Grow your kingdom and become prosperous in King’s Dilemma: Chronicles by Horrible Guild Games. Make choices and join alliances to determine the fate of Ankist. With your choices, can you bring the kingdom to rule for eternity?
I’ll try not to give too much away in this review, as it’ll skew your experience and surprise. You play as the head member of your district and have a seat at the kingdom’s council. Which house you choose is loosely based on a quick questionnaire you fill out and then make a choice between two competing houses. The story slowly unfolds as you quickly learn that even the smallest choice can have snowballing outcomes. Set in the fantasy theme very similar to Game of Thrones, all it’s missing are dragons.
If you weren’t aware, King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is based on the popular board game, King’s Dilemma. Having played the board game, and it being one of my favorite board game experiences, I was stoked to be able to review a digital version. The “Chronicles” part of the name is misleading: the story is EXACTLY the same as the board game. Outcomes and story progression matters, so while I was playing the game I was trying to remember what choices I made in the past and try to make a better decision. The board game version is meant for big political debates, arguing, and anxiety.
As rowdy as the table gets, the game mechanics are bare-bones: Do you say yes (Aye) or no (Nay)? In the digital version of King’s Dilemma, the gameplay is very similar. The objectives in the digital game are more outlined and the perspectives/needs of the different houses are easily accessible. In the board game there are light and dark crowns that are used as secret currency, where you don’t know what they do until the end of the campaign. In the digital version, the crowns and money you earned are used for actual advancements in your kingdom. The debating is unfortunately gone because the digital game is solo, but it does offer a lot of choices that you must decide between that makes your choices extra juicy. You can pay extra prowess points to choose the decision you think is better, or you could pay other houses to get them to change their minds. Throughout the game you’re trying to convince houses to be on your side and align their choices with yours. You can pay houses to make alliances, which the game doesn’t enlighten why you need to do this (but it does help in the end game).
The design of King’s Dilemma, both the board game and the digital game, have problems. Because the digital is a copy of the board game, the problems are mostly the same. The game has a lot of objectives and scenarios for you to complete, but there is no exact reason WHY you’re doing these. Some of the objectives secret only to your house give you goals to focus on and to help influence you to make tricky decisions. The text consistently obfuscates itself, so if you believe you’re making one choice, the outcome is undesirable from what you were expecting, as the kingdom’s delicate foundation slowly crumbles in your face. I rejoiced when I was able to complete all my house’s goals, but I still was left wondering: “What was the point?” In the board game version the other players skew the group’s decisions, but in the digital game the only reason you couldn’t make a choice that you wanted was because you ran out of influence to spend. A couple glitches to note: even if you have enough money, it doesn’t let you spend it if you have only a few coins remaining (possibly because you need to spend coins to perform decisions), but the game doesn’t tell you why things are happening. There are also a few spelling mistakes, which isn’t terrible; King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is chock-full of text, but having a game that is mainly text-based the problems become glaring.
King’s Dilemma: Chronicles and its board game counterpart work best if you’re a completionist. Not being one myself, I am constantly questioning my motivations. In the board game, which I played with a consistent group of friends over 10 weeks (yes, it takes a really long time, but it’s a lot of fun), the class goals I had was to try to earn money as much as possible, but one of the only ways to earn money is to pass on the current decision, meaning I would make no decisions during an entire round of gameplay. I think if the game had some long term goals to work for then the choices made would feel more fulfilling, the only problem is the ending would be given away. Comparing the digital and board game, the endings are slightly different with the board game more interesting and exciting. The ending in the digital feels a little drawn out and the choices you make in the end are increasingly uninteresting.
I should make it clear on how King’s Dilemma works. The board game and digital are split into “games.” Each game is a new reign of the king, meaning theoretically the whole course of the game evolves over a couple centuries. The problem with this aspect is that the “king” is referred to in the story as a single entity, so when events directly affect the king, the storyline and gameplay become confusing. It’s almost as if the gameplay is not communicating with the story, like they’ve been written separately. I’m wondering if the game designers were trying to figure out a way to end a “game,” and having things appear like they affect the king was the only solution. What is nice about the digital version is that the game takes about five hours to play through (not 10 weeks), so you can easily play it again to find other storylines. The board game is a “one and done” kind of deal (called a “Legacy” game), where the game slowly evolves through each playthrough, stickers are placed on the board, cards are ripped up and written on, so playing it through again isn’t possible. Having the digital version is a nice alternative for the lower cost and replayability.
The art in King’s Dilemma is clean, and the UI is satisfying. Most decisions give a brief pause while you click accept, giving you time to lift the mouse if you’re unsure. Seeing the map and the decisions that affect those areas gives more context and connects the game with the world you’re shaping through your choices. There are some glitches where the art cuts itself off, not filling the whole part of the screen. This happens sporadically, which might mean there’s something wrong with the animation system. All the art is incredibly well done, however, so these glitches are easily overlooked.
While the music in King’s Dilemma fits the medieval/dark ages theme, the programming of it is terrible. The music does affect the mood, making the harsh choices or important storylines more impactful, but it also has no dynamic context. If you listen close enough, three music loops are playing at once over each other. Some tracks don’t turn off when making choices, especially when silence is much preferred. There are three music tracks the game cycles through, regardless of what is happening. The music started to become incredibly annoying. There is a lot of reading that has to be done, so trying to read while a full 100 piece choir is droning in your ear is distracting.
In summary: The simple gameplay lets the interesting decisions and branching story shine, with minor flaws in production and design ambiguity.
Jordan played King’s Dilemma: Chronicles on Steam with a code provided by the developer.