Kingdomino accessibility teardown


Kingdomino (2016) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

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Version Reviewed

Not yet listed – Coiledspring Publisher

Introduction

Kingdomino is pretty good.  That was the whole central thesis of our review.   I enjoyed playing it.  I’ll enjoy playing it again.  That’s really all you can ask of a game like this.  That’s why it got three and a half stars in our review.   But… is that all you can ask of a game?  There’s a second axis we need to consider here.  Kingdomino is worth playing, but is it actually playable?   Let’s take a look and see how these particular dominos match up.   We hope for a crown for a king(domino).

Colour Blindness

It’s almost okay!  The tiles mostly have their own distinctively unique graphical design.  However, there is a visual overlap between grassland and fields in that they are both marked by the absence of visual cues as opposed to the presence.   For some categories of colour blindness, this is going to be an issue.

Colour blind kingdom

Can I claim territories based on how I perceive colours?

Close examination of the tiles does reveal specifics of terrain type but there’s going to be a game flow impact here if this has to be done regularly.

Territories

Get your nose up close and it’s fine

The king meeples you use are okay for most categories of colour blindness but Tritanopia suffers noticeably when dealing with green and blue.   The meeples in that case are largely indistinguishable.

Colour blind kings

Oh well

Tritanopia is very rare, as is monochromacy, so for the largest bulk of colour blind players this colour scheme will be fine.  For everyone else, the meeples are only used to indicate tile claims and so this is an easily resolved problem – just grab some other kind of token to claim ownership.  It’s also something that’s only going to manifest in four player games unless someone is absolutely wedded to the green/blue colour choice.

Overall then, we recommend Kingdomino in this category.

Visual Accessibility

While Kingdomino might present challenges due to its predominantly visual presentation of information it keeps the possibility space of decisions within a reasonably limited window.   The number of choices you have for a tile is only ever going to be as large as the number of players (times two for two player games), and often will be more restricted still unless you are the first to move.   The confinement of the game state to a 5×5 grid means that close inspection with an assistive aid is likely to be a feasible compensation.  This is going to be less true if playing the 7×7 variant, so we’d recommend avoiding that for players impacted by issues in this category.

Grid of dominoes

The extent of the landscape that matters is only ever a subset

Terrain types are indicated by (mostly) well defined colours and so the ability to pick out specific graphical flourishes is not necessary.   The sheer mass of colour information will compensate for an inability to perceive terrain ornamentation.  The presence of crowns is a little more problematic though.  While they are reasonably large they’re often poorly contrasted against tiles and may be in one of four orientations due to the way tiles can rotate.

Different crowns on different tiles

Contrast is sometimes a minor issue

The presence of the cardboard castle on the starting tile adds a useful degree of tactility to investigating the sprawl of the map, and it’s reasonably easy to tell the size of your kingdom by touch.  However, those for whom total blindness must be considered will likely find the game almost entirely inaccessible even with that physical aid.

There are advantages in Kingdomino to knowing how an opponent is constructing their realm, but these are highly situational.   You don’t really have enough room to build, or time to do so, to actively undermine the work of another player.   As such, it’s not vital to be able to make out with any reliability what another player may be working towards.   The nature of tile claiming too means that you’re often permitted very few opportunities to undermine an opponent even if the will is there.  You’re safe, for the most part, focusing only on your own construction.

We’ll recommend Kingdomino in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

Kingdomino has very simple and straightforward rules.  Playing optimally is a matter of careful consideration of tile placement but this isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite for enjoyment.   Like with Carcassonne, there is a satisfying sense of accomplishment that comes from simply making a nice landscape.  While the game does not offer a co-operative mode out of the box it would be easy to house-rule a satisfying variant where everyone works together to create a massive map.

That said, the game does have a number of issues that need to be taken into account.  First of all, there is a degree of numeracy that comes with play.   Sorting tiles is an arithmetic exercise although it’s not necessary that all players at the table be able to perform the activity.   More regular numeracy comes into assessing the value of tiles, and that varies as a landscape is constructed.  A double forest tile is worth nothing by itself, but if placed in a forest with two crowns it would be worth four points.   Compare that to a single forest tile with a crown which might be worth five or more points if attached to a larger existing terrain.   There is a shifting economic prospect here to maximising score.   Having a mass of contiguous terrain is no good if it isn’t also coupled to crowns.  Having a crown is of limited benefit if it’s not attached to a large terrain.  There are pivot points in placement you need to consider.

