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Kingdoms and Castles

Kingdoms and Castles

Written by Dave Gamble on 7/20/2017 for PC  
More On: Kingdoms and Castles

I always thought it would be fun to be a king. The raw power of an army that reports directly to me, the ability to mete out summary judgments as suited my mood of the moment, and the big castle to hold massive banquets in. Then came Game of Thrones, after which I decided it might be better to just play at being an all powerful potentate. Kings, it seems, have pretty short lifespans. It was with that long-held dream in the far back reaches of my mind that I leapt at buying Sid Meier's Civilization V when it come up on the Steam Summer Sale.

Being wholly unfamiliar with the genre, I summoned forth my all-knowing adviser: YouTube. I found a newbie-level tutorial that promised to give me the bare bones knowledge needed to begin my reign.

I was lost in a flood of details almost immediately. Civ V was shelved for the time being.

And then… along came Kingdoms and Castles which looked like just the thing I was looking for: Civ V with training wheels. On the surface, it looked like a pared down version of the same kingdom-building I would later encounter when I graduated up to the far more complex game. The Civ V tech trees alone scared me senseless. Could it be that there’s more to this king job than meets the eye? K&C seemed like a much more suitable way to come to grips with the awesome power and responsibility held by a sole ruler.

Our first meeting was rocky, so to speak. Having been gaming since I upped the RAM in my TRS-80 Model I to a massive 16k and consequently lived through decades of desperately wanting ever higher resolution, it literally offends me to see games like Minecraft revel in their return to ugly, blocky graphics. To me it seems like a giant step backwards being used to mask the lack of artistic talent on the part of the development team, but that’s just me being curmudgeonly. An alternative view would be that the graphics don’t need to be stellar as long as the gameplay is solid. As it turned out, I got used to blocky scenery fairly quickly.

Upon selecting a new game, I was presented with three levels of difficulty to choose from, with the difference between each being the level of threat from dragons and Vikings. Being a rank amateur, I opted to go without those menaces entirely for my first session.

To begin, I was presented with a not at all gigantic land mass comprised of a large island surrounded by some smaller islands. This geography was obviously randomly generated since I was also offered the option of having a new one created for me, but they all looked more or less similar. I chose one that looked okay and was unceremoniously dumped into my throne. So, what to do first? I had zero resources, and the only menu item available to me was a “Keep,” so that’s what I did—I placed my bitty little wannabe castle on the coast in the hopes that it would reduce my vulnerability to attack. Because I had opted to not actually have any attackers, it was a decent enough decision.

Simply by building my keep, I ended up with five citizens and 12 logs with which to build things. From these humble beginnings, I hoped to create an empire that covered every inch of available land. But...what to do next?

Roads. You have to have roads. Everything that I would want to build would have to be within easy walking distance of a road. With four of my five citizens growing fat just sitting idle in my keep, I thought it best to put them to work as road builders. And, as king, what I thought to be the best course of action was, by my royal decree, the only course of action. Wow! Would that this could be transferred to things like, well, marriage.

Wait, what’s this? My keep came with advisers. There were three minions providing me with suggestions on the topics of Agriculture, City, and Military. I would eventually cultivate a skill in ignoring their constant nagging, but for the early days they were useful. The Secretary of Agriculture suggested that I put some farmers to work to keep us fed. The City guy agreed that my peons would be happier if they were fed, but also thought that we might need additional housing to bring more subjects to my kingdom. The Secretary of Military, clearly recognizing that her position was a sinecure in light of our Viking-free world, had nothing of use to say at all.

My current resources allowed for one Hovel (which would house five more subjects), two farm fields, and one stretch of road. Such was my first royal decree. All I could do then was lie back and enjoy the services of my harem while my peons began constructing the beginnings of my kingdom. Just kidding—there are no harems to be found in the things-to-acquire list. A pity, that.

I waited. And I waited. Nothing happened. Oddly, though, my supply of lumber was depleted. I needed to find more. Fortunately, there were large wooded areas nearby, and I found that by clicking one one of them, I could select that stand of trees to be chopped down. I did so. My subjects remained stationary, clearly waiting for someone else to gather the wood while they stood idle at the construction site. One would note that this practice has survived the centuries; have you ever seen a construction site where there’s one guy holding a shovel and 10 others just watching him do it? Yeah, it was like that.

I clicked on the hovel and saw that there were three workers assigned to it and, as I had suspected, they were waiting for someone else to bring the resources. Just to show them precisely who was boss, I demolished the underpinnings of the hovel right out from under them. They still didn’t budge, so I took away the two farms as well. They got the message and ran off to chop down some trees. In short order I had rebuilt my stock of logs. I was nervous about depleting all of the natural resources of my limited tracts of land, so I made note that I would want to hire a forester as soon as possible. The forester plants replacement trees for each tree he harvests, providing a more sustainable usage. I would have to build a quarry first, though, and that would require more roads, which in turn would require more wood. This king business was shaping up to be a race against disaster.

