Crispy Gamer

A Look Into the Kingdoms of Camelot

I've been spending some time with Kingdoms of Camelot, yet another one of the many casual social games on Facebook.

KoC borrows from the core ideas that made Farmville so successful - a spaced out experience with tons of excuses to post random stuff on your wall and draw other people in - and attempted to make the actual interactions with the game more meaningful. The player is charged with raising his kingdom from a lowly town to one sprawling with people, military, and control over the (virtual) world. The experience, to me, seems very influenced by the Age of Empires series, starting right at the basic resources: both games have you build up reserves of wood, food, stone, gold and population (KoC does add a sixth resource, ore). There are designated plots of land inside and outside your kingdom to build production and resource-gathering buildings, respectively. 

The big divergence between KoC and Farmville is how resources are generated. In Farmville you must laboriously click through dozens of land plots multiple times to plant and later harvest crops. In KoC resources are generated automatically over time. This improvement is massive and makes the experience much more enjoyable. KoC also requires a lot less attention than Farmville; at first buildings construct quickly but later on you can upgrade buildings;early upgrades take minutes but later ones take hours to complete. Coupling this with the fact that you can only build one thing at a time and you have a game you can play a little and then leave for a while without penalties (unlike Farmville, where leaving crops alone too long causes them all to die). 

Another nice change is that producing gobs of resources isn't the only goal. Players can build an Alchemy Lab and research technologies (again, one at a time) to increase resource production and military strength. There's a market where players can interact with other kingdoms and trade resources. The barracks has military production with multiple unit types, most of which require certain technologies. Building a strong military requires a heavy resource investment as well as food production and population, since both are needed as upkeep to keep the troops around. 

It's nice to have all these systems in place, but after playing for about a week, I can say they don't really add up to much. Generally you just build / research / train whatever is most appropriate at the time; if you are going to be at your computer at a while you can do a bunch of small, quick building upgrades. If you're going out (or to sleep) soon you should start your big upgrades and long technologies, so when you come back they are done. 

The way KoC tries to bring in other players through Facebook wall spamming is not well implemented. When you build or research something you can ask friend to "help" you by clicking on the wall link. Each time someone does this the production time goes down by a minute. This is cool in the beginning, since knocking a 10 minute production time down to 5 is a good thing. The problem is that once upgrades get time expensive, reducing time from 3 hours to 2 hours 50 minutes (which would require 10 people, the maximum, to hit the link) isn't appealing anymore. You can appoint some of your friends as knights, which is a cool touch, but gives you no incentive to post on their walls about it.

My favorite part of the game is the map, where you can look at your kingdom in context. This is a zoomed out view where you can see other player's kingdoms, as well as resource rich areas and barbarian tribes. This is where having a big military is useful; you can send military to capture wilderness areas from native defenders, which provides your kingdom with resource bonuses depending on the area (mountain = ore, woods = wood, etc). The problem is that someone went ahead and solved how many soldiers you need to conquer each level of wilderness with virtually no casualties, which makes the whole thing sort of easy.

What makes wilderness capturing a lot more fun is competition for higher level resource bonuses. Other players can capture areas from you, meaning you'll often be going back and forth between hotly contested areas. You can also attack a kingdom directly to weaken their army and plunder some resources. When your kingdom gets strong enough (and you get some friends to start playing) you can build a second city in an unoccupied plains area, which brings a whole new level of territory control and resource management (you can transfer resources between cities). You can even start and join alliances with other players for additional protection and resource access.

KoC has definitely been a good experience in my first week. It lacks the visual flair of Farmville (building pre-designed buildings in pre-designed slots just doesn't feel as personal as a custom-built farm), but it has just enough meaningful decisions to make the core mechanics work. I'm not sure how the game will hold up over weeks in months, but I don't see it dropping off for a while. The experience is definitely a bit beta-y (it is a beta, after all) with some stats not working correctly and some random glitches here and there, along with some occasional bad server lag. Overall, it's a fun experience that has potential to get even better in time.