In a world where territory comes in sets of 2, your goal is to ensure that your kingdom is more prosperous and prestigious than that of your rival. In Kingdomino Duel, players will draft dice to place various coats of arms in their domains, scoring points from the high dignitaries that occasionally accompany the influential houses. In addition, players race to unlock special spells granted by each of the houses. Will you be savvy enough in mapping out your territory to win the duel of Kingdominoes?
The objective in Kingdomino Duel is to maximize your score by creating domains of the same coats of arms, full of high dignitaries. To setup, each player takes a scoresheet from the pad, and a third one is placed spellbook-side up between the players. The older player goes first, and after that the players alternate going first each turn.
Each turn, the starting player for that turn rolls all four dice and chooses one. The other player chooses two of the three remaining dice, and the first player gets the remaining die. Both players form a “domino” out of their two dice, putting the two symbols next to each other orthogonally. Then, the players draw the domino into their kingdom. The domino must be adjacent to an existing symbol on their map (and if so the coats of arms must match), or be placed next to the central castle space. If there are one or two Xs (high dignitaries) on the die face, the player writes Xs on the corresponding space on their map. Otherwise, they cross off a space next to the corresponding symbol on the spellbook sheet.
The first player to cross off the red square for each coat of arms on the spellbook gets to use the corresponding special ability. The other player will not get to use that ability. The abilities are mostly one shots that the player who earned them can choose when to activate. These include the ability to place your domino without needing it to match coats of arms with an existing space, being able to separate the two dice of the domino and place them separately, immediately choosing two dice as the first player of the round, and turning one of your dice to a face of your choice. There are also two abilities which must be enacted immediately: one allows you to add an X to any of the crests on your map, while the other involves choosing one of the six coats of arms — all of the distinct regions of that symbol will be worth 3 extra points at the end of the game.
The game ends when one player fills in all of the spaces on his or her map, or when neither player can place their domino for the round. All of the domains on each player’s sheet are scored by multiplying the number of matching coats of arms in each region by the number of Xs in that region. Then all of the domain scores are summed up, and the player with more points wins!
Not having played Kingdomino before, I was unsure what to expect when it came to this roll-and-write. I’m not sure how the main game plays, but I really dug the domino element, trying to fill your Kingdom and fit them in just right. Getting to choose your domino instead of having it preset made it feel like I had more control over the game; a lot of times in roll-and-writes you’re playing together but separately, where in this game your choice of dice can be make or break for your opponent.
One other dueling element that spiced up game play was the race to the special abilities. This was a mechanic that I don’t remember seeing in other games before; knowing these symbols would give me extra boosts motivated me to diversify my board and try for different types of symbols. These bonuses gave me to, at times, choose a die without an “X,” but it was discouraging to work so hard towards a bonus to have it snagged away by someone else at the last second.
One of the reasons I love roll-and-writes are their ability to adapt to a various number of players, but I also love two player only games, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the limited player count. This game works wonders with two players, the team really got the development write to make this work. I do wish there were a one-player element though, as that’s one of the appeals of these types of games. We played a fan-made solo one night, so it seems that it could have been a development to give this game a wider range of appeal. Even without the solo mode, this is a solid two-player game and definitely a welcome addition to our collection.
I think the biggest selling factor for Kingdomino Duel is that it is a uniquely two player roll-and-write experience. There are plenty of roll-and-write games that scale to an infinite number of players as long as you have enough scoresheets, as well as those that only play with up to 4 or 5 players like a typical board game. However, this is the first exclusively two-player roll-and-write game I’ve been aware of, and to date the only one I’ve experienced. The good thing there is that it works well as a two-player game, and the dice drafting mechanics lend themselves well to the gameplay experience. Aside from drafting dice instead of tiles, this game really does feel quite a bit like the parent game of Kingdomino that anyone familiar with that game should be able to pick this one up easily. The different types of terrains are replaced by coats of arms, and the crowns are replaced by Xs (likely for the ease of writing), but the domino-style placement and scoring of regions is pretty much the same. However, with the dice rolling and drafting, Kingdomino Duel feels different enough than just playing a two-player game of Kingdomino that it warrants being a separate game in its own right.
As is the case with any game that uses dice, Kingdomino Duel does involve a bit of luck. If you aren’t able to get a lot of Xs, you won’t score very many points, regardless of how big you are able to make your regions. The spellbook does mitigate that to some extent, but after getting an X-less crest 3-5 times and locking down the power, further instances of that crest do nothing for either player. I do like the fact that only the first player to fill up a row in the spellbook gets to use that power, as it does add a bit of a race element and incentivizes taking certain crests at the beginning of the game, but I wish there was something you could do with excess crests after the power is unlocked. Perhaps they could recharge the ability or give bonus points after a certain number. I’m not sure, and while it doesn’t detract from the game too much, I think it is an area that could be improved.
In the end, Kingdomino Duel is a pretty good two-player roll-and-write. As we don’t personally have Kingdomino in our collection, this game gives us enough of that experience when playing with just the two of us. If you do have Kingdomino, or if you’ve played that game and enjoyed it, you’ll most likely enjoy Kingdomino Duel as well, and if you often play with only two players, I think this game is good enough on its own merit to justify buying it, even if you do already have Kingdomino.