October 23, 2013 4:47 PM | Paul Hack
On a tip from a reader (thanks, David!), I checked out Kingdom, a sort of side-scrolling strategy-defense game, and almost immediately fell in love. First, I must mention the art. If you're at all inclined to appreciate pixel art, Kingdom is a sight to behold. Elements like the reflections in the water and the mist rolling in are exquisite. Developer Thomas van den Berg works magic with chunky sprites and uses some stunning filters and effects to make things more interesting. But pretty graphics aren't worth much if the gameplay isn't gripping, and fortunately Kingdom is a blast to play.
You control a king on horseback. You can press right or left to trot, and you can press down to drop a coin. Other than moving, every action you perform will be accomplished with a coin. You can enlist peasants to aid you by throwing them a coin. Then, by buying them a bow or a scythe (by dropping a coin at the bow stand or scythe stand), they will become soldiers or workers.
Soldiers will patrol your grounds and hunt rabbits, which turn into coins when shot. You can build up your central base and soldiers will station themselves upon it to stand guard. As you build it up, more soldiers can occupy it. The ones stationed on the highest parts can take better shots. Soldiers go about their business of guarding or patrolling on their own, but there are ways to influence where they go.
Workers perform two functions: farming the land and building defensive walls. They will plant and tend crops, which attract rabbits for the soldiers to hunt, and which also produce coins when harvested. There are several places where you can drop a coin to construct a wooden frame which workers will use to build a wall. You can upgrade each wall several times, from a wooden blockade all the way to a tall, stone barrier. Workers will also repair stone walls that have been damaged but not destroyed. Workers aren't completely helpless, and they can be useful as barriers themselves, fodder to slow down the goblin horde.
The goblins are the main reason you're building walls and hiring soldiers. Each night, they attack and, as the game puts it, they try to "noodle away your things". They will chip away at your walls with their noodly arms and trample your troops, then steal the coins that are produced by the destruction. If they get you, they will take your crown, ending the game (though you can actually continue from this point and try to rebuild from the rubble).
After surviving a night-time attack, you can go about rebuilding decimated walls and reclaiming workers and soldiers. Peasants will mope around and eventually die without your coinage to support them. Sunrise brings with it a reward of coins, and more peasants straggle in during the day.
Deeper bits of strategy reveal themselves as you play. For example, one thing I discovered late in the game is that if you're being chased by a goblin, you can toss a coin to the monster and it will leave satisfied. I also appreciate the cosmetic details like the king's skin color being randomly assigned for each game.
The game also gets more dramatic as you go. I found myself getting attached to my vassals and gritting my teeth when they were overcome by goblins, their weapons exploding in a burst of coins as they were knocked to the ground. And I had a genuinely scary moment the night the giant goblins first showed up...
The ostensible goal of the game is to survive 10 nights, but it doesn't end there. If you make it that far, you can continue on until the number of attacking goblins is overwhelming or you employ so many vassals that the framerate begins to lag from all of them walking around onscreen. I don't think there's an ending at this point, but the game has already surprised me so many times that there could very well be one.
How many nights can you survive? What other tricks and nuances can you discover?