We are yet to cover The King’s Dilemma in board game form here at B3, but I have had the pleasure of playing a few games of it — and what stood out for me was without doubt the off-board interactions between players. With that in mind, the idea of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles (which is entirely single-player) being implemented on Steam is certainly intriguing, but it did leave me curious as to where the fun would come from.
The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles sets the scene with the player acting as the King’s lead advisor — and representing one of the kingdom’s twelve great houses. You’ll know your own house objective (whether to advance science, help the poor, get super rich or whatever) but you won’t know (yet) what drives the other houses. Because of this, as you make decisions, your standing with those houses will increase and decrease based on their own interests — and this may affect the realm accordingly.
Story and narrative is important in The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles, and I do think that going in, it’s important to know that your enjoyment of this game may be linked to your willingness to embrace and enjoy a new fiction. That’s OK though, because the writing in The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is generally deep and interesting, albeit there is a certain amount of “generic medieval fantasy” thrown in for good measure.
When the game begins, the player will find themselves a bit bewildered by the systems and mechanics of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles, which I felt were fairly poorly explained — despite some good iconography and various clever trackers (you can see the board game heritage shining through).
My main issues here were fairly short-lived, but they included things like — not really being able to find the “characteristics” of the current king after choosing them, understanding how money and influence were spent, figuring out when and why the king might be overthrown or killed and so on. Perhaps most importantly, I don’t think “Preparations” (which are a key element of the endgame) are explained well at all, and in general you may find that your first hour or so with the game are spent just “doing things” to see what happens, and then probably restarting… Then again, maybe I am just thick as a plank.
Most of the real meat of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles comes in the form of handling various situations that arise as part of a number of interlinking storylines. The player is presented with these situations (perhaps I should just call them dilemmas) via a hub screen that shows the three areas of interest for our empire — within the empire, outside it, and inside the capitol city. Players can choose any dilemma in any order, but as one is completed, another may either expire or disappear because of a choice made elsewhere.
When handling a dilemma, the choice is completely binary — either yay or nay — and usually three other members of the council will already have ventured their opinion. The player can always overrule the council (whether yay or nay) by using influence, but the opinion of other houses will increase or decrease depending on whether you do so. It’s also possible to swing the vote of a house by spending coins, which means that you will either spend less (or potentially zero) influence when you do so.
Whenever a decision is made, one or more the five kingdom tracks will move up or down. An early example would be the decision to either use a new red iron that has been discovered to outfit the army, or to sell it and fill your kingdom’s coffers. The former option will increase your kingdom’s power, whilst the latter will increase its wealth — but both options will also branch off into their own narrative that has a different follow-up dilemma.
I think the council elements of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles are what the developer has introduced to replace the debate that occurs above the board when playing with real people, and sadly it is a poor facsimile of real human interaction and persuasion. Even later in the game, when you choose to spend your very, very rare coinage on revealing house goals, you may not be able to align a specific choice to the houses involved anyway… Alliances do help decisions go your way, but they don’t make the game “feel” any different once locked in.
Other issues exist around the decisions and the power you actually have to make them. If your influence runs low (which it will) and your out of coins (which can’t seem to be replenished unless the king dies or abdicates) then you’ll probably have to go along with the council on most occasions anyway — or risk ending the current reign far too abruptly. This led me to (on occasion) choosing decision outcomes based on what would “do least harm” to the trackers, rather than what I actually wanted to see happen.
Overall then, The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles just about captures and maintains the spirit of the original board game. Played as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure with added resource manipulation, it’s an interesting experience. The narrative and world is good, and I was eager to see the story through to conclusion several times, but I did miss the interaction of the original game, even though I recognise that is practically impossible to implement in a single-player videogame.
You can find The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles on PC.