Back in 2016, publisher Blue Orange Games released an excellent family game from veteran designer Bruno Cathala in the form of Kingdomino. This game took the ages-old dominoes mechanic and created an engaging family title that has already seen its fair share of expansions and spinoffs. So, what’s next for the Kingdomino family? Well if you’ve been paying attention to the latest board gaming trends then you may have guessed, it’s a roll and write called Kingdomino: Duel. This two-player only title seeks to distill the Kingdomino experience down to a two-player only affair. Let’s see if they succeeded.
Each player in Kingdomino: Duel starts off with an identical kingdom sheet, with the spell book sheet placed between them. Each round, the first player rolls the four kingdom dice and selects one of the results, then the other player chooses 2 of the remaining dice, leaving the last die to go to the first player.
Each player then pairs up their two dice and records the result on their kingdom sheet. One of the dice must be placed next to a matching coat of arms, and if a die contains an X symbol, it’s marked off in the circle on the space where the die is being recorded.
Any coat of arms that don’t have an X, allow a player to cross off a box on the spellbook sheet in the matching row. The first player that crosses off all boxes in a row unlocks a special power that can be used once per game.
After all results are recorded, the other player becomes the first player and a new round begins. The game ends when either at least one player has filled in all the spaces in their kingdom or neither player is able to record the dice result on their turn.
Each domain on their kingdom sheet is scored base on its size, times the amount of X’s in that domain. So, if you had 5 coat of arms all connected orthogonally, and 3 Xs marked off on them, that area would be worth 15 points. Whoever has the most points is the winner.
I think Kingdomino: Duel does a fantastic job in distilling the Kingdomino experience down to a quick playing, portable roll and write game. Whether or not the roll and write genre in general has reached the saturation point is up for debate, but personally, I’m not quite there yet. What I like about roll and writes in general is that the games are usually easy to get to the table and quite fun, and for me, Kingdomino: Duel delivers on both counts.
In fact, I may actually like it better than the original. I think it’s from the added variability and tension that the dice bring to the table. Not only do you need to draft dice you want for their coat of arms, but you must also be aware of where your opponents are at on their boards…and the spellbook. Even though none of the spell powers are game breaking, I still found myself not wanting to let them get those bonuses. This led to some great decisions to make in the game where it wasn’t always obvious which are the best dice to take.
Speaking of the spellbook, I really liked this new mechanic. Even if you get a dice roll that’s only going to give you minimal points due to the lack of “Xs” rolled, you still get to make progress in the spellbook, which works as a nice consolation prize. While only one of the spells give you straight up points, many of the others can be really strong in the right situations.
The area where Kingdomino: Duel falters a little is the same that plagues many roll and writes. Drawing on a small sheet of paper with a grey pencil can cause some visual issues. With the original Kingdomino, I could easily look across the table and see what my opponents were working towards. With this new roll and write, that’s a lot harder (short of players bringing their own colored markers to the table). This can potentially turn the game more into a multiplayer solitaire than it should be.
Kingdomino: Duel ended up being one of those rare occasions where I actually prefer playing the roll and write version over the original. The game is fun, has some nice variety, and the smaller footprint makes it something I can easily take on the go. Sure the game isn’t deep, but as a filler game or a light family game, Kingdomino: Duel fills its niche quite well. Is there room in the roll and write universe for one more title? I think so.
Final score: 4 stars – Blue Orange Games managed to successfully distill the Kingdomino experience down to a neat little package.
• Some visual issues trying to see your opponent’s sheet from afar