There are numerous board games where players battle each other to control territories -- but what happens when the vie for geography without any battling?  Kingdom Builder from Queen Games is a strategic, fun board game for 2-4 players with no combat and lots of planning.

The goal of Kingdom Builder is to earn the most gold through settlement placement.  Each player has 40 settlements and a marker to keep track of the score.  First, players create the board by putting four sectors together.  Each sector has terrain hexes where players can place settlements (grass, canyon, desert, flower field, and forest), terrain where settlements can't be built (water, mountain), one Castle, and two identical locations.  Players also place three of the 10 Kingdom Builder cards on the side of the board; these give all conditions for earning gold at the end of the game, like the Fisherman giving players one gold for each settlement next to a water hex, or the Knights giving players 2 gold for each settlement on their longest horizontal line of settlements.

Players start with a terrain card matching one of the five terrains where settlements can be built.   On a player's turn, they reveal their terrain card and build three settlements on that type of terrain.  Settlements have to be adjacent to other settlements on the same type of terrain, if possible; if not, settlements go on that terrain type anywhere on the board.  (If every terrain hex of that type is occupied, the terrain card is removed from the game and a new terrain card is drawn.)  Settlements cannot be placed on occupied hexes.  And after settlements are placed, the terrain card is discarded and a new terrain card is drawn.  Then the next player clockwise goes.
Then there are the castles and locations.  At the end of the game, a player gets three gold for every castle adjacent to one of their settlements.  As for locations, each location has two tiles that give an in-game benefit; for example, the Tower lets you build one settlement on the edge of the game board, while the Harbor lets you move a placed settlement onto a water hex.  If you build a settlement adjacent to a location, you get that location tile and can use its ability once per turn on the turns following its acquisitions.  (You can't get both location tiles from the same location, but you can get one from any locations in the game -- unless the other players got both tiles before you could.)
When a player places their last settlement, the game ends.  Players then earn gold from the three Kingdom Builder cards, plus three gold for each castle adjacent to one or more of their settlements.  Whoever has the most gold wins!

Kingdom Builder is a straightforward and enjoyable game of strategy.  Apart from terrain cards and which four locations come up when the board is made, there are no random elements in the game.  It's strange playing this sort of board game with no combat, but this places a greater emphasis on strategy: Whether to block other players, which locations to go for, and where to place settlements with the frequent limitation of having to place them adjacent to your existing settlements.  This makes Kingdom Builder a competition of placement rather than battles -- and a calmer, intellectual, fun game about controlling territories to earn gold and victory.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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