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Kingdomino Origins isn’t quite a full evolutionary step for the excellent board game series

Kings of the Stone Age.

Since the first Kingdomino hit tables in 2016, designer Bruno Cathala’s colourful spin on traditional dominoes has quickly proven that its description as a “modern classic” is more than an empty statement.

The original family-friendly board game - which went on to collect Germany’s prestigious Game of the Year prize, the Spiel des Jahres - was followed shortly by a slightly chewier sequel, Queendomino. Whether Queendomino overburdens Kingdomino’s light domino-placing gameplay is a matter of debate among fans, but for my money it’s Queendomino that takes the crown as the better of the two games.

Whichever variation you prefer, the basic gameplay remains as delightfully straightforward. Players each take a domino from the middle, add it to their kingdom (making sure it’s adjacent to an existing area of the same colour, such as a lake, forest or desert) and then choose a tile from the next selection of dominoes for the following round. At the end of the game, each area scores for the number of connected squares multiplied by the number of crowns in each region.

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Queendomino added the ability to construct buildings on empty squares in your kingdom - formed of a five-by-five grid of tiles - and tax your land’s inhabitants for the coin needed to buy said buildings (or bribe a dragon to burn down those valuable to your rivals). Also new to the game were towers, which would attract the queen to visit your land and earn you bonus points at the end of the game - if she wasn’t tempted away by someone else’s array of towers first.

Despite its name, Kingdomino Origins is a step forward for the original Kingdomino.

After an expansion for Kingdomino, Age of Giants; a spin-off roll-and-write game, Duel; and an even more kid-friendly offering in Dragomino, Kingdomino is back with its next full standalone entry, which released ahead of this year’s Essen Spiel board game convention in Germany.

Despite its name, Kingdomino Origins is a step forward for the original Kingdomino, combining three separate game modes that layer on top of the familiar tile-placement puzzle. The modules can be used individually or combined in any fashion, joining a new fire scoring mechanic that replaces the crowns of King and Queen.

The resource tokens are used simply for scoring extra points in Totem Mode, or can be used to buy cavepeople in Tribe Mode. Image: Blue Orange Games

In place of fixed crowns on specific tiles, regions now score for the number of connected squares multiplied by the number of fire symbols in the region - playing into Origins’ prehistoric theming of cavepeople, mammoths and stone tools.

The point-spitting volcanoes turn out to be one of Kingdomino Origins’ best twists on the formula.

In what turns out to be one of Kingdomino Origins’ best twists on the formula, fire symbols don’t just appear printed on squares, but are spat out of new volcano tiles when added to a player’s layout in the game’s default ‘Discovery Mode’. How far the fire travels and how many symbols the token counts as are determined by the number of volcanoes on the square - one, two or three - with the player deciding in which direction the lava flies.

The ability to add additional value to closed-off regions and multiply your score even higher with some strategic eruptions helps overcome the frustration of desperately searching for a crown/fire for otherwise worthless areas - or groaning when the one tile you need is snapped up by someone else. The greater player control over where to place tiles and what they’re potentially worth (Is it better to go all-in on one massive area? Or score for lots of smaller regions?) gives Origins a distinct feel from both Kingdomino and Queendomino, without demanding any significant relearning of the rules.

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The other two modules will be familiar to Queendomino players, offering a similar addition to the sequel’s additional marketplace board and building tiles. Here, tiles may offer resources, kept on their respective squares when added to a player’s grid: mammoths, fish, mushrooms and flint. In the ‘Totem Mode’, simply having the most resources of a certain kind in front of you earns you a score bonus, which can be wrestled away by another player’s superior collection of diddly wooden tokens. Either way, you’ll score a bonus point for each resource in your land at the end of the game.

Alone, the individual modules don’t leave much of an impression - combining them feels like the intended way to experience Kingdomino Origins.

The resource tokens are adorable - and hopefully less prone to disappearing between sofa cracks than the miniscule knights of Queendomino. The bonus points are a fun extra to make regions even without fire symbols valuable, while the totem bonus for having the most encourages a light bit of added competition with the other players. Even so, I found the Totem Mode generally a bit underwhelming by itself. The resource tokens are slightly fiddly to place on dominoes as they appear - the combination of four variants makes them more of a fuss than Queendomino’s identical knights - and just sit there for the most part.

That is, unless you mix in Origins’ third and final module, ‘Tribe Mode’. This reminded me of Queendomino’s building board, with a row of tiles that can be purchased using your spare resources and added to your layout for various scoring bonuses - making it a case of upfront cost versus payoff. The objectives include surrounding the tiles with given resources - fish for fishers, fire for fire-breathers and so on - or connecting together warrior tiles, which act in the same way as domino squares, providing their combined power multiplied by the number of connected tiles in terms of points. They’re yet another thing to consider as you place, but the relative of the bonuses and downside to losing resources made them less attractive than they might seem during our game.

Unlike Queendomino, Origins can't be combined with previous entries in the series. Image: Blue Orange Games

Alone, the individual modules don’t leave much of an impression - combining them together feels like the intended way to experience Kingdomino Origins. Even then, this box feels less consistent and perfectly formed than either Kingdomino or Queendomino. Given that King and Queen can be combined together - while Origins can’t be used in conjunction with either previous game - it makes Origins an even harder standalone set to recommend unless you’re a huge fan of the series who’s exhausted your enjoyment of the previous boxes.

Personally, as a set of mini-expansions for the existing games this would be a more attractive option; I would love to include the volcanoes’ point eruptions in a crown-spitting form, and the resources make for an interesting if slightly underwhelming addition. As it is, it’s a curious alternative to two outstanding games that's mostly for completionists. A lesser entry in the series, then, but it’s hard to improve on perfection.

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