I decided to try again to build some roads, but having seen the power of my fury when they wouldn’t chop wood, they decided they had better keep at it until the selected plots were entirely cleared. It took almost a full year, but to be fair we had some torrential rains to deal with. Once they were done with the tree chopping, they got busy on the farms and housing they so desperately needed. It was then that I learned that not all of my land was fertile enough to support farms and orchards. From that point on, I was more careful about where I placed structures and roads. I was also careful to only harvest wood from arable land.

So, after getting them all well fed and housed, were they satisfied? No, of course not. One thing I learned quickly as a new king is that peasants are never satisfied. Too much food? Gripe about the lack of a granary to keep it in. Nothing to do but work? Whine about not having a tavern. On and on it went: one need after another. They wanted heat, so I gave them a charcoal maker. His fire got out of control and burned down a hovel, so I gave them a well so they would have water to feed their bucket brigade. Still, with each new infusion of farms, housing, and nice-to-haves, the kingdom would eventually achieve a sort of stasis.

There were still periodic fires, but with careful planning of well placements, the losses were mere irritations. As the town got bigger and the people happier, I decided that they ought to be taxed. Well, truth be told, it was one of my advisors that came up with that idea, but being king means you never have to share credit. And why should you? You don’t get to share blame, after all. I added a Treasure Room to my castle and started taxing my subjects.

Being a kind and just king, I did not hoard the tax revenue, and because I had no need of a military, I decided to use some of my stockpiled money and resources to build a hospital. Sadly, I waited a year too long—no sooner did I start the construction of the hospital than a plague came to town. With a third of the city dead or dying, there were no workers remaining to do the construction. Eventually I found some shirkers hiding in the taverns, so by edict I closed the drinkeries and put the slackers to work on the hospital. I saved the town, but not before losing half of the population of my fiefdom. It took a long time to get new people to move in, but eventually we got back to full population. That led to decades of relative prosperity.

And that led to boredom. Having built at least one of every non-military thing I could build, and having no external threats to cause lasting damage to the town, I found myself to be a king with nothing to do. Historically that leads to picking fights with adjoining kingdoms, but as far as this game goes, that isn’t possible. I eventually decided it was time for this king to move on and start a new kingdom, but this time it would be within range of marauding Vikings and ill-tempered dragons.

That was orders of magnitude more difficult. The Secretary of the Military now had a lot to say. The challenges of supporting a small hamlet in its infancy became much harder when scarce resources had to be shared with the building of a fortified castle, a Chamber of War, and the training of Heroes and Infantry. Having only experienced being a benevolent king focused on providing adequate housing and food, I retraced that strategy at first, thinking that a sound economy would support a strong military. That might have turned out to be true, but I’ll never know. After suffering a couple of attacks from the Vikings, my undefended town was damaged pretty heavily. I thought we could recover, but the surviving peasants packed up and left, angry that I had not built adequate defenses. Never mind that the building of those defenses would have forced them to live at subsistence levels for decades, they were angry and they were leaving, never to return.

So, being king isn’t all that easy after all.

I could start over and try to see if an alternate approach would fare better, but I think I’m ready to move on to the more complex world of Sid Meier. This does not mean I won’t come back to Kingdoms and Castles. While not as sophisticated as the massive worlds of the Civilization series, the relative simplicity of K&C allows for testing various strategies in a much shorter time frame. Rather than suffering (or benefiting from) emerging technologies and threats, K&C provides a stable, mostly predictable progression.

There are still a few issues with the game and more than a few features that would help with some of the more mundane aspects of city management, but it is clear to see from the traffic in the Steam community pages that the developers are actively listening to beta testers and engaging in conversations about how the game can be improved. This bodes well for a new entry in a crowded genre. Personally, I would like to have easier control over what my subjects are doing. It was not uncommon to have a worker shortage stop the building of critical infrastructure. Finding where workers were hiding (besides the tavern—that was almost a given) and shutting it down to free the workers was a nuisance; I would have preferred being able to set a priority on any given job and let them manage themselves accordingly.

I enjoyed my time sitting on the throne in my Kingdom and Castle. Once I got through the initial learning curve, I found it easy and enjoyable to design my kingdom and managing our natural resources as efficiently as possible. Once I had survived those first few dangerous decades, I was able to relax and concentrate on improving the lives of my loyal subjects. At least until those marauding Vikings arrived on my shores; I could have done without the ensuing carnage and subsequent betrayal by my no longer loyal subjects, but that’s life as a king. It’s tough, so wear good armor!

Kingdoms and Castles is entering into a competitive genre and may struggle to get noticed, but the ease of play and nice balance between simplicity and complexity makes it worth taking a look at. Just be sure to consider what you're going to do when the Vikings come calling.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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