I’ve come a long way. From controlling of just two tiny English hamlets, through careful planning, management and patience (a lot of patience), I’ve built up my economy, managed to field a reasonably strong if somewhat basic army, and have neatly annexed most of Normandy. Things have been going pretty well. Despite having only enough economic power to maintain one army on the continent, through careful management of town defense and garrisons, and judicious maneuvering of my main force, I’ve managed to successfully defend my new territory. (Well, there was that time where my newly acquired hamlet of Rouen got looted by the French, but we don’t talk about that.)
Then, disaster: two fairly powerful French armies, complete with cavalry, bear down on Amiens. Despite being a basic settlement, I’d managed to turn the town into a nice little economic powerhouse and to lose it would jeopardize my entire campaign. Desperately I recall my army (which was busy menacing Bruges, just in case the Belgians got any funny ideas). I watch with mounting horror as realisation dawns that they aren’t going to make it in time, leaving me with just a handful of archers, two units of mace-wielding infantry (the heavy metal kind, not the pepper spray), and about ten herds of cows, with which to defend a town which had, and – because I’d neglected to invest the necessary funds to upgrade it – could only have the most rudimentary of defenses.
With all the available building plots in my base already occupied, and with no walls behind which to cower, I revert to the most basic of plans: create a line of melee infantry to act as a living wall, build up a large force of archers to deal out the damage to my foes, and hope that my low-level barracks and archery range will churn out enough soldiers to give me a fighting chance. You see, in order to defeat my foes, I didn’t have to destroy them. I merely had to stop them capturing the heart of my base before the fifteen-minute timer ran out.
What followed was one of the most intense, drawn-out battles I’ve experienced in any RTS. In fact, the battle raged a full ten minutes. At no point during the engagement was there any let up, any respite from desperately building units to shore-up my disintegrating front-line, directing my melee soldiers and archers to attack the most promising targets, or, when my front line finally disintegrated – sacrificing a large number of my archers to give my barracks enough time to turn out reserves to stop me from being overwhelmed. Even in the final stages when I seemed to have beaten back my foes, disaster struck again. Having let my melee units chase after a weakened foe, I hadn’t spotted the unit of French peasant levies (the weakest melee unit in the game) until it had reached my archers. By the time my mace infantry returned, the levies had chewed through more than half my ranged forces. By the time the timer thankfully ran out, handing me a victory which was both exhilarating and draining, I had lost more than half my army. What remained was a tattered remnant of their former selves. A grisly sea of bodies showed my army had fought a fighting retreat from the very edge of the town, right back to the foot of the manor.
Set in 14th century Europe at the start of the Hundred Years War, Medieval Kingdom Wars is a novel approach to the grand strategy game. If you take the grand strategic map of the Total War series, the real-time siege warfare of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth, make the entire thing real-time and mush them together, Medieval Kingdom Wars is the result.
What makes this game so engaging is how the two modes integrate. While some decisions (such as getting access to particular research trees or increasing the number of building plots/types of defenses available) can only be made on the strategic map, most of the game can be worked from either mode (including placement of buildings). For example, purchases made in the strategic mode – whether to heal your army or buy a building – are made using silver, a slowly accumulating resource. Early in the game, silver is in very scarce supply, so instead of waiting for your monthly taxes and trade revenue to roll in, you can instead enter RTS [(Real-Time-Strategy) mode. Instead of silver, buildings and units cost more traditional RTS resources (wood, stone, iron and food) all of which you can generate using serfs and building the correct structures – though this of course takes much longer than the strategic mode’s single click of the button.
Structures and units also have different effects depending on which mode you are in. For example, in RTS mode, a herd of cows will provide a passive food income, courtesy of their milk, whilst mines will provide stone and iron reserves for construction. In strategic mode, both will provide a passive silver income. So, if you need to boost your revenue, but can’t afford the silver investment required, you can simply fire up the RTS mode and manually order the construction of buildings and livestock.
You will need silver, as combat is of a slower nature, (no StarCraft style actions-per-second here) and is based around siege warfare. Soldiers do very little damage to buildings, and absolutely nothing at all to walls (the more advanced the settlement, the more walls and gates there will be, allowing defenders to fall back to the next line of defense if the first is breached – think Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings). In order to win an attack, you have to breach the gates, fight your way through the streets and capture the flag which sits at the heart of the enemy’s base before the timer runs out. How long is that timer? It depends entirely on how much silver you have. During the attack, your silver reserves will gradually dwindle. If you haven’t managed to capture the settlement by the time it runs out, you lose. This is doubly painful, as not only do you lose the battle, but you’ll have lost all your silver reserves too. Ouch. Also, if you have too little silver, you won’t even have the option to attack, and will instead be limited to defending your holdings from your enemies. Oh, and that’s even without bringing settlement happiness into the mix (don’t worry – if you prefer a simpler game there is a ‘chill’ mode available).
If all this sounds too complicated, you can always ignore the main campaign, and dive straight into a custom battle, choosing a city, attackers and defenders.
Made by an indie studio of only three people, Medieval Kingdom Wars is a remarkable achievement. It’s not the best looking nor most polished game around (that said, the devs are continually adding improvements). Provided you get past the too-slow tutorial though, (or even better, just read one of the beginner’s guides) you will be rewarded with an engaging and enjoyable game, full of intense battles and fun strategic decisions. If you enjoy slower paced strategy games, or like siege warfare, then Medieval Kingdom Wars is well worth your consideration. ■