Scratching the Itch.io: Lords, Kings, and Princes (and Ladies, Queens, and Princesses)22 Jan 2018 0
Whether you stuck around for our New Year's edition of Scratching the Itch.io, or decided that even reading was too much of a chore to take on over the holidays, there’s little excuse to skip out on this week’s edition – unless you’re not into the idea of royalty, anyway.
For our seventh stab at uncovering the hidden gems of unfinished indie and amateur games buried deep in Itch.io’s algorithms, we’ve set our sights on the idea of Lords, Kings and, because there’s still a lack of diversity in the medium, Princes. It shouldn’t be too hard to make a second character have some more feminine features, right?
6 Week Lord
Though its filenames and header call it something different at every turn, the more consistent name for this sharp and short resource management game is 6 Week Lord. While the thought of anything consisting of six weeks sounds far too long, each ‘turn’ is a week in this world as you, the Lord, decide to rest for the remaining 6 days of the week after throwing gold at two people or laughing in their face.
Going about your duties in a field, we can understand the want to stay back at the castle, palace, or wherever it is you’re based, after trekking all the way out just to listen to a peasant and some other guy whine about their lives and ask for your cash. You’re either a massive introvert, or you live in a place where rain is highly likely at a moment's notice – like England.
With your Adviser rightfully detailing the contents of your coffer and the happiness of your people as a similar 3-digit number, each turn simply has you manage your gold in a way that’s best for the kingdom. After inheriting the place and its debts from your predecessor, the idea is to be wise with money to keep debt collectors from showing up in 6 weeks time. It isn’t clear whether this can actually happen unless you throw cash at every request, but it’s interesting to hear the stories behind what you’re backing – or laughing off and arresting the man who asked you to pay off his daughter’s would-be husband.
There’s either little strategy involved here or absolutely none, but the pitch is clear enough to see what this would become if the developer was committed to fleshing out the idea. A few spelling errors and nonsensical requests aside, it’s a clean game that deserves a mention.
It’s become almost mandatory to pick out a game that looks sub-par only to be surprised by its strong execution. Itch.io titles constantly run the risk of being glanced over by having an unflattering name or preview image attached. All The King’s Men merely fit this week’s theme, but it’s logo caught my eye for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully, it’s the strongest game of the bunch with addictive gameplay, solid controls, and randomly generated content that could absolutely work as a full title.
All The King’s Men puts you more in the place of the King’s Guard than the King himself. Hoping to take a stroll on a quiet Sunday morning, the King is ambushed by colourful tree ninjas at every turn. Going out without a guard might have you think the guy is as naive as he is short, but there’s a bunch of men stationed along the path, ready to put their lives on the line to project the royal against the assassins hoping to ambush the ruler of what we can only imagine is a grand kingdom.
Best played with a controller, every guard you call for moves together as a group, with positioning handled solely through colliding with other objects – like trees, ninja, and the King himself. The road is long and twisted, leaving plenty of corners to cut to get your men surrounding who they must protect. Ninja appear from lightly shaking trees, giving you a second or two to reposition and make sure someone is ready to bounce off the enemy to send them packing. Ninja come in three flavors; melee, archer, and bomber. Taking the melee head-on is just fine, but the other two require either taking an arrow to the heart, or grabbing the tossed explosive and heading off into the distance to minimize the risk of splash damage wiping out your men.
With more guards joining the party as the King walks on by, the more difficult it becomes to manage how they move. Treasures are hidden within nearby trees and can only be collected by having a guard grab the loot and pass it to the King. If you attempt to take too much on, you’re certain to leave an opening in your defences, inviting the ninja to make their move. It’s rare to see a strategy game have such a hands-on approach with formations being of both utmost importance and deceptively difficult to manage as you traverse more land and gain more men. Even with all that and 3 difficulty options to choose from, my favourite part is how you recall the names of the men lost at the end of the perilous journey.
Rest in peace, Hipolito Kingsley. We will forever remember your sacrifice (and how you killed your own allies).
The Mad Prince
We’ve listened to the pleas of our people and taken a relaxing stroll through the ninja-infested forest. Now it’s time for a ruler to think of nobody but himself. The Mad Prince is more simplistic in its style than our other two choices this week, but has arguably more thought put into it than our first.
Doing far better on the sound design front than All The King’s Men, The Mad Prince boils down to another resource-management strategy sim – only the resources are mostly masked as three flavors of troops like archer, spearmen, and knights. With a handful of each and a sliver of gold to top up your preferred army before charging into battle, combat is little more than a rock, paper, scissors situation where balancing out your units to counter your opponent’s is about all that matters.
Spears beat knights, knights beat archers, and archers beat spears. That’s it. Your kingdom is surrounded by other lands ripe for the taking, and with the apparent inside knowledge of their exact army composition, you spend gold to build up your ranks in a way that will counter whichever town you want to conquer first. Depending on the size of your target, you’ll swipe a pre-determined amount of Gold upon victory to fund the troops you’ll need to take on the next. Annex each to add a statue to your fort with 4 being all you need to win the game. There’s a working victory condition, but the same can’t be said about losing. If you’re unable to make a move, all you can do is exit.
We don’t have much to praise this one for, but it does include the best end-game sequence of our picks this week. We’ll let you learn if for yourself, but your final score does amount to something worthy of the game’s name – and failure is your only option thereafter. Say hi to the eagle/balloon ships for me.
Games have always been seen as a form of escapism, so having each of our picks here represent a ruler someone could relate to is a boon that wasn’t entirely anticipated. Would you be the mad prince, the unexpected heir to the throne, or the kind of ruler that just wants to go out for a nice walk on the weekends? Whichever fits you best, there’s a game to let you live that dream for 10-20 minutes at a time.
That's all for this week's instalment of Scratching the Itch.io. Seen you all again in a couple of weeks!