It's not too often, even as a game reviewer, you get a look at a game still in final development.
Of course not having the complete game in front of me does make review impossible, but in this case I want to share the story of Kingdom Bot with gamers.
The game grabbed me because of the cool retro-inspired robot artwork, which in turn had me delving into the game in great detail as it is currently looking for funding support to launch via www.kickstarter.com?ref=bggforums
Finding the game is from Giant Monster Games, a Canadian-based company from Vancouver, added to the interest as I also feel a bit of extra pride in supporting anything Canuck.
So I fired off an email, and quickly found out the company is sprinkled with guys originally from Saskatchewan, including Paul Lowey, originally from Regina. I had to get involved in some small way.
Adrian R. Walker, the Game Designer of Kingdom Bots is a native of British Columbia currently living in Vancouver, and was good enough to share some insights regarding the game leading up to its anticipated Kickstarter funding and release, after I made contact with Lowey.
Adrian said, "Kingdom Bots was actually inspired by 'Civilization' and 'Game of Thrones the board game'. In its evolution it has diverged from those as inspiration, but in its underlaying mechanics you can see where they were the influence."
While the designer, Adrian said development of Kingdom Bot took on a team approach.
"I have been extremely lucky to have a team that has dedicated their lunch times to play testing Kingdom Bots," he said. "With their help almost every day the development time of Kingdom Bots was about eight-months. It's been a crazy eight-months looking back. The original game had two forms of currency, food management, and the map was more then double the size it it now. The first three, four-months we never saw a game reach the end. We kept giving up after eight-plus hours, this impatience allowed us to refine Kingdom Bots to a solid four-hour game -- or under."
I'll interject that the time factor for Kingdom Bot means it is an evening session game, the kind some buds sit down and commit to. That will limit its table time of course. It's not the game when an hour opens up and you want to play.
That said, a rules read through and you recognize there is depth here, with important decisions to be made if you want to win. In that regard, the game is one which fill a nice 'group' niche for gaming.
Through development the theme of the game also evolved to become one of sentient robot 'clans' battling for territory on Earth long after mankind has wiped itself out.
"The game was originally a medieval theme. We never were overly happy with that theme because there are hundreds of other games with knights, cartels and what not. So one afternoon over some beers we started brain storming. At some point Mike Ritchie, our art director, asked what it would be like if robots had a medieval age. From there we just ran with it. Thats why all the robots have swords and shields," offered Adrian.
The 'feel' of a post-apocalyptic earth being fought over by sword-wielding robots is simply cool. In fact I have mentioned to Paul that the theme would be ideal for a miniature skirmish game. The old school robots would make amazing miniatures.
But back to the board game.
Adrian said in general terms things fell into place for Kingdom Bot quite well.
"Right from day one constructing the mechanics was easy," he said. "Things that didn't work were easy to identify and quickly fixed. New aspects of the game, such as the advanced rules, almost fell into place with little effort. The true challenge of making Kingdom Bots was dealing with fatigue. Playing long six-10 hour games all the time is draining. There a few things more frustrating then getting four-to-five hours into a game and then having to quit because some game mechanic is not working and needs to be changed."
In some respects the best ideas were part of the game from the start too.
"The command cards were one of the mechanics I implemented right from day one," said Adrian. "To my surprise they have traveled through the game evolution almost unchanged and remain the strongest and most innovative part of Kingdom Bots.
"The command cards do two things to create good gameplay.
"First, they give each player the choice on how they want to play the game, at no point does the game tell you how it has to be played.
"Secondly, they limit the players. By putting limits on what the players can do they are coerced into making the hard decisions. Its these decisions that make the players feel like every choice is significant."
The current version of the game is designed to accommodate three, or four players, but Adrian said the game will likely eventually expand.
"As for more players the answer is a large yes, we've done a bunch of play testing with both five, and six player games and the results have been very good," he offered. "In fact, the major thing that happens is the gameplay becomes more chaotic and in a lot of ways more fun.
"At this time we just can't justify making a game that will retail for over $100 just so we can include the fifth and sixth players. We are however looking into expansions that will include this along with new factions of robots."
The prospect of additional factions is great news in itself. The initial design has four, with each have unique traits when playing the advanced version of Kingdom Bot. New factions will only enhance the long-term re-playability of the game.
So far Kingdom Bot appears to be garnering its share of interest.
"The response we keep getting is very positive," said Adrian. "I understand that not everyone is into domination war-games, but the ones that are and have played absolutely love it. Even the play-testers that are very casual and specifically don't like games like 'Risk' or 'Axis and Allies', have said that they enjoyed the game.
"The general consensus is because the way the phases are set up, and how the command cards work, make for a constantly engaging game that never makes players feel like they are out of the game.
"The other thing I've heard a number of times is how players don't get knocked out. It's not because they can't be, trust me you can kill off a player in Kingdom Bots, but it almost never happens because the players are restricted to a small number of actions in a turn. With only four, or five actions at your disposal, killing off players that have been 'neutralized' is so resource intensive that it's normally not worth it. Those actions can be better spent focusing on the zones you need to win the game."
And beyond the Kickstarter campaign more is anticipated from the game world.
"When we where designing Kingdom Bots we kinda went to town and developed all kinds of things that didn't make it into the final game," said Adrian. "I'm confident that as we revisit Kingdom Bots all those cool ideas will resurface and come out as expansions or even other games, toys or possibly even comics … not saying that we are working on a comic… but we are totally working on a comic… Shhhhh."
For those as intrigued as I am check out the Kickstarter campaign.
"Robo-Namer is easily the best option," said Adrian. "Not only do you get a copy of the game but you get to Name one zone or Sector in the game. How Cool Is That!"
Check it out via www.giantmonstergames.com
-- This review appeared previously in Yorkton This Week newspaper