From your first blocky castle to your own bustling island kingdom, developer Lion Shield’s foray into the city builder genre is an easy going, bite-sized experience perfect for those with little time but big ambitions. Kingdoms and Castles is a game for when you get home from a frustrating day at work and you just want to pretend you’re a god for a couple of hours.
City builders are known for the complex balancing act of maintaining a growing population while fulfilling your own desires for expansion. Lion Shield’s Kingdoms and Castles has all the classic elements; resource management, population happiness, and invading enemies, but it’s all on a much smaller scale. Its simple blocky graphics and satisfying blocky tunes lay the foundation for a beautifully simple, quick, and accessible city building experience.
Your journey starts by selecting a randomly generated island for your kingdom. From the get go you’re faced with this important decision. Try hards and island design obsessives will find themselves cycling through island after island to find the perfect home for their kingdom. It’s a process reminiscent of resetting Animal Crossing for the ideal village layout, and it is every bit as important. Tiles have different levels of fertility for your crops, rocks can be both an invaluable resource and an annoying obstruction, and if you build somewhere without trees your villagers will spend too much time traveling for wood. These are the considerations you need to make to start on the right foot.
However, these are all lessons learnt after choosing your island. Unfortunately, the game is lacking any real tutorial and as a result, you’re left figuring out the controls and ultimately your purpose in the world for yourself. I felt pretty inept as my people looked up at their god struggling to rotate a house. Fortunately, this isn’t really a big issue, and the game is actually fairly easy to pick up from there on. A few pushes in the right direction from your council of ‘advisors’ will help to set you on the right path, and a very familiar path it is.
You begin chopping wood for roads and homes, filling homes with villagers, using those villagers to gather more wood, then building farms to keep the villagers fed and happy. From there you expand and expand to fit your growing kingdom’s needs. It’s a very comfortable experience, one that anyone who has played a city builder before will be very satisfied with. There’s nothing quite like seeing your growing kingdom flourish under your divine rule. Soon enough your kingdom is complete. You have neat rows of orchards, a town centre and market district, hovels, cottages and manor houses, and a huge castle complex overlooking it all. The island is small, and once you colour in between the lines with your castles and farms, your God complex adequately stroked, you might wonder what else there is to do.
If you began on the easier difficulties you might give one of the harder modes a try. Here be dragons (and Viking invaders too). These new threats offer a few more tactical decisions. They give more purpose to your defenses and Kingdom layout becomes more important than pure aesthetics. Arm your tall castle walls with archers and ballista, otherwise watch your farms burn to a blocky red dragon, or have your treasure room ransacked by Vikings. This is the mode that I enjoyed most. As much as I liked creating an idyllic kingdom, I preferred my second kingdom, one built and molded by necessity. My buildings felt practical, and I had a new respect for my little blocky men that had survived dragon fire and Viking invasion.
Both experiences are fun and a fine way to spend a handful of hours. Kingdoms and Castle’s strength lies in its simplicity, but it’s also this simplicity that limits the impact of the game. It’s fun, quick, and easy to put and down and pick up again. It’s an experience I found myself coming back to. However, as much as I enjoyed the game I can’t help but think it might have been better suited to mobile and tablet. It’s the perfect game to spend an idle 20 minutes on while you’re on the train. It’s the kind of game you would check on every day, if only it were at your fingertips.