Dice with Death in For The King

By Kotaku on at

For the King, IronOak Games’ tabletop-meets-roguelike-meets-RPG, takes the best bits of all three genres and blends them into a satisfying hexagonal adventure. And like all good tabletop stories, it’s a deceptively simple game that quickly reveals its tougher setup: probably by slaughtering your party before turn three.

For veteran players of any of the game’s blended systems, a few things will immediately feel familiar: the world map takes inspiration from the world of fitting board games on a coffee table; the combat system has all the turn-based tactics of classic RPGs; and the roguelike flavour is satisfied by random encounters and dungeons popping up just as you’re heading back to town.

Dice that devastate

One of For the King’s standout features is the Focus system. Adding a layer of tactics to even your most basic choices, Focus allows players to expend a limited resource to heighten their chances of success when performing actions. Almost everything in the game is determined by dice rolls: how far you can move, how well you fight, whether or not you successfully brain the upstart cultist acolytes. And unlike the merciless world of hardcore RPGs, Focus means you can improve - but not always guarantee - your chances of succeeding at your task.

It’s a welcome panacea in what can sometimes be a brutally challenging experience. Despite the Monty Python-esque ridiculousness that For the King oozes it’s a strategic game at heart, and having the option to hoard or layer on your Focus mitigates the frustration players feel when a bad roll lays your intentions to waste.

Just make sure you have some before charging head first into a Chaos-ridden encounter.

Divide and conquer

Another big draw is the extensive co-op options. The game allows players to work together either on the couch or online to overcome with two (or three) minds things that can be difficult with one. And for people with tabletop experience, co-op raises the age old dilemma of splitting the party versus sticking together for safety.

Since there’s no exasperated GM to appease by staying together, it’s easy to be lured into dividing and conquering the map, completing objectives in tandem. For the King is wise to this; roguelike randomness can mean you’ll be ambushed by monsters, Chaos statues or even just a field of suspiciously tempting mushrooms on your journey. If you’re too spread out on the map — encounters have a reach of a few hexagons — that means your character will have to go it alone.

Even if you’re flying solo, the temptation to explore the map quickly is heightened by the day / night cycle and the increasing levels of Chaos in the world. Time feels tight. The difference between success and failure can be a seemingly easy detour to deliver a death certificate that turns into a TPK thanks to a run-in with appropriately chaotic bats, jelly cubes and skeletons. And if it’s a wipe, it’s time to start all over again. Because when For the King mentions that none before you have returned from their journey, it’s not kidding.

Third, fourth, fifth time lucky

Thankfully, the fast-paced nature of the game means that starting over doesn’t have the same emotional devastation as a traditional tabletop experience. Character creation is a straightforward choice between classes as well as limited customisation options — do give your people weird names to up the absurdity — and the Lore Store makes subsequent playthroughs less challenging through use of unlockables. Your Lore accumulates by finding books during campaigns, which can unlock additional starter classes like Buskers, Herbalists and Woodcutters.

There’s also plenty of appearance options and new locations to spice up your inevitable restarts, which goes a long way in taking the sting out of being smashed to bits by a bat. Will you put an end to the Chaos, For the King asks? Probably not the first time around, but that’s all part of the charm.

For the King comes out May 7th on PlayStation, May 9th on Nintendo Switch and May 10th on Xbox One (with Game Pass Early Access on May 7th). There’s 20% off on all platforms during the first two weeks from launch, and the console versions include all the expansions previously released for PC.