Kingdom Builder: Marshlands
Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino
Art by Oliver Schlemmer
Published by Queen Games - 2016
Like previous expansions, Marshlands adds new content meant to seamlessly integrate into the base game, with new rules only applying when the Marshlands components enter play. This approach works well for Kingdom Builder, further expanding the limitless combinations of player powers and scoring conditions present in any one game. The most prominent feature of Marshlands is the new terrain type, Swamps. Shuffled into the terrain deck are five cards that when drawn let a player build on the depicted “classic” terrain OR swamps. Otherwise, swamps are off limits; that is unless you use any of the billion special powers throughout KB and its expansions to manipulate your settlements.
The more fundamental change is how bonus tiles work. Like most other boards in Kingdom Builder, each of these have two locations that provide bonus powers. In times past, a player could grab a rocket camel from each rocket camel depot and be done with it. Not so here! If you manage to grab the same tiles from two different locations, you get an ultra-super-MEGA bonus power; either altering how your two tiles work or granting an additional ability. These abilities are dramatic, and will strike fear into the hearts and minds of your opponents when you manage to collect one. Take for instance the Temple. Alone, it allows you to remove a settlement to place a fourth during your build next turn, but with both Temples, you can ignore adjacency during your first normal placement on all future turns! These powers are no joke.
Aside from that, Marshlands comes equipped with a handful of new Kingdom Builder Cards (victory point conditions), and a new board feature, palaces. The new cards are pretty wild and have a big impact on gameplay, such as Scouts which eliminates all terrain cards of a type and grants points for building next to that terrain. Palaces on the other hand add a nice bit of elegant player interaction. Unlike castles in previous sets, which score 3 points to each player who built adjacent to them, each palace scores a player 5 points if they have the most adjacent settlements. This stops players from late game “boop-ing” several castles for a giant point gain with minimal effort.
Should you get it?
If this were a $5 promo pack with just the new Kingdom Builder cards, I’d say it’s a must buy and easily the strongest addition to the base game; the new scoring conditions are fun, balanced, and at times weird. As it stands, I think this is still a solid expansion with perhaps the most “global” changes to Kingdom Builder, but not everything is perfect.
I don’t particularly care for the new ultra-super-MEGA powers in the game. They tend to dominate a game’s focus, seducing players with their promise of unlimited power. Not every game is won because of these powers but it feels disheartening when your opponent unlocks one.
Kingdom Builder thrives on variety, and fortunately it self-regulates surprisingly well for the many variables that occur during setup. While I don’t love everything about Marshlands, I think it does the best job of any expansion so far to overall flesh out the game’s variety, which is really what makes Kingdom Builder so great.