Kingdom is a strategy game about earning gold, building soldiers and controlling land.

I've always dreamt of games I'd love to make if I knew how as I'm sure many people do, and one of those dreams is of a chess strategy game in the style of [redacted]. Chess is a game rife with possibilities, with some of its spawn bending the rules slightly to suit their needs (such as Dragon Chess) while others choose more drastic permutations, so much so that a new gameplay design (such as Archon) only vaguely resembles its inspiration. Ryan and Casey Stokes may not be reading my mind (whew!), but they've come awfully close to my dream game with Kingdom, a well conceived hybrid of chess and strategy game which manages to successfully marry the mechanics of chess to elements typical of a modern war game.

Players aren't handed a full assortment of troops at the start of Kingdom but must buy them by generating money by claiming land on the board. Kingdom's 50 conflicts are fought on grids of varying sizes and shapes with territories divided into three groups: white, black, and neutral. These territories lay unclaimed when either player has yet to make a claim on the land or when both players are present on a plot. Claiming a territory is accomplished by either having a chess piece stationed in it or by erected a house, which allows you to keep your claim and earn revenue from the land even when your army has moved elsewhere. The economy of Kingdom is simple yet well conceived, although the simplicity of it fosters a basic, pretty much "can't lose" strategy of swiftly conquering lands and leaving houses in your wake. Houses can be destroyed by the opponent, but by pushing forward, you typically leave the enemy no chance to wreak havoc on your stakes back home.

The game's soldiers are taken from chess itself and left largely intact. The pawn can only advance one space at a time (but not confined to forward movement as in chess) and must capture enemies diagonally. This is the cheapest piece, twice the cost of a house, at 1,000 gold. The bishop comes next at 2,000 gold, capable of moving diagonally two spaces. Knights, rooks, and queens round out the available troops, each costing 1,000 gold more than the last. Knights are the only unit which can cut through obstacles (pretty much the same as chess) while rooks and queens retain their range of movement but are limited to two spaces same as the bishop. Given how no board is larger than a standard chess grid, these restrictions are likely necessary. Even so, the vast majority of matches will end before you have the money or time to get a rook or queen out onto the field; while they're incredibly useful as in chess itself, they're often unnecessary due to the number of pawns you can buy instead along with the crippled state of the once agile, dominant pieces.

Win conditions as such are pretty easy, and I had little trouble maxing out the awards for each map, which requires you to beat a stage without upgrading a piece and capturing all land. The AI is quite stupid and easily baited, the computer always going for the kill, even if that means trading its queen for a pawn. Kingdom desperately needs a multi-player mode, but unfortunately it's single player only, and the lousy AI does its excellent mechanics a disservice as a result. The display is nicely done, from the user friendly GUI to the morphing grid and its well constructed set pieces, but the black CPU player's land matches its army far too well, bleeding its pieces into the ground and giving itself its own unintentional fog of war. This is annoying, and players shouldn't have to shift the camera around to see if not only a piece is present nearby by what kind of piece it is. I also found the different win condition requirements all basically blurred into just wiping out the CPU, because ultimately that is what will grant me the most cash for an "economy" game and provide me all the land for the "land grab" mode.

Utopioneer Games has found a formula for what could be a cherished chess variant and wonderful strategy video game, but it needs more refinement before that happens. Strategy fans like strategy games in part because they embody the tactics and planning which has kept chess relevant through the ages, and despite the presence of a somewhat lengthy single player campaign, Kingdom is currently bereft of that level of intellectual stimulation. At any rate, Kingdom may not be my own perfect chess blend nor fully delivering on its premise, but it's a huge step up for the developer and a concept worth further investigating, both by interested fans and by the Beer Pong developers who managed to put out such a nice surprise as this.

February 07, 2012
February 4, 2012 | 80 points
Developer | Video N/A | Download

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