If there's one thing that Kingdoms and Castles has going for it, it would be charm. From the tiny pixel people to the mesmerizing dynamic clouds, Kingdoms and Castles sets out to hook you from the moment you first lay eyes on it. If you're the type of person who likes cutesy, pixelated presentation and city management on the more laid back end of the spectrum, you will almost certainly be drawn in by this game's solid first impression. This game is easy to like, and it's a great choice for those times where you want to dig into something that strikes a balance between pure cruise control and stressing you to the point of frustration. Most of the time anyway.
Choosing a map is one of the first things you do when starting many strategy games. Kingdoms and Castles generates map configuration after map configuration until you find one that suits your fancy. It's easy to tell at a glance how available resources (such as fertile land, trees, stone quarries and iron mines) will be, and you can place your castle just about anywhere when you begin. Needless to say, it's tempting to keep clicking until you find a landmass that looks ideal. It can be fun to shake things up though, and it adds quite a bit of challenge and replayability to try to go for a successful kingdom on a less than ideal continent, especially when the land is split into multiple islands.
Once you've chosen your world and you plop down your castle, you have to decide how best to build your kingdom. The real goal of the game is to see just how big you can grow both your city and your castle while ensuring you have the proper mix of resources to keep your people happy, healthy, well fed, and housed through the winter. Citizens like to live near each other, and they like to have access to public amenities, but they dislike living too close to any kind of industry. This part of the game is pretty standard, and while the citizens themselves are virtually impossible to tell apart from one another at a glance, they each have their own skill-set, and you can click on them to get a tidbit of information about them. If you are playing on the easiest setting in the game then this is pretty much all you need to worry about.
Once you get to the normal setting your city starts to face external threats. Adorable fire-breathing dragons will show up from time to time, and shiploads of Vikings will sail in and try to pillage and plunder. At first, these conflicts are fairly easy to resolve. You can build a few archer towers on your walls (you have almost complete freedom with where you build your walls and how tall you build them) and you can hire heroes and outfit them with a militia to help fight off these threats. As the game progresses, the threats grow accordingly. The dragons remain fairly easy to manage as time passes, but the Vikings are another story entirely.
Each subsequent visit by the Vikings brings more vikings, and eventually, they start showing up with trolls in tow. The trolls are big, hardy jerks that like to punch down your walls. They are incredibly hard to kill, and they can easily wreak havoc on your city. Thankfully, they only smash up a certain number of walls and buildings before they turn and leave, but it still provides quite the challenge to rebuild and prepare for the next wave, which is always going to be bigger than the last. When multiple trolls start to show up things get hectic very quickly.
For those of you that really like a challenge, or who are just a touch masochistic, there is a hard setting in the game that makes winters longer and harsher and brings more Vikings and more dragons. I actually prefer the more zen-like city building aspects to the fighty-bits, but it is nice to have a bit of external conflict to keep you on your toes while also balancing all of the aspects of city life to keep your citizens happy. All told, if you like city building and are looking for a game that fits on the more casual end of the spectrum, Kingdoms and Castles will do a good job of scratching that itch for you. The presentation is absolutely adorable without being cloying, and it runs smoothly. In the hours I've spent with the game, I didn't encounter any bugs or glitches. The game is nearing full release, and the team behind the game has plans to keep adding content to the game well after its launch on July 18th.
Kingdoms and Castles was previewed on PC with a copy provided by GOG. It will also be available on Steam.
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