The Kings rule when it comes to TBS conquests

Posted: July 24, 2009 in Strategy, Time Management

The iTunes store has plenty of games that emulate old school titles such as Risk and Civilization. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality because most are pretenders that do not offer much depth in terms of content or worse, the game isn’t challenging enough. I don’t think you’ll have that problem with The Kings from developer XenoStorm that delivers a rich turn-based game of strategy and conquest that I recommend if you enjoy this genre.

If you’ve played games similar to UniWar, vConqr or Lux DLX, then you’re familiar with the level of decision-making necessary to succeed. This usually involves managing armies, deploying attacks, and expanding colonies. In The Kings, the experience is supplemented with heroes, diplomacy and even loyalty, and uplevels the strategy quite a bit. I’ll tell you right now that this is not a game for the impatient as there is a moderate learning curve. Since this is based in a fantasy world, you’ll come do battle and ally with some of history’s notable conquerors including Attila The Hun, King Arthur, Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, and our favorite Asian emperor Chingiz Khan among others. And because fear mongering and pillaging is an equal opportunity sport, female leaders include Queen Elizabeth and Cleopatra.

Castles are identified by flag colors, and visually, the graphics are adequate, but alone, they aren’t what will draw you to the game. A zoom function is included, but honestly, it’s not used consistently throughout. For example, in the wide view of the entire map, I can’t zoom in on a specific kingdom which would’ve have been an ideal feature. Besides swipe and drag to scroll the map, the touch controls are generally responsive, and the menus are intuitively laid out. An optional in-game pop-up tutorial is provided, and I advise you to turn off as soon as possible since it appears at every action and turn and slows the pace of the game down considerably. What the game lacks is a fast forward option, and you’ll understand why shortly.

With three levels of difficulty: easy, medium and hard, The Kings offers 6 scenarios based on time periods and degree of unrest.

Rise of Confusion—AD 203
Path to Power—AD 205
Lions with Wing—AD 208
Five Dreams—AD 210
Superpower—AD 211
Chaos—AD 210

One particularly nice touch is that the scenarios follow their own individual timelines demonstrated by changing seasons and present other strategic considerations. Each time period has characteristics in terms of rule. For example, in Rise of Confusion, the land is equally divided among the different rulers, while in Superpower, there is a more dominant ruler to contend with. In addition, the game offers autosave and 4 save slots so you can experiment with the different time periods.

Conquest is the name of the game, and in The Kings, you are responsible for a multitude of things one of which is the use of Heroes. A Hero is the leader of a castle and directs armies and builds alliances to say the least. At the beginning of a game, you choose one Hero from among 50 to represent and provide with direct rule. For example, if you choose George Washington (yes, he’s in the game), you can manage the 5 areas at that castle or castles. These areas requiring oversight are Resource, Military, Hero, Diplomacy, and Castle. Heroes have certain characteristics that make them better suited for specific situations denoted by a number (the higher the number, the better).

INT—development and commerce
CHARM—diplomacy and alliance building
WAR—military prowess

There’s even an option to scout for heroes nearby to join your forces.

Here is an overview of the five areas:

Resources—Purchase goods and develop food sources to feed the population and military
Military—Build forces which includes recruiting, training and fighting
Hero—The leader of the castle; not all castles have a hero and you’ll need one in order to direct actions
Diplomacy—Form alliances with surrounding castle leaders outside your empire
Castle—Develop the castle into a cash cow and develop loyalty with the population

The way these areas are organized and the level of depth and options within each are well thought out, and really a degree of complexity to the gameplay. In carrying out tasks involving Resources, Military, Diplomacy and Castle, an option is to appoint a Hero to oversee actions which either can enhance successes or minimize damage. An Info option within each of the areas also provides a brief overview.

One area worth highlighting is Diplomacy. This enables the forming of alliances with nearby castles with or without the use of gold. Alliances are essential because enemy castles and heroes support other allies if attacked and vice versa. Alliances are not automatic, and you’ll want to use this and Hero scouting whenever possible to complement your own kingdom’s strengths and weaknesses.

Gold is at the root of all this because it will be necessary for building armies, maintaining loyalty from the population, and forming alliances. Gold can be acquired in several ways including the development of castles, selling food, and receiving gifts from alliances.
Each castle also has characteristics that require your attention with statistics provided for population, loyalty, military strength, food levels and gold among others. Loyalty which refers to the population can be a bit nebulous, but know that it can help make a difference in whether a castle can withstand an attack.

One thing to keep in mind is that some castles simply serve as outposts, and regardless of whether the castle has heroes, you do not have full command responsibilities unless you choose to rule directly. You have the flexibility to delegate that responsibility to the AI who will then make strategic decisions on your behalf. This is actually an ideal set up because if you’re successful and add castles to your kingdom, you won’t have much time to manage each and every castle, unless you want to of course.

The gameplay itself is where The Kings differentiates itself and delivers an immersively engaging experience. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a single game took a while to complete. At the beginning of each turn, castles under direct rule each have 3 moves or Action Points. Conducting or implementing an action from any of the 5 areas will count as an action point. As I mentioned, you’re responsible for many different areas and in some cases involve several steps. Building troops is not as simple as, well, building troops. In fact, you will need to maintain food resources to make sure they’re being fed, generate commerce to pay troops, and train them so they can take on enemy armies. Conversely, the game automatically feeds troops at every turn as well as pays them and collects taxes from the citizenry but only if there are enough resources. Actions such purchasing items or hunting for food are decisions left in your hands but remember, these count as action points.

The battles themselves are quite unique and offer two modes: Auto Battle and Manual Battle. In Auto Battle, the game will automatically conduct battles which quickly determine a victor while you watch. Nothing elaborate, but it keeps the game moving. However, choosing Manual Battle opens up the game opens another form of turn-based gameplay where you can direct and fight the battle through 50 different maps. Similar to UniWar, you will be responsible for moving troops and conducting attacks, and literally is another game within the game. And, if both sides have Heroes, a “showdown” match precedes this. It definitely adds variety to the gameplay, and those manual attacks by themselves, while not deep, can be time consuming and intense.

By tapping on castles that are not within your rule, military capabilities, alliances and heroes are presented and come in handy in determining the feasibility of attacking. The AI seems to do an effective job of realigning armies and conducting attacks. Enemy armies will even attack you, which then provide an option for you to send reinforcements. Because this game is turn-based, a good deal of time is spent watching the AI carryout its tactics which are illustrated in the overview map. The lack of a Fast Forward button is an inconvenience because there are a number of empires, and watching them can be a somewhat monotonous.

What The Kings could use is an achievement system which I think would add even more to the replay value while tracking player statistics. Beyond some of the issues I’ve already brought up, one issue that is particularly irritating for me is the amount of typos and grammatical errors. Throughout The Kings, dialogue windows provide intros, overviews and game tips, and at least one error is present each time. Misspellings are everywhere and the tutorial, while helpful, is a chore to read because of formatting issues. I understand mistakes happen, but the errors are almost systematic in this game. And, unfortunately, these errors tarnish an otherwise solid game.

In my review, I barely touched the surface of all the elements in The Kings, and frankly quite a bit of content and depth can only be discovered through actual gameplay. The Kings ranks up there as one of the better turn-based strategy games when it comes to the level of resource management and gameplay. Now, if they would only invest in a spell checker…

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (strongly recommended for TBS fans; the level of depth and resource management make this a standout; aside from the lack of polished text which impacted my rating, the game has a ton of replay value)

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