Tabletop gaming remains an alluring pastime for many gamers, and alongside the consoles and PCs lurking in each of our homes there are almost certainly some offline wares, whether they’re related to classic Dungeons & Dragons or perhaps something from Games Workshop or Wizards of the Coast. For The King is a tabletop, rogue-like adventure based on a board game created by IronOak lead designer Colby Young almost five years ago.
Having been in Early Access on PC for just over a year the developers have continued to tinker away at the game, adding new characters, new enemies and new realms ahead of its release at the end of this week. We were able to go hands on the latest of these, the Frost Realm, taking our merry band of adventurers across this chilly hexagonal world.
The first thing you’ll undoubtedly latch onto is For The King’s lovely chunky aesthetic. The low-poly look gives everything a real sense of weight and place, and ultimately it really conveys the game’s board game origins which was a key aim for Colby and the team; “That was one of the goals from early on, just to capture the same physicality as playing a board game”.
Each realm is made up of a connected set of hexagons, which, thanks to the wonders of procedural generation, will change with every playthrough, meaning that different villages and towns will appear scattered around the map to play host to various useful shops, or quest items. On top of that you’ll also find an array of different enemies lurking round every corner, from beastmen with buckets for helmets, to Dobby-esque goblins, each of whom have bags of character thanks to the great physical art.
There’s an overarching tale which sees Rosomon, the Queen of Fahrul call on her subjects to protect the kingdom from the impending tide of doom that the death of the king has brought with it. It’s immediately clear that there’s been a lot of love and care poured into making the world of For The King a vibrant, living entity, rather than just a board with models placed upon it, and as you progress you’ll learn more about Fahrul and the problems it’s encountering. Besides the fantasy fiction the game also boasts an enjoyable layer of humour as well, such as the docks being closed thanks to the workers’ drunken escapades the night before or the way the Minstrel’s music goes out of tune when they fail an attack.
You take a team of three, drawn from the hefty number of character types such as Blacksmith or Hunter, and as you explore Fahrul you level up your group while tackling the quests and enemies that are thrown at you. Each turn allows you to move your characters around the grid, which comes with an added element of strategy as keeping your party within a relatively close vicinity means they’ll all muck in when you enter combat. Separating them will allow you to cover more ground but makes you far more vulnerable, making for some fun risk and reward. Thankfully if you fail you can just start a new game, hopefully with a few new weapons in your collection to help out.
Besides gaining health and attack damage as you level up, you’ll also be able to gain new abilities which are tied to those new weapons that you find on your journey. Being a rogue-like, failure is almost built in, and you’ll lose everything should you die while in the field, though unlike other examples of the genre, it’s a quasi-permadeath which you can avoid if you have lives remaining and at least one member of your party is still alive.
For The King’s boardgame origins are pleasingly apparent in the game’s systems, so combat is wholly based on your character’s stats in relation to their enemy’s, with the game ‘rolling’ dice a number of times in order to see if your actions succeed. If you want to guarantee that a roll succeeds you can use your character’s focus points to set it, which should help out in pivotal moments. The game’s turn-based combat will feel very natural for fans of classic RPGs, and it’s refreshing in this context with the cooperative rogue-like elements lending the game a feel all of its own.
You earn Lore during play, and between games it allows you to unlock new special items, places, events and extra character types which you can then use on your next game, giving the game plenty of long-term appeal. IronOak have also tried to cater for as many different ways to play, so besides singleplayer you can play either local co-op or online.
For the team some of that has been dictated by not being able to play tabletop games in the same way anymore. “One of the reasons why we went from the boardgame to the digital game is that we’re all older,” Colby said. “It’s harder for three or four people to get together to play boardgames, while if we have online functionality it’s a lot easier for us to link up and play this game.”
For The King is set to hit version 1.0 on PC this week, though Colby feels the last year of Early Access has been invaluable for the team. He said, “We couldn’t have done it without Early Access. Our core team is only four people, we have no QA, and any playtesting we can do is on the side. Early Access has been great, getting the early people playing on it and getting their feedback… really this game has been shaped by the community”.
The game is also due to hit consoles early next year, and as with a number of other indie developers IronOak seemed particularly excited about the Switch version. Thanks to its portable multiplayer opportunities it feels like it’ll be a very natural fit for Nintendo’s transformative console. No matter where you play it, for fans of table top gaming, strategy, traditional RPGs, and co-operative play, For The King is very much worth keeping an eye on.