Reiner Knizia’s Kingdoms in Review – Dragons and Castles, but is it Fun?

Kingdoms is the latest port to the iPhone of a board game by Reiner Knizia, a prolific, “german style” board game designer with over 500 published games to his name. Kingdoms is a game he designed back in 1994, and now it is playable on your iDevice! So what’s it all about?

iPhone Screenshot 2

Kingdoms is played on a 5×6 grid with a bunch of terrain tiles numbered from -6 to +6, and a few special tiles. You play a member of some unspecified royalty placing castles amongst the terrain. Your goal is to maximize the sum of all the terrain tiles in the same row and column as your castle. Each castle has a multiplier, from 1x to 4x, which is applied to the sum for each castle that was played. At the end of each round, you add up the score for each castle, and then you get back your 1x castles. However, the 2x, 3x, and 4x castles are for a single use only, so you need to be careful and use them to best advantage over the three turns. Finally, there are three special tiles. Dragons cancel any positive tiles in the same row and column; in other words, only the negative tiles count towards your score, and then you multiply by your castle value, very nasty! Mines double the value of all tiles in the row and column, good or bad, and mountains break the row/column into two separate sections (you don’t count tiles on the other side of the mountain, but the dragon doesn’t affect over the mountain either). After three rounds, whoever has the highest score wins!

The game is nicely done, using the original artwork from the board game. The game supports retina display, and looks gorgeous, though the tile artwork seems slightly soft. There is no sound at all, but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay.

If you are thinking this sounds like a rather “mathy” game, you would be correct. As is common with Knizia’s games, this is really a mathematical optimization game with a thin veneer of theme to add some interest. Still, there are interesting strategies, and the game rewards repeated plays as you build up strategies for dealing with different scenarios. The math part is not overwhelming, it is usually possible to have an intuitive feel for the gameplay, though sometimes you will be surprised at the score differences.

However, all is not happy castles in Kingdom land. First up is the controls. The tiles are small, and it’s sometimes hard to tell which tile you have selected. The game gives some feedback where a move will be made, but sometimes I still find I have selected the wrong castle, or worse, placed a juicy tile in the spot next to where I intended. To add insult to injury, there is no undo, so you have no choice but to watch as the computer players take advantage of your mistake. Kingdoms games are tight, and sometimes brutal, so one wrong move can easily lead to defeat. Now the controls are generally quite good, and I don’t make the wrong move very often, but when it happens it is particularly frustrating since there is no margin for error.

The second problem is the difficulty. I have played Kingdoms as a board game, and I found by comparison that even on the easy setting, the difficultly of the iOS game is definitely on the hard side. Even on the easy setting, the computer players are very challenging, even ruthless, which can be very daunting. I did notice that playing with 2 or 3 is a little easier since fewer players means more opportunities to place tiles. But you should expect to lose early and often. There are no multi-player options, so the computer players are your only option.

Overall, Kingdoms is a well-executed and faithful port of the original board game with retina graphics and challenging computer players. However, I can’t help feeling that the the game is geared to hardcore fans of the board game, with very little for the more casual iOS crowd. The lack of multiplayer makes it a solitary pursuit, and the lack of any sort of online leaderboards is surprising. I can really only recommend this game to Knizia fans who want a complete set, or fans of the board game looking to sharpen their skills. Board gamers looking for iOS ports would be better off to start with more accessible fare like Carcassonne or Reiner Knizia’s Samurai.

With this I declare Kingdoms officially touched!

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App Summary
Title: Reiner Knizia’s KingdomsDeveloper: Skotos Tech
Reviewed Ver:1.02Min OS Req:iOS 3.2 or later
Price:$3.99App Size:10.46MB
  • Faithful implementation of the original board game
  • Challenging computer players
  • Good graphics with retina display support
  • Controls are small, need more help for the small screen
  • Badly needs an undo, or some other way to recover from a wrong move
  • Computer players are ruthless, even on easy
  • Not very accessible for casual gamers
  • No options for playing with other gamers

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This review was brought to you by TouchMyApps contributor Paul Close

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