Whether this is an issue or not depends really on how seriously people are going to take the scoring.   Some of the variant rules of the game would permit for more flexible scoring to offset some of this ongoing numeracy.  One variant (the middle kingdom) gives ten extra points if a castle is in the centre of the territory.  Another (harmony) gives five extra points if no dominoes are discarded.   Both of these permit players to focus on the construction of their landscape without too much focus on maximising scoring opportunities.   Other scoring variants can be house-ruled, such as bands of points.  ‘If you get twenty points, you get a ‘good’ rating.  If you get thirty, ‘great’, forty, ‘amazing’ and so on’ .  These would permit for meaningful competition whilst also dulling the need for ongoing economic arithmetic.

The scoring at the end of the game too involves a fair degree of numeracy.  This consists of standard arithmetic operators including addition and multiplication, but also the need to hold subtotals and calculate several subtotals per terrain type.   There is no score pad provided in the game to help with this even though it is fundamentally a pen and paper exercise.  You may have for example three sea territories, each with their own subtotal, and then similar sets of terrains for wheat, grass and so on.   It’s not complicated arithmetic, but it’s more intensive than simply looking at a points track and declaring a winner.

There is an additional cognitive burden that comes here in decoupling the selection of a tile from its placement.  You’re choosing not the tile that works well for your landscape, but the one that will work well when you’ve placed the tile you selected in your last turn.   This needs a model of the evolving territory and for a player to hold their strategy in mind when turns progress.  It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it has an impact.

Knowing the broad composition of the tile stack is going to be useful too since there are differing numbers of each terrain in the stack.   There are twenty six wheat tiles, and only six mine tiles.  The proportion and distribution of crowns too changes with the territory.  The manual outlines these, but knowing which have come out of the stack is a powerful tool in skillful play.     Many games include some tile-based reminder of relative proportions but Kingdomino doesn’t.  Different player numbers and variants will impact upon this though since not every tile is necessarily used in every game.   This simultaneously reduces the game impact of memorisation and dials up the implication of tile draws.   This, like the associated numeracy of scoring, is only going to be an issue in intensely competitive games.

The alternating order in which players take turns also has an impact in this category but it’s mitigated by the fact that the process is always the same.  You start at the top of a column and take turns in order.   Thus, even if the specific order in which people do things changes it’s according to a set and predictable formula.

Overall, with some variants and modifications, we can recommend Kingdomino in both categories of cognitive impairment.

Emotional Accessibility

The competition in Kingdomino is extremely indirect and it’s often difficult to even attempt to undermine an opponent, much less actually succeed.  You have so few turns, and so little room in your territory.  That means undermining an opponent comes at considerable cost to yourself.   This also moderates the issues associated with players ganging up or supporting each other.  You just don’t have the meaningful tools to do that in any reliable way, and as such aggressive competition or malign consortia are very unlikely.

Kingdomino though does run a risk of tickling those areas of the brain that rebel against a lack of symmetry, or have a need for completeness.  While a 5×5 grid is not necessarily difficult to achieve it will usually come as a conscious sacrifice of scoring opportunities.    Kingdomino often leaves players with the sense of a job not completed, and not possible to complete.   There will likely be gaps in a territory if someone has played well – these represent missed opportunities for the present, but also savvy placement from the past.   Compulsion may be an issue to take into account here because a sense of closure is often denied.

Score disparities can be considerable, and they’re not always down to player skill.   It’s common that the tile you really need will be taken before you get a chance to get to it, and the nature of the turn system means that you may not even be the one responsible for setting the pace of play.   To regain momentum (and the best choice of future tiles) you must pick the least valuable tile on offer.  However, you do that before the next set of tiles are revealed and so you may find yourself, through no fault of your own, as a victim of the imperfect information at the core of the game experience.   That can have a major impact on scoring.

Pauline's board

She likes to record her victories.

The board above is one that Mrs Meeple put together for the 7×7 variant.   It has a number of very highly scoring territories, including a forest region that contains four crowns and thirteen tiles.  That alone was worth fifty two point, and she ended the game with 124.   My total was 116 (she almost always beats me in games) but in another game I had only fifty points or so.   It’s possible to be crushed in Kingdomino although it’s relatively unlikely.

Mistakes in Kingdomino too not only stay with you, but crud up your future opportunities.  One poorly placed tile can invalidate many other tiles to come.  Sometimes this means cutting your scoring opportunities in half, and other times it means having to discard tiles rather than play them.  As the game goes on, and your failures compound, this becomes more common.   However, at between fifteen and twenty minutes of playtime it’s easy enough to shake this off for most players.  A rule variant too suggests, like Jaipur, that you play a best of three tournament and sum up the scores from each game.    If you’re willing to invest the hour or so needed for that, this variant can be a marvelous way to mitigate these issues.

We strongly recommend Kingdomino in this category, largely because of the variants which help dull the impact of some of the sharper edges of the design.

Physical Accessibility

The components in Kingdomino are thick and chunky, and there are very few of them.   A 5×5 grid means a total of twelve tiles in front of you to deal with, and there’s no particular reason they need to be closely aligned.   The more tightly constrained the tiles are the easier it will be to handle patterns and matching but you can leave a comfortable gap between each of the dominoes without any real problems.

