A head to head area control battle awaits in King Tactics
Android & iOS
# of Players
King Tactics - Wars of the Roses is a USM port of the much shorted titled KOSMOS game The Rose King. The game plays out like an area control take on chess. Players take turns playing banners from their openly visible hand which allows you to conquer a space on the grid based on the direction and length of the banner. Play continues until a 52 out of 81 spots on the playing area have been claimed. The player with the most points wins the game.
Players start with five banners and four knights. Knights allow you to conquer a spot which your opponent occupies. They not only give you the spot, but take points away from your opponent as if they had never occupied the spot. The banners have a distance and a direction. The distances range from one to three and there are eight directions: north, south, east, west, and the four diagonals. The marker starts in the center of the grid and the first player plays a banner, moving the marker and occupying the spot relative to where the marker previously was. On the first turn, for example, if you play a banner which moves east one space, you will conquer the space directly to the right of the starting square.
As spaces are conquered, points are earned. The point system essentially boils down to having as many connected tiles as possible leading to a ton of points. An individual square is worth a single point, but things scale up quickly. It is common for games to end with the winner having 300+ points. As mentioned previously, when knights are played, the game deducts the points earned when the original player occupied the space. If you manage to disconnect a key connection you can drain your opponent by 50, 60, 70+ points, which is an incredibly satisfying move.
The only other option in the game is to draw a new banner on your turn. You can fill in an empty spot on your banner row instead of playing a banner on your turn. There is some strategy involved here as your opponent might find themselves unable to play any of their five banners, leaving you free to fill in all of your banners while your helpless opponent watches in horror.
Speaking of not being able to move, if neither player can make a move but has no more room for additional banners, the game immediately ends. The more standard way for the game to end is when 52 of the spaces are occupied.
King Tactics, reasons unknown for the rename, is a really fun duel game. We’ve taken a look at a few of these chess-like games and enjoyed each one, King Tactics continues the trend. The tension really gets amped up when you are near the end and both players still have knights remaining to try to hit a crucial steal spot which results in a massive point swing. Area control is really difficult to pull off effectively at two players, but this game does so quite well. Well enough, in fact, that I’ve been staring at the $11 physical game in my Amazon cart for a few days now.
Barrier to Entry
King Tactics is a very straightforward game and is effectively taught through two short tutorial games. The first introduces how to play while the second explains the differences added in the campaign. The scoring values are covered by a text based rulebook accessible through the in game menu. Overall, the app does a great job of teaching you the game.
Look and Feel
The app looks very nice. From the graphics on the intros to the gameplay screen, everything has a strong, cohesive look and feel. There isn't a lot going on in this game visually, but what is there works well.
The controls are great. To play you can either double tap a banner in your hand or on a space on the board. The first banner tap will preview where you would play if you choose to make the move. It's a simple, intuitive system that works really well. There is no undo button, but the preview of your move allows you time to second guess yourself so I honestly don't miss the undo button in this rare case.
There is online multiplayer with an ELO rating system. The lobbies have been empty when I've tried to find random matches and the leaderboard suggests that very few have found ranked matches successfully. You can also directly invite a friend to a game.
I've not had the chance to play an online game, so unfortunately I can't comment on how well it works. There is a local pass and play option which works quite well given that there is no hidden information in the game. It is a nice game to gather around a tablet and enjoy.
The game features free play games against three different AI levels as well as a campaign mode which intertwines the history of the Wars of the Roses with the gameplay. This is a nice touch to add some depth to the game. Easy and medium AI levels are both fairly bad at the game. That make some obvious mistakes like burning all of their knights early for minimal gain and generally are pretty easy as soon as you’ve learned the game. Hard presents a tougher challenge, but isn't over the top difficult. Some of my games against the hard AI come down to the last few moves with massive point swings as large areas are disconnected with knights. These are fun, tense moments in which the game truly shines. Other games, however, feel more like I'm playing an easy AI and I win in a blowout. It’s tough to tell if this is due to banner draws or something else.
The campaign scenarios add some fun twists on the basic game. Number of knights and banners will change, as will the size of the board. One early scenario, for example, gives you a couple of extra knights than your opponent but one less banner, a tricky trade-off to navigate. There are also occasionally dead spots on the board, or occupied spots which neither player owns initially but must spend a knight to conquer. None of these change the core game all that much, but do well to provide some small variations.
The game is based on a series of historical events known as Wars of the Roses, which were English civil wars in the mid-late 1400s fought for the control of the throne. The game integrates this by having a short summary in the menus but also by using actual battles in the campaign, optionally allowing you to read some history on them. It is always great to see some history sneaking into games like this, kudos to USM for providing quite a bit of back story in the app.
The Wrap Up
The Rose King is a seemingly random game to get a digital port. It is nearly 30 years old and almost no game stands the test of time that long. Simply put, it's not a game very many people are talking about in 2019. Despite that, the app manages to shine the light on this fun area control duel game. It's incredibly light but provides some solid tactical decision making. If the banners were hidden information the game might be a giant dud, but getting to see what your opponent has makes all the difference and lifts this game up among the better chess variants with the likes of games such as Onitama.
Implementation wise, the app is well made and has a host of options. The campaign adds some fun twists and variable setups to the game. The biggest downside is that the AI isn't that good. On Hard, it will occasionally put up a good fight but not always. Specifically, the AI doesn't seem to care much at all what banners you have at your ready and will often set you up for a great move.
Online play is there, but mostly a mystery to me right now with the lack of active online player base, so if you want to play online make sure you bring a friend.
King Tactics is a fun game and one I'm glad to have gotten the chance to play, but doesn't appear to have much staying power with the lack of challenging AI and the currently light online player base.