Kingdom Game Review - Capitalism in the Feudal Age

By Published October 21, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Kingdom is a 2013 flash game by developer Noio, greatly expanded and brought to PC/Mac/iOS/Android with the help of fellow developer Licorice. As we noted back in our August preview, despite being an indie game, Kingdom was, for once, not funded by Kickstarter --surprise! Let's see if the retail release keeps that overly-addictive-flash-game charm.

In the beginning, there is a King (or Queen) and a pile of money. Such is the way of life. The "tutorial" is short and sweet: ten coins are enough to light a campfire, build two walls, and hire/equip a builder and an archer--after that, there's not much else to learn. Coins are the only resource in the game, and are used to create buildings, upgrade the settlement, hire workers, and buy tools. At night, mischevious green creatures scurry in to tear-down buildings and run away with tools (or brutally devour innocent townsfolk, as the game progresses). If one snatches the crown, that's it--time to start a new kingdom. This is a permadeath game.

The map is randomly generated, to an extent. In the center, there's a keep; to either side, empty land stretches out for a moderate distance towards the demonic portals used by the monsters and, eventually, to an uncrossable ocean. Spots on undeveloped land are randomly designated for farmland, walls, and watchtowers, with a sprinkling of mysterious ruins that give various buffs. Certain kingdoms are much more easily defended than others, although it's not always obvious at first.

Other than builders and archers, the only professions are farmer and footsoldier. The ruler can't engage in combat or do anything directly useful -- they can really only toss money around, which is probably some sort of political commentary. Farms, watchtowers, and walls can all be built and upgraded, but that's about it for structures. Kingdom, then, is a deceptively deep game about careful balancing and management. For instance, the immediate temptation is to expand the kingdom exponentially, pouring all profits back into further growth. However, the only source of new peasant recruits is camps on the outskirts of town--and the more the town expands, the fewer camps there are. It's easy to end up with a desolate island kingdom full of understaffed farms and no fresh workers.

Despite the depth, Kingdom is extremely easy to pick-up and play. There are certainly plenty of things to learn, and the game absolutely refuses to explain any mechanics outside of the first ten seconds of a round, but everything flows intuitively. Other than an embarrassing period where I wasn't sure whether my farmers were actually spearmen, my kingdoms have all chugged along smoothly towards their untimely destruction by Lovecraftian horrors.

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That's all well and good, but it was frustrating at times to see Kingdom get carried away with its own minimalism. Mysterious ruins giving mysterious buffs are great, but I'm the kind of person who can't imagine playing The Binding of Isaac without the wiki open, and it's awfully hard to figure things out by trial-and-error with a demonic horde waiting in the wings. Now that the game is being released to the public, though, this shouldn't be a problem--the real issue is with the amount of content. According to Steam, I've sunk 27 hours into Kingdom, and although (I hope) at least half of that is from leaving the game idling, that's an awful lot of time for the few days I've had with it. Kingdom's strong gameplay and addictiveness far outweigh the miniscule number of enemy types I've seen and buildings I've found in the woods. There's clearly a strong emphasis on simplicity, but it feels like that emphasis has gone further than is necessary.

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I've also gotten pretty frustrated at times by the lack of micromanagement. It's a design choice, and overall it's a good one, but there's nothing like watching a hapless archer wander around on the wrong side of camp while his friends are being mowed down by hellspawn. There's also no way to cancel orders, so builders will steadfastly march out into no-man's-land to cut-down trees that were marked ages previously, even as their hammers are stolen and they're bludgeoned repeatedly. I guess that's why they're not the King, though.

Overall, I'd say Kingdom is worth its $10 price, with the caveat that what you see in the trailer is pretty much all you get. In all the time I've spent playing, though, I haven't actually managed to win the game (yes, there is a "win" condition), so the caveat comes with the caveat that I might have to eat my words. In any case, there's plenty of mileage to be gotten out of Kingdom, and the gameplay is absolutely solid.

And a writer's got to eat.

- Patrick Lathan.

Last modified on October 21, 2015 at 9:00 am

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