Once you've got the foundation in place, it's easy enough to redecorate your board game app. That's what the developers at Skotos Tech/RPGnet have figured out with their series of games that use the MobileEuroCard platform. These apps include Money, High Society, and now, Reiner Knizia's Kingdoms. This last game is a US$3.99 universal app (Version 1.01 reviewed here), and playing it will feel quite familiar to anyone who has tried the first two games. This app shows the engine's flexibility, since instead of playing cards to a central location, you're playing tiles in a specific grid pattern. Most things work smoothly and easily.
This 2-4 player game has been published in German as Auf Heller und Pfennig and in English as Kingdoms, and later, it was even reworked into a movie spin-off game based on Beowulf. Yes, Knizia's numbers game is quite flexible as far as themes go, but that's to be expected. On your iDevice, the game plays very quickly and is entertaining for the few minutes that you're engaged with it (especially on the iPhone). Also, anyone who is interested in multiplayer Sudoku (is that fair?) can read on for the full review.
Gameplay in Kingdoms is quite easy to grasp. Each turn you get to place a tile, either one of your castle tiles (worth anywhere between one and four points) or a landscape tile. You have one landscape tile in your hand that you can see, but each turn you can also choose to draw a random tile off of the top of the deck, then you must play that one. The tiles are placed on a six by five grid, and each time a row or column is filled up, it is scored. Most landscape tiles have a numerical value between -6 and +6 (there are no zeroes), and the sum of this number will be important once the line is filled. Barring any special tiles, each player with a castle in that line will receive a score equal to the number of points on their castles in that row or column times the sum of the landscape tiles.
Since you can place your tiles in any square on the table, it's easy to mess with your opponents, placing a nasty -5 goblin tile wherever they have a big castle. A round is over when the field is all full, and there are three rounds in a game. This creates a friendly game experience where a few bad draws doesn't mean you're out of contention to win it all. One thing to keep in mind: at the end of each round, any single point castles you've played come back to your hand while any big point ones disappear for the rest of the game. Place them well.
As anyone familiar with Knizia games is sure to find unsurprising, there are also a few special tiles. The mountain splits the row in two, the dragon eliminates any positive points from the row and column it is in, and the mine doubles the sum (positive or negative) of a line. Keeping all of these variables in mind is never overwhelming, but it does make the end game pretty tense, especially if you're playing against just one AI opponent.
People's biggest complaint about Kingdoms seems to be the lack of multiplayer, whether that's pass and play or online. The problem is that the app's engine, which makes it easier to develop these new titles, was not designed for these tasks. The developer, Shannon Appelcline, posted to Board Game Geek that Kingdoms will eventually have multiplayer, plus several other "big-picture" features coming through mid-2011.
Even without a human to play against -- for now -- Kingdoms does offer a good challenge. There are six levels of AI opponents, some much craftier than others. The UI is good, but it does kind of suffer on the small iPhone screen. More than once, I put a tile in the wrong space, and there's no undo button to fix this mistake. Thankfully, games don't take more than a few minutes, and you can always restart if you really mess up.
Kingdoms isn't the best board game experience on the App Store, but it is polished and well worth checking out. Still not convinced? Check out a video review of the original board game below.