With the exception of Cadwallon, there has not been a big box game release on the iOS for a while now. For reasons that are apparent in that review, I’m not really considering Cadwallon until it’s fixed. Fortunately, almost on the heels of Cadwallon, we see the release for Kingdom Builder, which is a definitive favourite of mine. The strategy of the game is succinct, yet complex; its component interaction allows for high levels of replayability. The game comes from the brainpan of the person that brought you Dominion.
The premise of Kingdom Builder is just like its title sounds; you are trying to establish settlements across a kingdom and acquire a smattering of gold for your pains. You have a series of settlements that you are trying to place upon a grid of hexagons across four sectors. The individual hexagons will have a land type or a city/town, which provide either more money or specific abilities. There are eight different maps that can be brought together to form a different kingdom each game.
During a turn, you reveal a card that will refer to one of five different nominal land types, and play three settlements upon that land type. This is a mandatory action, but can be used in conjunction with various optional abilities that you may pick up throughout play. The one rule that is a general constant in placement is that if you can place adjacent to an existing settlement, you are required to. This is a key part of the game’s tactics as the constraints make you consider the implications of a move and what opportunities it might open up several steps from that placement. However, the randomness of the type of card that you draw is such that the game can still swing into almost anyone’s favour for the best part of the game, while still engendering a real sense of strategic immersion.
When the game ends, you gain a three gold for each city you are adjacent to, gold relevant to the special conditions outlined on three profession cards, and gold relevant to the number of settlements you placed before the game ended. So in that regard there is also a bit of strategy in simply getting your settlements down before anyone else. Suffice it to say, the rules are very easy to pick up even while the strategy has a broad scope.
I have read a number of concerns that the game isn’t polished enough, or its presentation is lacklustre. For my purposes I find the game demonstrates a reasonable amount of finesse. Perhaps my only major gripe is the absolute lack of any undo options. There have been a number of times where I will execute a move, only to realise a better strategic option, but have no means to backtrack. Granted in a live game, you might not have the option to undo a move once rejoined, but usually there is a lot more flexibility in this. Another minor gripe relates to the fact that the screen can be a bit tetchy when it comes to placement; with no undo button this can mean inadvertently misplacing a settlement, only to find yourself committed to the mistake.
Having a copy of the physical games myself, I found the iOS adaptation a sufficient, if ersatz, variation of the game. In terms of its replay value, I find the game reasonably high, but certainly much expanded with the Nomads expansion that I hope to see some day.