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A Tale of Two Towers–Part One (A Review of Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time)

Six months ago I didn’t even know what a tower defense game was and now I’ve played two of them several times and have some strong opinions on each one. In this post, I want to talk to you about one of them - Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time. The good folks over at Lucky Duck Games sent me a review copy of the game, designed by Helana Hope, Sen-Foong Lim, and Jessey Wright.

Now I mentioned that this is a tower defense game, but what exactly does that mean? In games using this type of mechanic, one of the primary objectives is to continually defend your assigned sector of the board (i.e. your home base) against incoming threats. This is managed through the use of armed towers, which reign down violence and death on any malicious parties approaching. This mechanism got its start in 1980's video games (source: Wikipedia) and is one of the most popular mechanisms in modern game apps on cell phones and tablets. More recently, it's crossed over into the tabletop board game industry, with the earliest tower defense games appearing in 2013.

Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time was funded on Kickstarter in 2019 to the tune of over a million dollars. It's derived from an app (Kingdom Rush) originally published for the browser and iOS by Ironhide Game Studio back in 2011. There are 58+ million users who have downloaded and reviewed the app on Metacritic so the built-in audience for the board game from the existing app users alone could potentially keep the publisher churning out boxes indefinitely (how long does it take to produce millions of copies of a board game?!). With a retail price approaching $60, even with licensing fee expenses, I imagine it's a lucrative project for Lucky Duck. But is it a good purchase decision for board game enthusiasts who've decided they want to add a tower defense game to their collection?

Well, it depends on what kind of board gamer you are.

Let's dig in a little deeper.

Regular readers know theme is very important to me. Is there a good narrative explaining our roles in the game and a plausible backstory to illuminate how we got into the position we are in and why we are doing what we're being asked to do in the game? For Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time, the answer is yes to both. There's a time mage who has opened up a rift in the fabric of time, hell bent on taking down our kingdom and our job is to stop the mage before they can do so. It's simple yet compelling call to heroism.

The artwork, by Mateusz Komada and Katarzyna Kosobucka, is cartoonish and playful. It definitely has that cell phone app flavour to it.

The components are average for the price point or for a mass market game. And here's where we begin to tie things to what kind of board gamer you are. If you've been playing higher end games lately (those typically with a retail price over $100), the components might feel a bit flimsy and look a bit cheap. They're comprised of colorful cardboard tokens and boards, plastic figures, plastic trays, a handful of wooden meeples, and many (thin) cardstock cards.

If your tastes or budget gravitate toward games at a similar price as Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time, I don't think you'll find anything problematic about the components here and on that criteria, this is a good tower defense game for you. Happy bonus: among the components is a campaign progress map and stickers that allow players to mark their accomplishments as they play through the campaign. As a person who likes to check off boxes, I adore this feature. Kudos to the designers for the thoughtful addition.

I also really appreciated the player aides provided - the summary of steps in a round printed on the hero boards, and the helper cards that detail the various enemies.

  The gameplay is simple enough that it doesn't take long to set up or learn the rules. In each round of this cooperative game, players spawn new hordes of enemies marching on the kingdom, play tower and hero cards to attack the hordes, check to see whether any hordes have been destroyed (and remove them if so, reaping the crystal rewards), move the surviving hordes closer to the kingdom, pick up the surviving tower and hero cards played, and spend crystals to buy more tower cards. Rinse, repeat for every round. The individual monsters within a horde have different rules for engagement (for example, some cannot be attacked by heroes and others are self healing) so players will need to vary their tactics when playing tower and hero cards. Also, instead of playing all your tower cards during a round, you can upgrade one or more of them and pass them to a fellow player to use next round. And instead of activating your hero's attack against a horde during a round, you can restore your hero's health if needed. Mixed in among the hordes are portals that the time mage wants to use to reach and breach the kingdom. If one of these portals crosses into the kingdom, the game is lost immediately. Conversely, for most scenarios included with the game (there are 10 in the base game and several expansions already available and each can be played on varying levels of difficulty, providing plenty of replay) all of the portals must be destroyed in order to win the game. You can also lose the game if enough of the regular hordes breech your kingdom, causing you to run out of kingdom hearts (health).

The rulebook, which is well written and illustrated, suggests playing the game on difficulty level 3, while Tom Vasel (respected reviewer) has recommended playing on difficulty level 1. So we took the middle road during all of our games and played on level 2. Even though we lost our first game because we didn't do enough upgrading of towers (the second portal that came out could only be attacked with towers we didn't own), we didn't feel there were any overly complicated nuances to the game that would take several plays just to learn. You can play this game with your teens and tweens and they'll do just fine. The puzzle aspect of figuring out the best place to establish each tower on the board to maximize the damage to the hordes is an excellent logic puzzle for young and old alike. So we return to our discussion of what kind of board gamer you are. Do you want a family friendly game you can play with your kids? If so, then this is a good tower defense game for you. Do you enjoy board games that don't require a steep learning curve when it comes to strategy? If so, then this is a good tower defense game for you.

To recap, Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time  is an accessible, affordable, family friendly tower defense game and board gamers who value those qualities would do well to pick up a copy for themselves. And of course, with the holiday season upon us, it's a smart choice for gifting as well. I'm glad we own a copy, and I plan to pick up the expansions to play with my kids.

For my friends who exclusively prefer complex gameplay that will take you many games to even begin to master and expensive components with a luxury look and feel, stay tuned for my review of Cloudspire, because that's the tower defense game for your cohort.

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Publisher: Lucky Duck Games Players: 1-4

Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): approx an hour per game

Game type: cooperative, tower defense, tile placement

Rating:

Rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.             

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