Session Report: “Kingdom Builder” and “Tokaido”

Kingdom Builder is the 2011 classic from Donald X. Vaccarino, which won the Spiel des Jahres in 2012. Certain people find it too abstract, which I would have agreed with, but something always attracted me to it. I played the iOS version before the 64 bit apocalypse killed it, and found it surprisingly engaging.

It’s a simple game. You have 1 card. On your turn, you place 3 settlements into the terrain depicted on the card. The settlements must be placed so that they touch a previous settlement if possible, but must touch one of the settlements you place this turn. There are 3 special scoring cards that offer gold (points) for things like being adjacent to water or connecting castles/locations. Castles reward 3 gold if you are adjacent to them at game-end. Locations offer special tiles to help navigate the map.

I had some experience with it but this was the first time my friend Nav played it (after a 5-minute rules overview). I tried to impress on him the importance of settlement placement which can cut you off unintentionally from other areas of the map. He ended up getting stuck in one area, and without the location tiles, he was at the mercy of the draw. I was able to score quite a few points from the Merchant who rewards for connecting locations and castles; this alone netted me 20 points. Final score was 52 to 33. I still find it somehow very satisfying, and I’m curious what sort of things are in the big box.

Tokaido is one we’ve played in-person a few times, and now several times online. It’s a really clean, quick-playing game.

It’s a unique movement-priority game where you follow a preset track from one side of the board to the other. Each space gives a different opportunity to collect sets of cards, donate coins to the temple for points, acquire money or items, and at 4 points are inns where you pay for food. The trick is that you can pick how far forward you move on the path, but the person in last always goes next. Go far ahead to pick a valuable space, then wait several turns for the other players to catch up. Or inch ahead and risk losing out on spaces you need.

Nav and I both really enjoy this one, though it didn’t do much for my brother. We usually play this on Board Game Arena where a couple of expansions are also available: Crossroads and New Encounters. We include both and have started trying out some variants. We played with Return Journey this time where you play in reverse of the normal path. Nav got a big early lead with the river panorama and some bath houses. He quickly got a good ~20 point lead early and held it all the way to the end. I went for the slow and steady method, grabbing some calligraphy cards for end-game scoring then focused on squeezing as many points out of them as possible. My character let me do both encounter options, which I did every time. Before scoring calligraphy cards, I was 30 points behind. I scored exactly 30 points from calligraphy, 92-92, and the tie breaker went to me for having 1 more achievement card. Closest game we’ve had of this!

We’ve been playing a lot of shorter, lighter games and have been itching for something heavier. We normally play heavier stuff, but scheduling games has been a challenge so the shorter ones are easier to get to.

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