I have played my first few games of Kingdom Builder. My first impressions are very favorable, but I have not played enough to speak comprehensively. I also have not tried any of the expansion content. My “big box” came with two expansions and three mini-expansions, so I have a lot to explore.
Kingdom Builder is the Spiel des Jahres “Game of the Year” from 2012, designed by Donald Vaccarino, who also won it in 2009 for Dominion. Like Dominion, this is a simple-to-learn game that you can play with non-gamers, with components that vary by game to extend replayability and reduce the extent to which the game has a single, solvable “best” way to play.
Gameplay is the same for each game, but the board changes as does how you score points. That last is important: scoring rules change each game, 3 rules drawn from a deck of 10, so in one game you want to build a big kingdom by the water and in another you want a long horizontal row that borders a mountain range. There are 120 possible combinations of scoring rules, although that exaggerates the variation because some rules are similar (miners/fisherman give points for building next to water/mountains). The board changes because you pick 4 maps (from 8 in the base set, 2 orientations to each) and combine them to build the board, which gives you 26,880 potential boards, but again that overstates the variation because it counts different sets of 4 as well as different arrangements, and ABCD probably plays a lot like ABDC (ignoring arrangement gives you 70 boards). Each board has a unique location, so farms let you build more on plains while oases let you build more in the desert (again, templated variation). By the most generous counting, the base game comes with 3,225,600 different game configurations, but even a really stingy counting will put you in 4 digits, and running out of variation after a few thousand hours is not a bad payoff for a board game. And expansions come with more boards and scoring rules.
That variation is there for you, the dedicated repeat player. For casual folks who will play maybe once or twice, the important thing is that the rules can be explained in a couple of minutes. Basic gameplay: draw a terrain card, place three settlements in that terrain, bordering your existing kingdom if possible; if you built next to one of those unique locations, you now have an optional ability each turn (place or move settlements). When someone places his/her last settlement, the game ends after everyone has an equal number of turns. That’s pretty much it. A new player needs to learn a few simple rules, the four optional abilities, and the three scoring rules.
I am always on the lookout for good games I can play with people who would not self-identify as “gamers.” My first games were fun, and non-gamers were willing to play again.