Heavy is the head that wears the crown. That glorified hat can feel even weightier if you’re playing the role of royalty in King Of The Castle, a multiplayer strategy where every other player in the game is out for your royal blood. While one player controls the monarch as they try to outmaneuver everyone else in the match, while everyone else attempts to plot their way to the credits as members of your council.
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If you’re playing as the monarch, your goal is to select an ambition – perhaps you want to be remembered as a ruthless conqueror, or a pious leader – and see it to fruition. Sadly, your own subjects are the biggest thing standing between you and your legacy. While there’s only one monarch, there are countless nobles trying to plot you into early retirement. Noble players are assigned randomly to one of the match’s three regions, and must quickly vote within their group to determine how they’ll scheme their way to victory – the monarch wins if they achieve their own ambition, while a noble player wins if they pull off their scheme before the other two factions finish theirs. Spoiler: nine times out of ten, the monarch loses.
Everything is dictated by a small table of numbers that summarise the kingdom – monarchs have to worry about their stability, treasury and authority, while each noble region has their own trade, farming, military, faith and defiance counter to watch. To win, you need to make sure certain stats are above (or below) what you’re told: perhaps you’re one of the gothic counts, and want to get the monarch possessed by a demon. First, you’ll need to lower your region’s defiance to get the monarch to drop their guard – then tank your own faith to dabble in demonology. Succeed before anyone else completes their scheme, and the monarch will wake up with refreshing obedience to your faction and pincers for arms, landing you a victory.
For nobles, maneuvering King Of The Castle‘s stats requires serving on the monarch’s council, voting with – often against – other players to carry out your machinations. These votes revolve around Crusader Kings-style dilemmas, albeit with a much lighter tone. Often, the council is invited to wade into disputes between fellow players – though typically each council member’s real aim is to advance their own agendas rather than find the best outcome. As a result, these dilemmas are wonderfully entertaining and often lead to sprawling, unpredictable story beats. One moment you’re helping the Eastern Counts retrieve their migrating bees from the North, the next you’re debating how to resolve heaving clouds of bees after the East rooted through an occult monastery to find a bee-attracting charm. Oh, and one player’s been possessed by a bee demon.
King Of The Castle‘s storytelling is wicked smart, and the dynamic feel of each match means your pals are likely to leave with a wealth of anecdotes. My personal favourite involved a seemingly innocuous dispute between two friends involving a bear, who the coastal faction had captured for their zoo – ignoring the North’s protests, who claimed it to be a manifestation of their god. Fast forward and the bear ended up lonely, so the coast bought it another bear. They had a cub together, and I used my royal honour guard to seize it when they tried to sell it to me. That, of all things, became my reign-defining moment: when I finally kicked the bucket, pushed off a waterfall and replaced with a doppelganger because the bear-god thing still miffed the North, the credits of that match referred to me as King Andy The Bear Whisperer.
Though it’s the sprawling nature and stakes of these dilemmas that keep you engaged in the long term, it’s the humour in Tributary Games’ writing that keeps King Of The Castle consistently entertaining. During a drawn-out war with another empire, peace talks finally emerged, only for one spiteful player to vote an option reading “No peace! Welcome to the forever war!” because five minutes ago, we laughed at the skeleton cult he’d accidentally set loose in his lands. The war itself started because the council, keen to deplete my treasury, voted me into taking a terrible deal on horses. Every line of writing is a treat, and King Of The Castle is incredibly replayability thanks to the incalculable directions each dilemma can follow with each match.
When a match is in full swing, King Of The Castle can become delightfully heated. Nobles bicker over the “right” options to vote for, while the monarch – who doesn’t get to vote – stirs the pot by pointing out how each player is trying to one-up the other. This goes double for playing with large groups – you need a minimum of three other players to get started, but things get hilariously chaotic when you’re contending with crowds of fellow nobles. Smart Twitch integration means it can even be played with one poor streamer as monarch and thousands of their viewers serving as their devious council.
My main criticism of King Of The Castle is that matches can be too short to realise their full potential – each game can have a handful of plots and counter-plots on the go, but the vast majority of them are cut short before they can reach their end. Most of my matches lasted around an hour, and a lot of that is because there’s simply too much for the monarch to contend with – you rarely have enough influence to stop the nobles from achieving their goals, and it can be hard to keep track of what every region’s trying to do. By the time you’re offered a way to counter one region’s plotting, it’s often too late; and some nobles often managed to complete one stage of their scheme because they already had the correct stats and there weren’t many opportunities to reduce it.
While King Of The Castle works because it’s a quick party game you can jump into, a separate mode with more room for the game’s stories to breathe would be brilliant. That’s the dream, but you can’t fault what King Of The Castle already offers – this is a multiplayer game of sheer brilliance, and if you get to throw the monarchy in a river? Even better.
King Of The Castle launches for PC on March 2.
Wearing the guise of an easy-to-play party game, King Of The Castle thrives when its true depth is revealed and you’re three pop-ups deep into a dilemma about trying to coexist with giant man-eating spiders. Easy to pick up but challenging to win, Tributary Games’ debut is a charming success that’s easy to recommend for an evening of multiplayer hijinks.
- Entertaining dilemmas that often escalate wildly
- Hilarious dialogue
- An easy concept that’s quick to explain to newcomers
- The short nature of matches make it tough to see how many stories conclude
- Some nobles’ victories don’t feel preventable