City-building games really have come a long way since 1969’s The Sumer Game!
Kingdoms and Castles is available on Steam and a review key was kindly provided by Lion Shield.
The game was played on a Macbook Pro, starting from game-version 105 though 109b13.
Kingdoms & Castles follows in a long line of city-building and resource-management games, mixing in a bit of Tower Defense in a setting with raging vikings, ogres, and dragons that fall out of the sky randomly.
The game’s been out in Early Access for a while, and it may seem a bit late to review it now – I’ve held back on doing this for a reason, but first: What is the game?
As the name kinda gives away, the setting is medieval, like you’re building your own little Renfaire, but with plague and hostile invasions. You get to build living-quarters, farms, markets etc, balancing the need for food and entertainment, with defences against recurring attacks.
Early on, you’re focusing on the bare minimum, a few hovels, a couple of farms, and of course building materials, but soon enough it’s about infrastructure, optimizing living-areas around bakeries and taverns, and having stone-roads to help you get food around. Bakeries help you increase food-availability, and markets bring in food and charcoal from afar, while taverns consume food and provide happiness. Naturally, food can spoil, so granaries are critical to ensuring your people don’t starve, but put them in the wrong places and the plebes end up having to walk too far for those odd yellow blocks.
At semi-regular intervals your growing city gets attacked by vikings or dragons, or both! Vikings plunder, dragons burn stuff down, and both can be killed with a sufficient number of arrows. Build towers, as tall as you can, and with a little Archer’s Tower on top, and they’ll gladly shoot at any enemy as long as you have gold; You don’t even have to supply them with arrows! The taller the tower, the better the range and the more hits it can take, and a Ballista Tower around 30 stories tall can cover a city, though it shouldn’t do so alone.
An odd observation at this point is that Ogres, who bash down walls, seem to be linked to the size of your fortifications, and simply not having inter-connected walls looks like a strategic approach to avoiding them.
So that’s the basics of the game, and you might be wondering when I’ll get to the topic of why it wasn’t reviewed immediately. Simply put, because despite the existing content, it feels incomplete currently…
Yes, since release there’s been the addition of stone roads for faster travel, waterwheels and aqueducts to help with farming, and most recently there is the Merchants and Ports update bringing in ships, and building cities on multiple islands on a much larger map!
All of this does bring longevity to a game, adding challenges and next steps for your city, but it still feels like there is not a real end-game, or whatever the equivalent to “end-game” is in a perpetual, infinite resource-management game.
The developers have also been improving the UI, and adding quality-of-life changes. One change I’ve particularly been looking for was the ability to prioritize tasks, which is added in the latests builds, though UI/UX still feels a bit naïve but functional.
There’s the “challenges” of building an ever bigger city, unlocking Steam achievements as you go, but no random challenges beyond just raiding vikings and dragons – nothing that necessitates changing logistics, altering the layout of your city, or redirecting resources toward 1-time projects.
Another wild idea, and yes, you’re welcome to scream, “But, Sim City!”, could be partial online availability to let your merchants trade with people on your Steam friends-list, or perhaps even introduce the option to send your own people pillaging your friends? Suddenly you’re investing resources in specific events (going viking), instead of just semi-persistent infrastructure and a few good defenders. It’s a risky adventure (they could be better fortified), and rewards definitely depends on the level of their city and not just your luck, but the game needs something beyond this whole more-of-what-you’ve-been-doing-for-the-last-5-hours.
There’s also parts of the base game that feels incomplete. Your defending army, as an example, cannot be given orders to patrol an area, or engage an enemy. Instead, you have to locate the general, direct him to near where the enemy is, and then micromanage him to stay near the hostiles. Then there’s the Castle, which seems like it should have functionality and options, but doesn’t really do much. Gates claim to close to keep enemies out, but I’ve yet to see this happen, and you can literally build towers so tall, they’ll kill dragons before the dragon is even visible in-game.
Ok, I’ve been ragging a bit on the game, and perhaps been a bit too negative. There’s a really good, balanced game here, with its own raison d’etre. It’s cute, the graphics are clean, with rotating seasons and little brick-people, the mechanics largely work well, and there’s not much to frustrate you outside of the speed of these games, (there’s a fast-forward option!), and getting your army to where you want it. Oh, and the odd dialogs from your advisors, that keep repeating themselves, and require you to look at your castle to even notice.
Music and sound are, well, there. They are not the things that stand out the most, and more varied music could likely help it score better in this area, but they are clean and functional, which I do mean in a good way.
The people at Lion Shield really have done a good job, and continue to do a good job as they add content – It hits that, “One more thing” feeling, that is the true hallmark of this sort of game, that point where you think you could optimise some small thing a bit more and end up redesigning a quarter of your city.
If you’re into city-builders, resource-management, or simply tower-defence games, the game’s price, €9.99 at the time of writing this, is absolutely worth it, as you’re almost bound to get several hours of entertainment out of it as-is, and only more so as the developers continue to add to it.
Note: You can also find it in Fig bundles, featuring games that were crowdsourced on the Fig platform. it is in one alongside the excellent Trackless that Draconusx looked at last year, and Solstice Chronicle, the developers of which we interviewed in Episode #061 of The Rated-R show!
Bammsters’ Rating: Design 7, Challenge 7, Fun 7, Replay 7, Price 8, for an overall rating of 7.2 out of 10. Growing!