The Herald Bulletin

June 9, 2012

Kingdom Builder: building a following

Game designer may have another Game of the Year

By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin

— Donald X. Vaccarino has been thrust into the forefront of the tabletop gaming community as a designer and that stature is on the verge of getting even larger.

Vaccarino designed the hugely successful Dominion from Rio Grande Games, which won the 2009 Spiel des Jahres Award as game of the year. That award is to game designers what the Oscar is to people in the film business.

He hasn’t stood on his laurels to be sure. He has released three more games into the marketplace. There is Nefarious, where gamers became mad scientists creating weird invention. Nefarious has been released by Ascora Games and is now becoming more widely available in the United States. Then there is Infiltration, released just a week ago by Fantasy Flight Games.

Yet it is Kingdom Builder, released last year by Queen Games that has drawn another game of the year nomination and many industry insiders believe it is likely to win.

“I started working on Kingdom Builder after Dominion, but it has older elements in it,” Vaccarino. “The piece placement rule came from a game from 1999.”

Kingdom Builder has some of the feel of Dominion, thought its mechanics are completely different.

“Well,  I made games for years before Dominion, and applied lessons from those games to both Dominion and Kingdom Builder,” said Vaccarino. “I am not sure Dominion itself really taught me so much for other games. It has taught me how to make Dominion better. I guess I have learned some stuff about playtesters.”

Kingdom Builder started as one thing and developed into something else.

“I wanted to make a deckbuilding board game,” said Vaccarino. “You would play cards to put pieces on a board, and put pieces on a board to gain cards. Gradually I convinced myself to take out the deckbuilding part. It wasn't needed, and I didn't want to do deckbuilding just to do deckbuilding. So I replaced the deckbuilding with, draw a terrain card, put three pieces on it. It was just a very simple way to determine what you could do.”


Kingdom Builder is a game about building communities on a modular board. How points are awarded for doing that vary from game to game. That plus the fact that players choose four boards at random from eight makes the game have tremendous variety and high replay value.

“Having the varying scoring methods was just a way to get variety into the game,” said Vaccarino. “You get some variety from the shifting combinations of boards and abilities, but the scoring methods alter things more drastically.”

Dominion and Nefarious are two that I’ve played and all three have that variety as a central theme.

“Ultimately for me this came from Magic: The Gathering,” said Vaccarino. “Magic can give you much different experiences based on what kinds of decks the players have, and I loved that. As to why I liked that in Magic, I guess I would say I get bored easily. I enjoy exploring a broader space, rather than minutely exploring a smaller space. And favoring variety happens to be great for playtesting - when we're playtesting the Kingdom Builder expansions, I want to play several games in a row, and I can, because it plays differently enough each time that no-one gets sick of it.”

Another strength of Kingdom Builder is that games can easily be played in under an hour once the game is learned. The average game time is, “Maybe 10-20 minutes per player, depending on the setup and how fast you are,” said Vaccarino.

As with Dominion, Kingdom Builder is structured so that it can be expanded and the first such expansion, Nomads, has already hit the shelves. Nomads adds four more playing boards as well as some new locations on those boards and a trio of new ways for points to be scored. With the base game, points are scored at game’s end. With Nomads, some points are scored during the game.

The goal for Nomads? “Aside from just wanting to make a good expansion, the big thing for me was to make sure it was value-for-money given the constraints,” said Vaccarino. “It only got to have four boards, and four abilities (and that) doesn't seem like much for an expansion. So you also get the nomad tent one-shot abilities, plus three new scoring methods.”

Kingdom Builder is far from finished. More expansions are expected, given the popularity of the game.

“I've made three expansions total, counting Nomads,” said Vaccarino. “I have no plans for more but then I didn't when I had two expansions done either. They will probably come out. The second expansion will probably come out at Essen (October), and then the third expansion would depend on how the first two do.”

Kingdom Builder and Nomads can be found at local retailers and those online. It will also be possible to see the game and likely receive a demo of it when GenCon arrives in Indianapolis beginning on Aug. 16 and running for four days.

The game’s page at Queen Games is here:

The game’s page at Board Game Geek can be found at: