King of Dragon Pass
It is hard to pigeonhole a game like King of Dragon Pass (KoDP). It is just so different than any other game I have played. On one hand it is a decent resource management game. On the other, it is an exciting social interaction game. Yet on another hand it is an exploration of religion and its effects on the peoples of your clan. The fact that this game combines all three aspects makes it unique. Being that it is done very well is even greater.
KoDP is set in the Glorantha setting from the game Rune Quest, a setting that has been around for many years and been the source of much traditional gaming material. KODP greatly benefits from the setting and it actually feels like a real world, of which your clan is but a tiny part. It flows like a novel, but one you have a hand in writing.
The graphics in KoDP are reminiscent of role playing games and are primarily drawn as opposed to being computer generated. Some of the art is passable, but most of it is quite good and adds to the setting and depth to the game. The music was nice and varied throughout the game and the sound effects were decent. I kept the music on for longer than I normally do for games.
The tutorial in KoDP is bare bones and requires the manual to follow along. It does help and is required to get a grasp of the game mechanics. The rest of the manual is well done and when I had to consult the documentation I found what I needed fairly quickly and in good detail.
Tutorial aside, it really took a couple of test games to get a rough idea on how to play KoDP. The learning curve is fairly steep because there are so many things to manage and knowing when to do them for your clan's advantage. It also takes a while to get used to the lingo in KoDP; the labels in the game are based from Glorantha and not a generic source like many games of this ilk.
The screens in KoDP are reasonably intuitive and contain the information you need to make decisions. The game has continuous advice from your leaders on how best, in their opinion, run the clan and manage your tula (land). Prepare to spend an hour or two just getting the basics and be prepared to learn more as you go through your first couple of games.
KoDP plays in seasonal turns (Sea, Fire, Earth, Dark, Storm and Sacred) per year, where you get an opportunity to perform two actions in a season. This could be performing a quest, attacking another tula, sending out an emissary for trade and/or politics, building fortifications, or recruiting new tribal members. Your choices will affect your tribe in subtle or overt ways. For example if you decide to have your tribe raid another tribe during the sea or earth seasons that means you will mobilize people in your tribe to fight rather than tend to the crops, which will lessen the amount of food available to the clan.
Getting along with your neighboring clans is paramount to succeeding in KoDP. The goal is to form a tribe from clans and make that tribe successful. In the short game, the goal is: ten years of your clan member leading the tribe, maintaining the herds, keeping solid relations and ensuring the 3 hero quests are performed. In the long game your tribe must: unite other tribes into a kingdom then have your tribesman crowned king/queen of Dragon Pass. The short game took me a number of hours; the long game requires a lot more time. As you garner experience at tribal leadership, the turns take much less time.
Should you fail in the leadership of your tribe, your game is over. Managing relationships with other clans is universal regardless if they are in your tribe or not. The management of a tribe basically requires handling random events and setting the tenor of the tribal king in their management of the tribal affairs. You could side with your allies, tribes who are unhappy, fairly or selfishly. All have ramifications. For example I used the policy to treat all clans claims on their own merits. Later in the game had to side with my clan's allies to maintain support for the tribe rather than alienating everyone. Once one of your clan leaders becomes tribal king, there is chance for profit, reputation and ultimately winning the game. However there is a chance that your decisions could cause your king to be deposed (loose the game), fracture the clan or alienate clans in the tribe.
Events in KoDP will force you to make decisions that could affect the relations your clan has with others. This is not all negative. By showing generosity, mercy or loyalty your tribe could create a solid foundation for trade, cull favors or improve the chances for adding a clan into your tribe. Likewise being hard and unforgiving can give your tribe a fierce reputation, allow you to avoid trouble or start a feud.
Trade is key to KoDP. It is difficult to survive without it. You can loose cows or other livestock, fall short on harvests or simply require more goods to buy defenses. The wealth of your clan is based off of cattle or comparative value of a cow. But cattle are also important for maintaining the land. In tight times when food is short you can essentially eat your profits by slaughtering cattle to get by. But this is at a cost of the clan's real and perceived wealth
When trade does not work, raiding might. If you need more cows, a quick cattle raid against another clan is a good call. For more serious warfare you can try to plunder a tula, burn their buildings, seize land, destroy defenses, kill people, take captives amongst other options. You can call in favors for aid or ask your allies for warriors. Also you can allocate magic, sacrifice to the gods, choose the battle tactics. Once your battle selections are finished, the result is sent back to you. Sometimes a choice must be made. This happens frequently in a battle, when one of your leaders in queried as to what course they should take in the battle (fight bravely, take risks, etc.). After any battle events are resolved the results are given. The interesting thing is that there are many outcomes possible. Your success or failure is not absolute. Sometimes your warriors will be driven back before their objectives are fully met, you might get more than you had thought or even driven from the field. The greater your battle objectives, the lower the odds are for complete success.
Magic is ever-present in KoDP, but it is managed easy and seamlessly in the game. In the middle of each section of the clan's screens, there is a stone that informs you which magical effects your clan has. The mystery will be highlighted on that rock for the appropriate section it affects. At the start of each year you allocate magic for your clan to bring advantage to your clan. This can be applied to a variety of areas such as: diplomacy, children, war, quests, mysteries or destiny. These simply seem to improve the odds of things going well but not the ultimate deciding factor on how well your clan does.
There are a variety of gods to worship and pay adherence to. However the mysteries (magic) that a deity can provide must be learned through sacrifice to that deity. There is no guarantee that you will learn the mysteries of the deities, but the more you sacrifice the better the odds. Of course the trick is what to do with the knowledge your clan has obtained? You have many options. The first is to sacrifice to get the magic of the mystery for a short time. Better yet build a temple and you will get a number of mysteries based upon how large your temple is to the diety.
Of course your clan must maintain the deity's good graces and their temple. There is an annual cost in livestock and goods, resources that never get to your clan. But the benefits of mysteries usually outweigh the cost of maintaining a temple. A few examples of mysteries are: your tribe may use the women to defend your tula, provides more rain for your crops, or deals out more wounds when your clan enters combat.
The next part of magic is the hero quests that are required for your clan to ultimately assume its place as rules in Dragon Pass. These are re-enactments of the challenges that the gods faced. They can provide benefits like mysteries or provide your clan with additional treasure, but also can be dangerous for you tribal leader who performs the quest. The mechanics of the quest are based on decisions that you have to make. In the game each quest does not play out the same and the same quest might be played out in two ways. They are all tough and dangerous, however. The leader sent can be injured, killed or simply lost in the realm of the gods (where the reenactments happen). Honestly, if they were not a requirement to win KoDP I would stay away from them or do them only when I have to.
In the midst of guiding your clan through the seasons is that other clans are doing things as well and that will affect your tribe during a turn. This could take the form of a raid, trading, requesting aid, cattle rustling, settling a feud. In addition to this is the fact that there are random events occurring outside of the various clans in Dragon Pass. Your clan could be assaulted by trolls, intimidated by monsters, terrorized by undead, raided by brutal outsiders or down trodden outsiders wanting into your clan. Compiling this is there could be events within your own clan or tribe (see later on for what the difference is between a clan and tribe). This could be the form of clan members not being happy with the leadership, wanting changes to the clan, marriages, personal conflicts, etc. Needless to say a lot can happen in the course of a season or year.
But what makes these better than simply random events over the course of a game is the fact that your decisions about any single event could trigger a series of events that last for a few seasons or even a number of years. In my primary game I kept running into problems with the undead and vampires stalking the members of my tribe. Even after trying a few things to resolve this problem (sending out warriors, conducting rituals, etc.) I had little luck in destroying the restless dead. However eventually priests from the deity of death passed through my tula and eradicated the dead, for a price. Apparently my clan was not the only one who had these problems and I lent aid to other clans to aid them in their undead troubles.
Perhaps the neatest part of KoDP is your clan leaders. From the couple dozen leaders in your clan, you must pick 7 to represent your people and manage aspects of the clan. How the gods and fate treat your clan is dependent on your selection. Each leader has skills, some more, some less. Each skill is rated and they do change over time. Each person in the leadership ring (the seven leaders who run the clan), has advice to give in the game and can provide insight about decisions you have to make. Any of your clan leaders can be selected for missions and are heavily involved in your clan's conflicts.
Leaders can also spawn events within the game. A leader who is not on your ring might be stirring up trouble in the clan to get on the ring. As well a leader on the ring might be making unpopular decisions and members of your tribe might want them to step down. Do you follow the will of the people or stand by your ring member?
If you piled through this review, you might get the idea I like this game. I honestly thought I would not. It looked so simple when I was researching it before I started playing. Needless to say King of Dragon Pass won me over. It was a slow seduction to be sure, but an effective one. One of the game options is a historical record of what happens in your clan. This is not only handy for referencing past events but also reads like an epic tale about your clan's triumphs and tragedies.
I thought the hero quests were a little too difficult at times and the inconsistent results of decisions made during the quests were very frustrating. They were an interesting part of the game and definitely gave the impression how important the deities are to you clan and the Glorantha world. As I said earlier, they benefits of the hero quests can be limiting and should only be used as needed. I found the other magics to be more useful and less perilous.
The game plays nicely and flows like a novel. Once you get used to the interface and understand the games lingo it plays easily (even for knuckleheads like me who skim manuals). There is no one thing that makes KoDP outstanding, it is the combination of the plot, politics, magic, warfare, resources, trade, exploration, personalities and random events that allows for a great game. A game that you can play over and over again.
Pick it up, I think you will be surprised.
(It is available at www.a-sharp.com)
The Technical Stuff
King of Dragon Pass installed onto my system (Celeron 400, 64MB RAM, 16MB Voodoo3, 24x CD-ROM) and executed without issue. It should run on any Pentium class system with 16 bit color and a 2x CD-ROM. Additionally it can be run on a Macintosh with 7.5 OS, 24MB RAM, 16 bit color. There are only two small irritating technical aspects about KoDP. First is the update for the game, is fairly obtuse and requires manual installation of the patches. It is not difficult, but it could have been done much better. The other is the fact that KoDP will hammer your CD-ROM as it heavily relies upon it for game data. It would have been nice to have the whole game installed on the hard drive.Neither are deal breakers.
KoDP is a single player game. Not having it does not take away from the game, but it would have added a lot the game. I could imagine how fun it would be to have clans controlled by people intermixed with the computer-controlled tribes and never knowing who is who. Perhaps in a follow up product A-Sharp will consider this feature.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)