At first glance, King Of The Castle might look similar to other medieval political sims; something like Reigns or Yes, Your Grace, where you ascend the throne, rule a kingdom, and make decisions that will impact your gold reserves, military strength, or alliances. That political manoeuvring is intact in King Of The Castle, but this time up to 24 of your friends (or thousands of Twitch viewers) can join your campaign, hopping into the shoes of nobles from various regions. All of them have different goals, all of them can vote on certain decisions, and all of them have the potential to support or backstab the all-powerful monarch: you.
That’s the general premise for King Of The Castle: a hybrid between a massive party game and a monarchy sim, capturing the chaotic comedy and fragile scheming that accompanies political decision-making – with a little fantasy thrown in for good measure. Tributary Games’s studio lead Samuel Partridge tells me they’ve coined ‘Game Of Phones’ as a tagline, “which hopefully won’t get us sued,” he adds.
Most players are familiar with choice-based games and how they work, but it’s rare to see a game cater that experience to a crowd. King Of The Castle’s content lead Harry Tuffs likened it to “writing for theatre – except it’s a theatre where the audience is particularly rowdy, and are also invited to rush the stage any time.” But tons of problems can crop up when serving this kind of story to thousands of players, rather than just one. A KOTC playthrough needs to be legible to, for example, a channel-hopping Twitch viewer who stops in mid-way through a plot to overthrow the King. One part of the solution was to implement medieval fantasy tropes that acted as touchstones for players and were “important for quickly establishing facts,” says Partridge.
Once players had a grip on the world they’ll be ruling, Celest Ath, Partridge says the team wanted to add “a unique touch,” and get funky with the possibilities. This is a game where you can “legalise polyamorous marriage, lose a fortune on the crab market, and launch a dead saint into the ocean via a catapult… All on the same turn.” Your wild decisions (and the votes of thousands of nobles) can make the game veer into very weird territories, across hundreds of unique and branching events that Partridge says needed “spreadsheets all the way down,” to avoid lore inconsistencies.
Partridge’s favourite storyline is the one where the Monarch and the nobles have a “massive party, get drunk, and collectively decide to straight-up declare war on the biggest, nastiest empire outside their borders… before waking up with a hangover.” The livestreams that I’ve watched have been just as anarchic: a group of nobles betray the monarch last-minute, and side with the giant’s rebellion at the end.
Sure, KOTC is a hectic, hilarious, and hilariously hectic time, but a satirical bite undercuts the whole experience. Tuffs calls the concept of monarchy a “preposterous system with preposterous implications,” and the game’s voting system actively encourages preposterous behaviour. “The players of King Of The Castle embody a small, self-interested elite at the top of their society,” says Tuff. “The game encourages bribery, blackmail, and outright vote manipulation. This is emphatically the wrong way to do a democracy.” It does produce an entertaining watch, though.
KOTC’s reflects corrupt voting systems in comedic ways, but Tuff still acknowledges the gloomy impact it has: “Ultimately it’s the poor commonfolk who suffer the brunt of the consequences from all this – there’s a lot of peasant rioting in the game, and who can blame them?”
The daily news in real life is practically overflowing with corrupt politicians, and I like that KOTC mirrors that through its voting system. It’s a smart, knowing critique, but one that came back to bite Tributary Games on the bum when it was time for the announcement. KOTC’s debut trailer starts with a King’s head on a spike (a familiar ‘I bet you’re wondering how I got here’ setup) and it was scheduled to go live on September 8th, 2022 when, an hour before the trailer launched, the real-life Queen of England died. Tuff says that any similarities to the real world in KOTC are “not entirely coincidental” – except for the giant coincidence that disrupted their marketing plans, naturally.
Despite KOTC’s mockery of political systems, Tuff says that Celest Ath isn’t divided along the lines of gender, sexuality, or race, moving away from the somewhat rote depictions of these issues seen in other fantasy worlds. “This allows our players to design diverse characters and accurately represent themselves without worry of reliving past traumas,” says Tuff – before assuring me that dark humour and beheadings will still feature.
KOTC’s inclusive and diverse character creation is no surprise, as Partridge says the team’s philosophy is to “listen to what our players are saying.” This extends to how Tributary Games approaches monthly updates, with Partridge pointing to the new launch feature Dynasty Events as an example. Dynasty Events carry consequences over from one reign to the next, but Partridge says the change “was based on the results of a player survey we ran, where this was the most-requested feature by far,” in the game’s closed beta. The team have a number of possible plans post-launch, although Partridge states that “it’s not like we can point to a similar title and take notes.” Tributary Games will continue to listen to players and make changes based on feedback.
I’m excited to see how King Of The Castle expands into the future. The game has everything it needs to be the next hit on Twitch: the fun of betraying your friends, playthroughs that change every time, and the potential for thousands of viewers to form alliances or deviously rebel against you, the king of the castle. It’s out on PC today, via Steam, for £4/$5, and has a Twitch extension, and a dedicated website for smaller groups of friends (or friendly traitors.)
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