Wait for it…
This weekend, I picked up a sweet little strategy game on sale called Kingdom. It’s a gorgeous pixel art resource management game with minimalist game design created by Thomas van den Berg and Marco Bancale. In Kingdom the player controls a brave ruler on a proud horse, trying to build a settlement from nothing but a few coins. A settlement that can hold its own against the considerable forces of darkness that muster in the night and claw at the walls. The game makes a lot of really interesting moves, one of which is that the vast majority of the game the player is able to directly interact with the game environment in only three ways: by moving right, moving left, and dropping coins. Another nice touch comes from the fact that the player has no control over whether their avatar is a woman or a man, just like in real life. The strategy of the game comes from what resources you invest those coins in structures and resource as well as how thinly you choose to spread them. As expected from a wave-based defense game, the deck is heavily stacked against you and Kingdom fully expects its players to fail more than a few times. There is little to no handholding. Success comes from paying close attention the subtleties that the game has to offer and by getting curious at the risk of losing the progress you’ve made. This is pretty normal for games in the same vein, but one thing I find really cool about this game is how much downtime you actually get, and why that feels like a good thing in this case.
Kingdom doesn’t mind making the player wait, and that might be a turn-off for some players but the empty space isn’t without reason. Free to play wave defense games tend to make the player wait as a tactic to get them to utilize one of the many paid ways to avoid that waiting. Kingdom uses it to build atmosphere and to encourage the player to pay close attention to the world. Being a very minimalistic game, both in aesthetic and mechanics, the game revels in the negative space it creates, although calling it negative space isn’t really fair. In the minutes between attacks, players are granted the opportunity to get acquainted with their kingdom on an incredibly detailed level. Archers occasionally fire wide, sending arrows into the foreground. Torches are extinguished at the end of their life and burn back into view when dust settles in. Farmers slowly make their way out to the fields in the rising sun. Tiny details like these draw the player further into the world, but they also serve to make the player much more familiar with the intricacies of how the simple systems combine to work. Very rarely when I played did I feel like I was unaware of something happening in my little kingdom, even when I wasn’t actively moving about it.
So many games are full of unnecessary motion, movement, or sizzle, that it’s really refreshing to spend some time in a world so simply presented and where everything has a distinct purpose that I can learn and utilize to make more progress in the game. The world is deceptively big as well, with deep woods that dare you to venture a little too far away from home. This makes for a nice risk-reward system for those who may be discontent with watching their little township rise up out of the dust of their last attempt. The game rides this line between action and inaction, making for cool interplay between the more managerial moments where the player has total control of the environment, and the moments of total helplessness where monsters ransack what they’ve worked so hard to complete. Remember though, no matter how many times they knock it down, you can always rebuild.
Good gaming, queens and kings!