Before I begin, I was sent a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would rather watch a video of this review you can check it out below. Get your own copy here.
Every person with a smart phone has played those tower defense games. They pop up fairly regularly and about a bazillion of us have broken down and tried them and gotten sucked in for awhile, and maybe pumped in some money for “gems” or “gold” or whatever. Thankfully, I have never dumped any money into these things because of one fact.
I am bad at them. Why? Usually because all the ones that I have played have a real time element to them where you only have so long to plan your defenses, and like in a real time strategy game my wee brain needs time to cool down or it will start to smoke. Yet, despite not being good at them, I usually enjoy them for a while, up until I realize I am terrible then I get pouty and delete it.
Now, I have never played a board game version of a tower defense game, at least not like this. Yes, I have played Cloud Spire (but that is so much more), yes I previewed SHEOL (again that is only kind of sort of a tower defense game), and of course I have played a lot of Castle Panic (but there are no towers in that. So Kingdom Rush would be a new experience for me, and one that might just be the answer to solving my general garbageness at tower defense games.
In Kingdom Rush you play through a series of ten difference scenarios, with increasing complexity and difficulty. As the scenarios progress the bad guys come at you with new abilities and resistances, and you have the occasional boss fight which can mix things up even more.
On your end you will each play a hero that has a few special powers, and have a hand full of towers that you are able to place out on specific spots on the board to attack the hordes of evil doers as they rush to destroy your kingdom. Huh….Rush Your Kingdom…that almost sounds like a game title…someone should get on that.
To stop the onslaught you will make use of four types of towers that blast the oncoming hordes with differently shaped polyominoes. If you manage to cover up all the enemies on the horde card with your polyominoes or with your hero, then you defeat the card and earn an all important gem. Use the gems to buy more towers, and the towers that you do not actually use will get passed to the next player and upgraded.
Every so often a purple portal card will come out, and these are the ones that you have to be the most careful with. You see if they enter your kingdom you lose the game. They also have the added bonus of being immune to towers weaker than certain levels, and being totally immune to attack from your heroes. In most scenarios, destroy all the portals and win the game.
So what do I think?
I really like the way the game looks, it has that phone app game look to it, and I personally think the minis are super fun in their cartoonish look, and I think the artwork on the towers, and the rest has a good look as well.
However, the best part of the game is the core game mechanic of carefully selecting which of your limited locations to place your limited towers to try to puzzle out how to best place your polyominoes of doom onto the horrible hordes! On its own that does not seem to be particularly interesting, after all you play all your towers and kill some things. Yet what makes this work so well is that you have the added choice of choosing whether you should play your towers or upgrade them. This. Is. Just. Awesome. I love how simple it is to upgrade your towers, there is no xp or gold to deal with, just a simple choice of instant gratification, or delayed awesomeness.
Then when you combine this puzzle of which tower to play or place, with the basic puzzle of killing the hordes with your polyominoes, and the puzzle of how to best activate your heroes you have a wonderfully brain burning challenge.
This is a hard game. I find that I still lose occasionally on the easy difficulty. The box also has a ton of empty space in it, I am not sure if that is so the expansions can just be dropped in or what, but it is odd to have maybe a quarter or a third of the box filled with air.
I also appreciate everything that the game has done to limit the inherent fiddliness of this type of game by limiting tokens outside of the polyominoes, and the trays for the cards which keep the polyominoes contained.
Finally, though I have only played with the core box, I really enjoy the differences in how all the heroes play. The difference is not massive, but it is there, and each one requires a different strategy to play competently.
Now while I am impressed with the relative lack of fiddliness in the game, it is still present. You are still dealing with a large variety of different polyominoes, and building the horde stacks takes a little bit of time before each scenario. I also have a feeling that after a while (I am talking dozens of plays) the puzzle may feel solved, as the ten scenarios are always set up the same way. I would love it if Lucky Duck released something as simple as variant horde stacks for each scenario. Of course the other option is purchasing more content, which seems readily available.
Bringing it all together
Kingdom Rush has managed to translate the feeling of a mobile phone tower defense game to the board game format. It plays seamlessly, and is one of the best spacial puzzle games I have played. I love the addition of the asymetric heroes, and love the look of the game. Yes, it is a little bit fiddly when it comes to setting up, but overall it has done a wonderful job of mitigating that with clever choices in the game mechanic, and additional components.
It’s called Kingdom Rush, not Kingdom Go On About It For a Million Years
* This game absolutely has the feel, and look of a mobile game, but without the time pressures that they often have
* The game plays seamlessly, and is very well streamlined
* Every part of the game is a delightful puzzle, that is guaranteed to leave your brain charred around the edges
* The set up takes a little longer than I would like, and there is potential of the game eventually feeling “solved” without expansion material
* The game is very challenging