Kingdom: Feet of Clay

I’ve been playing some more of Kingdom, in an attempt to persuade myself I’m not terrible at games. Previously I had been playing Dungeon of the Endless, and I think I’m up to 26-ish deaths on Easy mode? And zero wins. Anyway, I’ve got a bit more to say about Kingdom now, so here we are. I’m a little hesitant to return to it, actually – I’d much prefer to do a game in one go and then move on. I suppose little bits are inevitable here and there, but to my mind it’s cleaner if all the posts on X topic exist in roughly the same place. I’ll try to avoid this in the future, I suppose.

So in Kingdom there’s this thing where monsters come out of portals at night and rush your base, which is in the center of the map. You can walk past the portals and go deeper into the forest, but if they switch on and start pouring out monsters, you’re likely to get murdered. I’m not 100% sure on this, but I’m pretty sure that if you’re on the far side of a portal, the monsters won’t go after your base – I’m pretty sure they’ll just come after you. If that’s the case, then going past portals becomes quite dangerous, because you’ve got no defences, and any spawning monsters are a) between you and your base and b) coming to murder you.

What struck me at this point (on my jaunty little stroll) was that the base itself is actually kinda superfluous. The monsters don’t care about it – they’re just trying to get to you. The monsters don’t really care about the population either – they murder soldiers who get in the way, but again, it’s just about you. If you walked into the forest and got mobbed on the first day, your city would be fine, your people would be fine – the monsters would just turn around and leave. I mean, that’s also the condition for losing the game, which is inconvenient, but it just struck me that on a fictional level these monsters are very focused on you and your crown.

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That oddly singular focus kinda changed my perspective on the game a bit. I’d always thought of it as a game about raising and maintaining a city, but really it’s more about looking out for your own skin. The population, in that sense, are a means to an end – they collectively play the role of a couple of padlocks. One of the things that drew me to the game was this Nebuchadnezzar imagery it’s got going on. When you first start the game up, it’s got the title (Kingdom) sitting along the path, and as you walk past, it crumbles into pieces. The idea being that you build your kingdom up, but eventually, despite all of its glory, time will tear it down. That’s very Nebuchadnezzar (or Ozymandius, if you’re fond of Shelley, but let’s stick with Nebuchadnezzar for now).

So historically, Nebuchadnezzar is the dude who beat the hell out of the Israelites. He destroyed the First Temple (Solomon’s Temple) in 586 BC, and took a whole bunch of prominent Jewish families into exile in Babylon. Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah are all figures from the exilic period in Jewish history. We’re pretty sure that Ezekiel and Isaiah both existed, historically, although Daniel is potentially a fiction. We’re also not sure that the Biblical books of Ezekiel and Isaiah were entirely written by those historical figures – there may have been addendums and changes throughout. Anyway, so Nebuchadnezzar comes up in the Book of Daniel: he’s got all these Jewish families in exile, and he has a bad dream that he wants his magicians to interpret. Daniel gets a revelation from God as to what the dream is about, and he goes and tells Nebuchadnezzar and gets mad props for it. Read this description of the dream though:

“You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found.”

That’s… kinda what I was hoping Kingdom would be about – personal ambition, the might, wealth, and fragility of an empire, and the inevitability of time. And in some ways it is. But in other ways it’s really not. For one, when the monsters are asked to choose between going after you and wrecking your kingdom, they go after you. Oh – as per usual, I’m not really criticising Kingdom here – I’m just noting a disparity between what I see as its potential and what I feel the final product actually does.

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So ultimately Kingdom isn’t really about kingdoms – it’s more about kings (and queens!). The monsters don’t care about your empire or destroying your legacy – if they can nick your golden hat, they’re quite happy to head off. Subsequently, it leaves you (or at least me) feeling kind of hollow about the whole city-building aspect of it. The city doesn’t really matter as a monument or a memoir – it’s functionally just a padlock to keep the monsters away from you. I think aesthetically I preferred Kingdom: Classic, where there was no escape, and it was just a growing horde of monsters each day. New Lands only moves further away from the Nebuchadnezzar image – now you’re actually flat-out abandoning each city as soon as you can pop a boat!  Ah well. Fun game though.

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