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For the King…With Kids!

Red Thomas Posted:
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It’s strange that I’ve not given much consideration to online boardgames until now.  I’ve seen the Tabletop Simulator on Steam and even talked about it with a friend who was thinking of trying to get our old D&D group back together for online sessions.  I certainly love board games and enjoy playing them at family events, though I am more of a Euro-style gamer and it’s hard to get many folks together who are interested in that style of gaming.  

Though it might be possible to grow them, if I can slowly introduce a handful of my nieces and nephews into more complex gaming a little at a time.  Whether it works or not, I’m going to enjoy sharing these experiences with them, so it’s not like it’s quite the semi-villainous plot it looks to be on the surface.

Through a quirk of fate, For the King popped up in my Steam feed again recently and I remember finding the idea interesting, but never quite having time to check it out.  In the post-holiday lull, this was an excellent time and I decided to give it a shot.  As I logged in, I noticed a prompt about Steam’s new “Remote Play Together” in the lower corner, and that was when I got really excited.

Lots of hilarious items are in the game.  Also, note how critical fails can break the item.  How D&D is that?

Remotely Together

One of the great things about Remote Play Together was that you don’t have to own multiple copies of the game.  The kids were all in school, so I reached out to a friend to help me test the feature and it worked just as I would have expected.  I launch a game on my PC, invite a friend to play it with me, and we share the controller.

For action-based games, this might not work well, but it’s an idea solution for turn-based games, especially ones that involve multiple characters and play very much like a digital boardgame.  For the King is just that sort of game and worked brilliantly later when I invited a couple of the kiddos to play online with me.

Steam’s feature handled setting up voice comms, sharing controllers, and also ensured that the only thing broadcast through the session was the game and not my desktop, which probably makes that a better solution than most.  I especially appreciate that touch of security in my own situation since the point is to introduce the system to kids.  In our case, we just shared the keyboard and mouse, but it appears that in controller-based games, each controller counts as a distinct entity and allows each player to control their own character separately.

For fans of fighting games and sports games, this opens up a new window of opportunity for those genres on Steam.  I suspect that’s going to encourage a lot of multiplayer gaming in the future.  For board games controllers might be less of a benefit, but anything that makes it easier for geographically disbursed families to spend time together is a win in my book.

Boardgame Feel

The main point of this article is For the King and we should get on to that, though.  The first thing that I noted about the game was the very boardgame feel it has in how it’s played.  Each character gets a turn to move, take actions, use consumables, and then end their turn.  This made it really easy to share the keyboard and mouse because each person controlled their own character in the game.

Even movement is a roll of the dice, supporting that strong boardgame feel to the game.

The only time that became an issue was during combat, but we solved that quickly by handing off combat control to one person and alternated who got to have control in each combat.  Since it was myself and two kids, I bowed out and just let them alternate between themselves.  With the rest of the game playing like a turn-based boardgame and having three characters, it worked out pretty well.

Another thing I liked about the game was how it calculated successes.  Every challenge was solved through a digital role of the dice.  The game doesn’t show the dice, but the result is the same.  A search action might be an awareness check or an intelligence check, and you’ll have one character or another that’s better at either.  The system is effectively some number of dice rolls, success requires a minimum number of successful rolls, and that chance is impacted through a varying number of rolls and varied chance of success on each.

It’s more confusing in the explanation than the function.   Think of an attack with a bow, as an example.  That specific bow allows you to roll four “dice” (it’s different for different bows) and you will hit on two successes and critical hit if you get all four.  What you need to roll on each die is determined by your ability score.  If the bow checks against awareness and the character has high awareness, then the chances of rolling a success on each of the four checks will be better.

The unlocks really make replays more interesting, which is great for an uncle that has an army of nieces and nephews to take turns sharing the game with.

It’s a really neat system that reinforces the board game feel over and over.   Each check is a roll against some number of chances to set the difficulty and chance of successful rolls set by character stats.  Since there are a lot of random encounters of different types, that system is reiterated for you over and over.

I think it’s a great way to introduce kids to the idea of making success checks by rolling dice against their stats.  It ends up being sort of a digital primer for pen-and-paper RPGs.  I won’t lie, that makes me pretty excited.

Fun Game

I think I like For the King more than the kids do because of how nostalgic it feels, but the kids seemed to enjoy it, as well.  My niece loved the aesthetic and how cute the characters were.  My nephew enjoyed the combat, and particularly liked the rock and roll bard-class enemies.   Every time we’d get an electric riff, he’d laugh and probably couldn’t care less if the attack landed or not.

I liked that the game is hard, but not so hard that you fail too quickly.  Much like some of the other cooperative boardgames out there, the game progressively gets harder over time, so winning is not easy.  On one hand, we get to play long enough that you don’t feel totally punched down, but it’s also hard enough that you’re not winning most times you try.

I thought that the game was a great way to introduce the kids to the idea of failure and how we should examine it, learn from it, and even enjoy the knowledge that we have a worthy struggle in front of us.  Boardgames are a great way for kids to learn to accept failure as a function of life and to learn to not only refuse to let it kick them down, but to actually gain advantage from it.  That’s a super important lesson I’m glad to see my own nieces and nephews learning well.

Some may not care for the art style as much, but I thought it was fun and the kids seemed to like it, as well.

Another thing I like about the game is that it’s very repeatable.  There are several different scenarios to play and being able to pick different archetypes for each of three characters makes the game even more re-playable.  The options continue to expand with unlocks, as well.

As you play the game, you discover “lore” in the form of books.  Lore is used as a form of currency that you can unlock additional content with.  Cosmetic items, new encounters, gear, and even additional character types are all unlocked with lore, expanding the opportunities to replay scenarios a great deal.

Hail to the King

I have to say that I just really enjoy the game.  To me, I think it’s easily worth the $20 cost because I can share the experience with two of my nieces or nephews at a time, where I normally have to purchase multiple copies of other games.  The Remote Play Together feature isn’t something you’re buying with the game, but that function of Steam really increases the value of the product to my mind.

Rock on, Royal Droll.  Though, if you bust out with Duel of the Banjos, this fight will get ugly.

Whether it’s a good buy for you just depends.  The art style is distinctive and there have been a few indie games release over the last few years with that simple isometric direction, but that comes off as cheap to some people.  I like it because it allows developers to spend more time on mechanics and content, rather than a really aesthetic and intellectually flat experience.  Not that I don’t appreciate a wonder visual experience, but those also tend to be really expensive.

One of the best uses of games like For the King may actually be an introduction to RPGs for younger kids.  I have several kids in the family that I think might enjoy playing a game like this but would struggle with an actual D&D session.  For the King introduces core mechanic concepts in a way that I don’t think is too overwhelming and might help younger gamers learn to think more strategically while playing games.

I’m definitely looking forward to trying this one out with more of the kids and seeing how they all like it.  The fact that I don’t have to buy extra copies of the game to do that makes me super excited.  I may buy a few extra copies as gifts just to support the idea and help encourage more games in the same vein, though.

I’ve seen a few other digital board games in Steam and there are a few available through Tabletop Simulator, as well.   I may take a crack at some of those and see how the kids enjoy it.  If I managed to create a weekly online boardgame night with the nieces and nephews, that’d be a pretty awesome thing.  I really appreciate games like this that make something like that more likely.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.