King Arthur: The Druids

King Arthur: The Druids

Written by Tom Bitterman on 2/28/2011 for PC  
More On: King Arthur: The Druids
King Arthur – The Druids is an expansion of King Arthur – The Roleplaying Wargame (KA).  It is not clear why a wargame would role play, exactly; perhaps it was bored of the standard “move your armies around” mechanics and wanted to get up close and personal.

The original was generally well-received by both critics and the general gaming public.  This had a lot to do with the hybrid style KA brought to the table.  On the one hand, it looks like “Lords of the Realm” or “Total War”, in which you are presented with a map of Olde England divided up into various territories and each territory provides men, money, food, and the like to its owner.  As a would-be king it is your job to build these resources into an army with which to conquer other territories until you have vanquished all before you in real-time combat.

On the other hand, you are a king (or at least want to be one) and have to deal with people.  There will be lieutenants to appease, rebellions to crush, marriages to arrange and quests to undertake.  Your kingdom's status on the strategic map can determine what options you are offered (more territories can lead to better marriage prospects) while success in a personal quest can lead to a powerful martial artifact.

As a bonus, the whole thing is set in early Arthurian times.  Arthur has just pulled the sword from the stone and is embarking on his quest to rule England.  The primary conceit is that Arthur is not particularly Christian – he represents a pivot point, with the ability to lean toward Christianity, follow the Old Faith, or steer a path in between.  Go Christian, and the Saxons will love you and you will get access to special Christian-type units.  Go Old Faith and the Druids will love you and you will get access to special Sidhe-type units - the warriors of Faerie.  This is all rather fun and makes for lots of replay value as you try out different routes to victory.

All in all, KA laid out an interesting game system - there was no real reason to change it much, so they didn't.  “King Arthur – The Roleplaying Game: The Druids” sticks with what worked in the original (and its various expansions).  There are a few key additions that might point to what will be in “King Arthur 2" which, if they pan out, show great promise.

First among these is an expanded diplomatic system.  Each ruler now views you through the prisms of reputation (religion, family ties) and fear (growing armies, expanding borders).  It is not a great system, but at least it is clear who likes/hates you and why.  It can be beside the point at times – Saxons will pretty much  always hate the Welsh – but it is a vast improvement over the war of all against all which was all the original offered.
Also, the trend toward a more sandbox-style of game continues.  It is easy to set your own victory conditions before the game starts, for example.  This allows the player to decide what style of game they would like to play.  Feel like taking over the world? – set your victory condition to “conquer every province”.  More relaxed gamers will want to try “gather X food and gold”.

To continue with the sandbox-style options, the quests have been toned down.  In KA it could often feel like the quests were railroading your game.  The quests so rewarded success (and punished failure) that one pretty much had to undertake them at the right time and in the right order to win.  “The Druids” relaxes this some.  Quests are still important, but are more like Wonders in Civ – they make it easier to win, but are not absolutely required.  Combine the revised quest structure with the ability to choose your own victory conditions and you have a lot of freedom to decide how the game will play.

The point of this expansion was not just to add a few more rules and options, however.  The real treat is the addition of the Faerie units.  Where KA provided a balanced set of units, with some special units for each side, and the “Saxons” expansion brought more depth to the Christian side, the “Druids” put you in the shoes of a follower of the Old Faith and give you lots of mystical creatures to recruit.

Playing as Arthur himself could be a bit of a drag.  There was always the balancing act between Christian and Druid, the constant court intrigue, and endless calls for shrubbery.  Playing as the Saxons meant being old-school Christian – lots of fighting, sure, but not all that magical.  But the Druids!  Now here is a faction one can get behind.  They're a more magical, stranger, and altogether more colorful group than those other two.  Admittedly the Welsh (the stronghold of the Druids and their Old Faith) did not come off too well in either the stories or reality, but those guys could party.

This is not an expansion that fixes all the problems of the original.  There are real problems with the zoom level - simply put, one cannot zoom far enough out to get a real strategic view.  And even when zoomed out the pitiful amount allowed, the graphics are too busy to make out what is going on.  Waving trees are nice, but so is seeing your units.  Also, the installation procedure was a complete mess.  It took maybe half-a-dozen attempts to get the expansion to work.

In summary the “King Arthur – The Roleplaying Game: The Druids” expansion is, from a strictly game-oriented perspective, nothing to write home about.  From an economic perspective, however, it only costs 10 bucks, which is not bad.  At one point Steam was offering the “King Arthur: Complete Pack” (the original game, plus “The Saxons” and “The Druids”, plus 2 DLC packs)  for 12 bucks, which is really a great deal.  There is way more than 12 bucks worth of game in this bunch.
Not that much new here, but a price to match. A good bet for fans of the original game looking for more content until the sequel comes out. If you can grab the whole series at the $12 mark, do it.

Rating: 7.5 Above Average

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

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