The only physical interactions in the game are claiming a tile, placing a tile, and drawing new tiles from the stack.  The latter of these is a communal activity of the table rather than that of an individual player.  There’s no real cost for one player to handle this for everyone.    The physical interaction within Kingdomino is reasonably limited.

For those for whom this set of actions is not possible, the game permits itself to verbalisation but doesn’t particularly support it.   The tight constraints of a 5×5 grid though mitigate a lot of the issues tile-based games tend to have here.  It would be easy enough to set up your own bespoke co-ordinate system and a convention for description.  ‘A4, wheat, vertical’ as an example of that.   Selecting tiles is much easier, since it’s just a case of saying which of a column you want to claim.   Kingdomino is fully playable in this way with a few adaptations to make things more convenient.

We recommend Kingdomino in this category.  My word, Kingdomino.  You’re doing SO WELL.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

Unsurprisingly, I don’t much like the title of the game.  Kingdomino is an explicitly gendered framework for a game name and there is no need for it.  The manual likewise explicitly identifies your meeples as kings.     I appreciate there’s some disagreement as to whether the game is KINGdomino or KINGDOMino, but regardless – there’s a gendering in the title that is not at all required.  The box art doesn’t prominently feature any particular person, but both identifiable incidental characters are male.

Close up on box art

Hello little dudes

Those though are the only missteps in an otherwise strong performance.   The manual does not default to any particular person, adopting a second-person perspective throughout.   The theme has no troubling elements (you seem to be engaged in a kind of competitive terraforming rather than imperial subjugation), or sexualised art.   It only supports a maximum of four players, but it plays well at all levels and has an RRP of under £20.   I got mine for £16, so keep an eye out for a bargain if you fancy it.  Unlike many of the games where I moan a bit about perceived longevity, I genuinely think Kingdomino is packed full of replayability and will be a regular feature (although not a centrepiece) of game nights.  The learning curve too is shallow enough that you can easily introduce it to anyone and reasonably expect them to play.   It’s got a lot to recommend it as a filler and a gateway game.

We strongly recommend Kingdomino in this category.

Communication

There is no need for communication during play, and no expectation of literacy.    Knocking when passing on your turn is entirely optional too.

We strongly recommend Kingdomino in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

There isn’t a lot to worry about here, other than a few of the usual suspects.  If physical impairment is combined with a communicative impairment verbalisation likely won’t be a particularly effective solution but it’s still workable with some effort.    Visual impairment combined with colour blindness is likely to push the game out of accessibility in both of those categories.  Most of our commentary above works on the assumption that colours can be used to identify contiguous regions when visual discrimination is low.

The game plays very briskly, and play is low intensity.   Barring accessibility compensations you’ll get a game of this out of the way in between fifteen and twenty minutes and still likely have an appetite for more.   This makes it ideal for fitting around modulating levels of comfort, although the physical sprawl of the game means that there are some environmental considerations that need taken into account.  Many games that excel in this capacity work well regardless of the physical location of players.  Here, you’ll need someone to be able to sit up at a table for comfortable play.

Kingdomino is a competitive game in that there’s only one winner, but it’s not particularly pointed in its gameplay model.  You’re rarely at each other’s throats and usually you’re able to focus on your own territory without worrying about what anyone else is doing.   It creates a context for reasonably collegiate gameplay and that’s good to see – it tends not to discourage the table from helping people with accessibility compensations.

Conclusion

Kingdomino does really well overall here – it’s not quite enough to propel it into the top tier of accessible games, but it comes within a whisker of doing so.   It’s a good game, and a good game we can comfortably recommend to almost everyone.   That is literally our favourite state of affairs on Meeple Like Us.

Colour Blindness B+
Visual Impairment B
Emotiveness A
Fluid Intelligence B
Memory B
Physical B
Socioeconomic A-
Communication A

It’s even got some give here in the grades – a second edition that improved the contrast and fixed the colour issues could even nudge it higher still.   Regardless, it’s going to end up as one of our must-buy suggestions the next time we update our article on building an accessible gaming library on a budget.

Radar chart

Kingdomino radar chart

A teardown like this always results in me leaving the computer in a buoyant mood.  I’m sure it often seems like I delight in nothing more than nitpicking but really I’m hoping for something like this – a good game I can uncontroversially recommend to almost anyone that fancies playing it.   It’s Kingdomino.  It got three and a half stars in our review.  And if you like the sound of it, you can almost certainly play it.


If you like what we're doing with Meeple Like Us, please consider liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and sharing our content on Reddit and your own social networks. Drop us a comment too in the discussion section below! We appreciate every thing you do to help us get the word out!