Indie Game Spotlight

Indie Game Spotlight: King of Dragon Pass

Are you looking for a fun, casual experience to enjoy during your free time? Do you enjoy playing games on your phone but hate being bothered by in-game purchases? If you answered “yes” to either question, look no further because King of Dragon Pass may be the game you’ve been searching for. Originally released in 1999, the magic of KoDP was reawakened in 2011 on IOS, then again in 2012 on GOG.com, and finally in 2014 on Android and Windows Phone. Having been readily accessible for a few years now, I’m surprised not to hear about more gamers obsessing over it. Hopefully, this review will inspire those who may have skipped past such a timeless classic to delve into this mystical land full of barbarians, strange customs, and (of course) dragons!

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System:
PC, Mac, iOS, Android,
GOG.com, Windows Phone

Developer:
A Sharp, LLC

Released:
Oct. 1999 (PC, Mac),
Sept. 2011 (iOS)
Aug. 2012 (GOG.com)
Aug. 2014 (Android)
Sept. 2014 (Windows Phone)

Price:
$44.99

 

The Gameplay:

King of Dragon Pass isn’t a traditional fantasy roleplaying game. Rather than leveling up warriors and dungeon crawling, KoDP puts the player in control of a barbarian clan. The main focus of this game is to survive the trials and tribulations that these clans encounter by managing their resources and making vital decisions. These decisions will often have dire consequences and are presented in a similar fashion to those “choose your own adventure” style books, which were a favorite of mine as a child. Luckily, the player isn’t completely alone when choosing their path. The player may also consult “the circle” (a council of chosen clan representatives) to offer advice on each scenario. Be careful, however. Not all advice is good advice.

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In the beginning, you will be presented with a series of multiple choice questions. Your answers will define what your tribe values most and which gods their ancestors traditionally worshiped. One of the most important questions deals with whether your clan tends to be peaceful, warlike, or balanced. Another thing to consider is whether or not your tribe traditionally owns “thralls”, which are essentially slaves. These decisions will also affect other tribes’ dispositions toward your people. Choosing to worship certain gods or ancestor spirits will grant you a starter temple dedicated to them. These answers only define the tribes’ history, so their future is up to the player.

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The most interesting aspect of KoDP was it’s fantasy lore and quirky situations. For instance, one question in the intro has the player choose an ancient adversary. This ancient enemy can be anything from trolls to savage beastmen. Some of these enemies can automatically destroy your clan if angered too much. If the player decides to be too friendly with their ancient foes, they will anger their ancestor spirits and diminish their clan magic. Another example of lies within the storytelling portion of the game. You will have to choose how to settle disputes between enemies, strange foreigners, and even within your own clan. Some of these situations are cultural or religious disagreements and others can be outright silly. A mystic dragonkin may show up to your gates unannounced with an unknown agenda. A female in your clan might get pregnant by a man in another clan. Explorers might stumble upon strange relics or creatures. In each of these situations, the player is granted the ability to choose how the clan with deal with each problem. The wrong decision might result in a huge disaster, while good decisions might grant you awesome perks like dinosaur mounts! There isn’t always a set formula either, so there’s an element of luck involved. This makes each game a unique experience and all events are recorded so that you can read the story of your clan once the game is finished (or anytime during the game to review the timeline of events.)

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Gameplay in KoDP mostly consists of navigating different tabs and controlling different aspects of the economy. The game is broken down into five seasons and the player is limited to two actions per season. Some available actions include choosing how many livestock to butcher, who to raid, which sacrifices should be made to the many gods, which temples to build, and many others. Choosing the wrong actions during the wrong seasons can have serious consequences, such as planning raids during farming seasons or exploring or traveling during the winter. Regardless of whether you focus on war or peace, your clan will be forced to choose how to deal with those who threaten their lands and how to assure all of their people are being fed and are content.

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Warfare in KoDP is kind of like playing rock, paper, scissors at times. You choose your objectives and tactics while attacking or defending at the beginning of a battle. You can also choose to invest magic or make sacrifices to the gods, which can increase the odds of success. The battles are auto-calculated and the results may vary. Sometimes during battle, an event will take place where you can choose different maneuvers for your general to perform. The leading general will generally (pun intended) be the best fighter in the circle. Having a smaller force does put the player at a disadvantage, but play your cards right and you might even repel a larger force without losing a single man!

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The rule of law is not only determined by tradition but also the circle. The circle are the selected few who are chosen to represent the interests of your clansmen. A full circle includes seven members. The game automatically assigns the circle to begin with, but the player can remove and add new members at their leisure. Each member worships their own god and they are rated by skill in different areas such as combat, leadership, and magic. These people also age over time, so it’s important to plan to replace the elderly members. It is important to have a diverse group of talents and worshipers of different gods to make sure everyone in the tribe is equally representative.  The circle also comes in handy when making tough decisions. They will remind the player of obligations and give advice on how to deal with any situation. Some circle members are more inclined to enter combat, whereas others might be more concerned with custom or righteousness. These pieces of advice often conflict so make sure to review each members’ ideas before relying on just one person’s advice.

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During my last playthrough, I decided to be a war-focused clan who spent most seasons raiding and capturing slaves. Most of the slaves were kept as a cheap labor source, but in order to keep them from growing too large and revolting, I sacrificed many of them to evil gods. By sacrificing to these gods, I was able to strengthen my armies, send infectious plagues upon my foes, and even destroy their crop harvests. These sacrifices weren’t purely beneficial, however. Often the evil gods would demand that I increase my offerings to them or ignore my sacrifices completely. This play style also made it pretty hard to keep and friends, and that leads me to the most important part of the game: becoming king!

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In order to become king of all Dragon Pass, it is essential to forge friendships and bonds with other clans. The first step is achieving glory for your clan through either going on quests for the gods, strength in battle or even acts of charity and fairness to other clans. Once you’ve made a name for yourself, then next step is forming alliances and tribes. An alliance is basically just a pact of goodwill between clans. To create a tribe you must rally a group of clans together under a single leader. This is much easier said than done. The many clans throughout the land are so vastly different that it is often hard to find a middle ground between them. Enemy clans will also form tribes that can wage large-scale attacks against the player’s clan or tribe. The goal is to unite all of the tribes under a single banner and become the King of all Dragon Pass.

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Final Judgment: 97%

It’s hard for me to rate a game like this because I know it suits all gamers. Despite the rather bland set of menus that make up a bulk of the gameplay, King of Dragon Pass is an unforgettable experience that most fantasy and simulation gamers should enjoy. Especially being available on IOS, there is very little reason not to invest in a game as wonderful as this. The biggest (only?) drawback for me was the randomness of it all. Luckily, that is just another part of this game that makes it special. No two games will ever play out the same way, even if the same choices are made each time. Reading the chronicles of your tribe’s history after playing is also a very neat feature. The setting is excellent and the storytelling is exceptional. At times I was frustrated, confused, and outraged, but that just made each victory that much sweeter.

Pros:

  • Amazing setting
  • Very unique gameplay
  • More complex than it appears
  • Cool hand painted artwork
  • Feeling of accomplishment when successful
  • Challenging
  • Humorous

Cons:

  • Gameplay can be repetitive
  • No action
  • Learning curve
  • Too random at times

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