Iron Oak Games's Kickstarter success, For The King, is a lot of fun. It combines the movement and tactical planning of a board game with the combat and party management of a turn-based RPG. Following the king's death, heroes flock to the realm of Fahrul to rescue it from a variety of maladies. The hex-rich overworld plays host to three heroes at a time: in the demo, I controlled all of them, but the complete version of the game promises online and local co-op.
The procedurally generated map contains wandering monsters, shops, shrines, and other curiosities. As heroes visit the marked objectives, they move the story forward. Determining how much of each map to explore is one of the central tactical decisions. Every turn the heroes are out and about, the chaos meter increases. When it fills completely, it triggers a danger specific to the map like a powerful monster or a plague of bandits that jacks up shop prices. Splitting the party allows more exploration in a short amount of time, but it also leaves individuals open to the classic RPG blunder of being picked off one-by-one.
I started the demo by picking a party of three heroes. My party consisted of a minstrel, a woodsman, and a blacksmith. Each character has two special attacks and a passive ability or two. For example, any heroes fighting near the minstrel received extra XP. The woodsman was more suited to dungeon exploration, since her axe could chop down heavy doors between fights. Faster characters, such as the minstrel, recieve extra turns in combat. Characters also move differently: each turn begins by rolling dice to determine how many action points the character has to spend on exploration. My blacksmith plodded along with an average of two actions, while my minstrel was racking up four to five actions per exploration phase. True to the game's promise of permadeath being right around the corner, I died quickly to a cluster of powerful monsters. After reviewing the basics of the combat system, my next foray was more impressive.
During battle, every attack is divided between several hits. Each hit has a chance to connect based on the characters' stats. Spending a focus point guarantees the first hit will connect and increases the accuracy of the attack's subsequent hits. This can be useful when an annoying enemy is hanging around at 1 HP and absolutely needs to be killed by the next turn; alternately, it's a satisfying (if risky) move to blow all of a character's focus points on meeting a powerful enemy to guarantee a series of decisive hits. Focus points are difficult to regain without the use of special herbs or an inn, so using them at the appropriate time is a valuable skill. Being affected by an enemy attack can waste the first hit in each chain; outside of battle, stat-based hits are used to determine social challenges, the value of buried treasure, and other variable challenges. It's a lot to manage, but the interface and guiding text do a lot to manage the information flow.
The indie RPG scene this year featured several challenging games with permadeath and persistent elements. For The King is the one that excites me the most. The world already has enough moving parts and areas to explore that I can see myself wanting to throw myself into the breach again and again. Recruiting new characters, uncovering lost treasure, and squeezing every drop of juice out of the sub-systems will keep me busy. For The King will be $15 when it's initially released for Mac, PC, and Linux, with releases for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming soon after.