It's hard to believe that six years have passed since Blue Orange published the first Kingdomino game. Time flies when you're enjoying yourself, and we've certainly had a lot of enjoyment out of playing Kingdomino over the years. There have been other sequels and expansions (notably Queendomino and Age of Giants) but Bruno Cathala's Kingdomino Origins is probably our favourite so far.
Title notwithstanding, there are no kings or crowns in this game. The setting is prehistoric so predates the rise of any monarchy. Nevertheless the game is immediately recognisable. Four domino tiles with terrain types on each half are made available for selection. Players place their meeple on one to choose to take it to add to their individual tableau, which has to fit within a 5 x 5 grid. The tile a player selects also determines the order in which they get to make their selection in the next round. In building their individual tableaus, the 2-4 players are trying to group terrain types together. In the original Kingdomino game, players were also seeking to nab tiles with crown symbols on them because the score for each terrain type is the number of connected squares multiplied by the number of crowns on that terrain. In Kingdomino Origins there are no crowns. Instead, it's fire icons that are the all-important multiplier. So far, so same.
There is of course more, however. In our view, Kingdomino Origins is at its best played over three rounds with rules and scoring opportunities added in each round. The first 'Discovery' round then has Kingdomino Origins virtually identical to original Kingdomino, except that in addition to the substitution of fire for crowns, you also have tiles with volcanoes on them. The volcano squares won't ever score you anything but volcanoes are where the fire originates: volcano tiles each have a fire token on them that can be moved within your tableau. It's a simple change but one that prompts additional tactical choices and scoring opportunities.
In the second 'Totem' round, play is the same except that, on tiles with little icons showing a mammoth, mushroom, fish or flint, you place a wooden piece representing that 'totem' item. There's a set collection bonus for having a majority of each of the four totems, and all the totems score a point at the end of the round. As you can guess, the presence of the totems alters the relative values of the domino tiles. Remember tho' you're still trying to get connected runs of terrain and fire multipliers because it's these that offer the potential for really large scores. The only other change when playing Totem mode is that the fire tokens consume the totem items. That mean if you place a fire token on a square in your tableau that has a totem on it, the totem is removed...
In the third round, you're playing in 'Tribe' mode. This retains the wooden totem pieces but drops the set collection bonus. Instead, players have access to a Cave board peopled with four cartoon cavemen. Each turn, in addition to selecting your domino, you have the option to spend any two different wooden totems from your tableau to recruit one of the cavemen in the display. You add the caveman to your tableau by placing them on any square that does not contain a fire symbol, fire token or wooden totem. The various cavemen score in different ways but most score in relation to specific features or totems in orthogonally and diagonally adjacent squares.
We've loved the incremental approach inherent in this game. There's nothing too complicated but what complexity there is is added gradually as you move from one mode of play to the next. You can choose just to play the same mode throughout but the varied modes add greatly to this game's replayability and appeal; the latter also helped by Cyril Bouquet's cartoon art. Our only gripes were that it can be a bit fiddly placing out all the wooden totem pieces, and the otherwise excellent moulded box insert provides an overly tight fit for the tiles.
Our copy of Kingdomino Origins was an edition aimed squarely at the pan-European market so it came with a formidably thick 44-page rulebook. This initially alarmed some folk until they noticed that the rulebook was only so hefty because, in addition to the English rules, it set out the rules in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. The English rules actually only run to six pages. and that's with ample illustration, reaffirming that Kingdomino Origins is easy to teach and learn, and it makes for an ideal 'gateway' game for introducing new people to modern board games.