It's hard to categorize King of Dragon Pass, from publisher A Sharp. On one hand, it has the makings of a strategy title with a blend of resource management, battles, and social interaction. On the other hand, it has a mixture of quests, tribe creation and magic that give it a sort of RPG feel. The outcome is a unique gaming experience that, despite it's shortcoming, is sure to capture the attention of serious strategy gamers.
King of Dragon Pass (KoDP) uses the background of Glorantha, the setting from the game Rune Quest. The object of the game is to become King of Dragon Pass, uniting all the various tribes through diplomacy, magic and battle. You begin the game by creating and defining your tribe or clan. The selection process allows you to characterize and interpret strategic aspects of your tribe. Once you've constructed your tribe, you than enter a tutorial session, an essential process that'll give you a grasp of the game's mechanics.
Gameplay in KoDP revolves around managing your tribe through seasonal turns, over a period of several years. A single year cycle consists of seasons of Sea, Fire, Earth, Storm, and Sacred. In each season, with the exception of Sacred, your tribe is allowed to perform two separate actions. Some examples of these actions include performing a quest, attacking another tula (land), sending out an emissary for trade / politics, building fortifications, exploring the map, building shrines and temples to your gods, and much more. The seasons play a big role in the actions you take, for if you decide to attack another clan during harvesting seasons, your food supply will decrease. On top of the normal seasonal actions available, random events also occur, each requiring a decision on the gamers' part. Events can range from personal disputes with neighbouring clans, to more global problems.
Managing relationships with your neighbouring clans is key to succeeding in KoDP. As mentioned earlier, the goal is to be crowned King of Dragon Pass. This isn't going to happen with poor leadership skills. Whether you show generosity, mercy, or loyalty to other tribes is important in creating trust in order to trade goods with them, another important factor in KoDP. It's almost impossible to survive without trade. You can loose livestock or fall short on harvest, but developing trade routes can help you survive these hardships. Normal management areas include farming, relations, war, clan, magic and exploration.
Obviously there's a lot to handle as tribe leader. Luckily, ring members are readily available to counsel you on various matters. Each member is rated from fair to heroic in several categories, but picking the best available person isn't necessarily a good thing, as they may worship a god that conflicts with your ideals.
Aside from the numerous elements that require your management, you'll also have to deal with combat. Unfortunately, you're very much removed from combat, with no direct control of the battle itself. Pre-battle choices, such as using a magical item, may impact the result, but the outcome is very much random. Magic is centered on learning individual mysteries that offer advantages to specific aspects (farming, combat, etc.).
Despite the lack of control in combat, the gameplay in KoDP is quite rich and detailed. Balancing economics, trade, religion and war is a challenge. There are two modes of play in KoDP, a short game or a long game. Short games take a few hours to complete, while longer games can take much more time.
The biggest drawback of KoDP is in the presentation, the audio and the visual. Most of the graphics are hand drawn, which certainly requires a taste. If you've treated yourself to some of the more recent strategy games, you might find the graphics lacking in almost all areas. They lack interaction and depth, dare I say it looks old school. In terms of audio, the music is quite nice. Outside of the tunes, there's really very little else. There are some sound effects thrown in here and there, but the bulk of development was clearly focused on gameplay. Expect to do a lot of reading, there's no voice effects either.
There's no bark, but King of Dragon Pass has some bite. The learning curve is steep and the depth of play is superb, so make sure you've got some time on your hands before you begin playing KoDP. Unfortunately, there exists no multiplayer in this title, single player is all you're going to get. When all is said and done, King of Dragon Pass is a challenging fantasy game that is worthy of a serious strategy gamers' time.
King of Dragon Pass is an absorbing, complex game that is distinctive in the ways that it challenges the player to consider multiple factors. Before starting the game the player crafts a history for the tribe and then must manage the tribe in accordance with the now established traditions of the tribe's ancestors. This leads to the player having to make numerous ambiguous decisions in situations where there is no clear right or wrong.
The strength of the game lies in the way that the various areas of the game interweave. For example, sacrificing for a military blessing and building a shrine to the appropriate deity will benefit your soldiers, however, that shrine costs you economic resources every year whether or not your military is in action. Also, it makes a difference where you recruited your soldiers -- hiring wandering brigands into your army is likely to lower morale, but also is likely to give you at least a temporary boost in offensive capability.
King of Dragon Pass should appeal to players who have tired of routine conquest games, and who are seeking a robust, comprehensive turn-based strategy experience.
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