dispatching a settlement behind enemy lines and wreaking havoc. It is true that flexibility comes at a cost: planning how to get the most out of caravans can slow the game down, particularly in the end game when trying to wring out the last few points.
- It all fits in one box: use the insert from Nomads in the main box.
- What about the titular Nomad tokens? My take is that they are nice to have, but not essential to progress in the game. Given the choice between a standard power and a Nomad power, I know where I would be placing my settlements.
And the not so good:
- The Quarry’s brick walls offer a nice balance to the Caravan by blocking movement. In a 2 or 3 player their usefulness comes more from filling a terrain type than actively blocking another player. In a four or five player game with space at a premium, they will come into their own.
- The other power tokens are a more of the same from the base game, but good from a completist point of view.
If you like Kingdom Builder, then rejoice! Nomads adds an extra slot to the enigma machine. Like a trainee codebreaker at Bletchley park, you will revel in the puzzle based variety the expansion offers. Conversely, if you were on the fence about the original game, this expansion will not change your mind. It doesn’t radically alter the game and shouldn’t be bought if you thought the game needed fixing.
Next time: Kingdom Builder: Crossroads.
*It was a chocolate malted milk biscuit.