Kingdom is a minimalist RTS from Noio & Licorice, and published by Raw Fury. In this 1D, simplified take on a traditionally complicated and involved genre, you are a would-be king (or queen) tasked with growing and protecting a tiny kingdom. We checked this game out at SxSW, and then immediately found it on sale on Steam! I’ve logged a dozen or so hours already, and managed to destroy a good many kingdoms already. Should you mount up and check this one out? Find out in my Kingdom review!
Real-time strategy games tend to follow the classic formula set out by games like Warcraft and Age of Empires (or Dune II and Herzog Zwei if you’re hardcore). They tend to represent the play area from a top-down perspective, and the player controls the camera and gives orders to various units. Although RTS games tend to be complex, there are simpler “one dimensional” RTSes like Swords and Soldiers.
Kingdom is probably the most stripped down RTS I’ve ever played. There’s very little in the way of a HUD, the control you have over your units is minimal, and your avatar must be present in order for anything of significance to happen. It’s not quite a tower defense game, but it certainly stretches the concept of both that and the RTS genres.
In Kingdom, you play as a budding ruler who has just ridden their horse into a new land. You start with just a few coins and a couple of peasants to your name, and from there you must establish an empire strong enough to resist and destroy the invading enemy hordes. Should an enemy hit you, they’ll steal some of your precious coins. If they hit you when you are empty-pouched, your crown is up for grabs. Lose the crown, and it’s game over.
Peasants in Kingdom can be tasked to become one of four different units. If they grab a bow, they become a hunter. Hunters will murder sweet, defenseless woodland creatures for cash, and defend your kingdom when enemies come at night. If they grab a hammer, they become a builder. Builders will rush to complete projects that you fund, such as walls, farms, and archer towers. A peasant plus a sickle equals a farmer, who will harvest crops for a more renewable source of cash. Finally, in the late game, you can hand out shields to recruit knights, who will defend your kingdom from stronger, more severe threats.
The overall goal in Kingdom is to expand and conquer the four gates that allow enemy units into your kingdom. Chopping down the forest expands your available territory and gets you closer to assaulting each portal. However, when you attack a portal, the enemies flow forth, and they can easily overwhelm an unprepared army.
There are a number of smaller mysteries to solve – shrines, chests, portals of your own, and more. However, that’s basically the game. Recruit peasants, turn them into useful workers, push your borders ever outward, and beware the enemy counterattacks. A typical game of Kingdom might take anywhere from an hour to three hours to play, and the wilderness is somewhat randomized each time.
There’s only one save file, so losing your crown is an instant game over and you’ve got to start from the beginning again. Despite the fact that I usually hate the early game grind in a lot of these roguelikes, I find I don’t mind the early game in Kingdom. Overall, everything flows pretty quickly, and it’s not particularly difficult. Learning the game takes a bit of effort, as there’s little to no tutorial, and solving each mystery about how the game works makes you feel like you’re making progress.
I do have some complaints about Kingdom, though. There’s not a lot (or really any) control over your units. If you order your builders to construct a wall, defensive units on that side of the kingdom will happily march out to where the wall will eventually be, and wait for construction. If your builder takes too long to get there, they might be standing around with no defensive ability when night falls and the enemy attacks. You can’t cancel construction, so you’re just kind of stuck. Likewise, if you build an archer tower, an archer will get in it and stay there until the end of time. If you clear the enemies out of that side of the map, too bad, they’re stuck defending nothing.
There’s also a lot of tedious galloping back and forth. Eventually you can build portals to speed things along, but these are never really explained and it took several games for me to fully understand how they worked. Even with portals, I spent a lot of time just rushing through my own territory, not really accomplishing anything. Between this and the slow movement of units in general (although 1.2 did speed this up a bit), Kingdom games tend to be rather frustratingly slow paced.
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Kingdom is a truly beautiful game that takes the core concepts of strategy games and cuts the genre’s mechanics to the bone. This minimalism cuts both ways, leaving some parts of the game obtuse or frustratingly uncontrollable. Despite this, Kingdom is relentlessly addictive and replayable.