I wanted to love The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles, as I often love narrative-heavy games, especially those that are focused on systems and/or choices. Titles like Penanceand Yes, Your Grace are some of my favorite games from the past few years, and The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles opens strong, showcasing its world-building and storytelling, before failing due to decisions made in adapting the game from a multiplayer board game to a single player video game.
The greatest strength of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is what it takes from the award-winning board game it’s based on. The sharp writing, scenarios, and world are all a joy to read and play through as you try to rule the kingdom along with the rest of the noble council. There are over 300 of these different dilemmas, and the branching narrative helps give the choices you make a feeling of consequence beyond their direct numerical impact on the various tracked stats.
Sadly, while over 300 choices are a lot for a legacy-style board game played over months, it ends up feeling lackluster for a single-player video game that relies on multiple playthroughs. You go through the story scenarios a lot faster as a single player, completing a run in only a few hours. With a number of branching choices creating plot clusters, the 300 choices become smaller in practice, as they cluster down the paths, making it more likely that you’ll be running through repeat content on even your second playthrough. Once you’ve played through about three or four times you’ve seen most of the permutations, and the focus inevitably moves more to the mechanics that have been added in this version of the game as you find fewer new narrative beats.
That is where The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles falls short. The mechanics of the game are fairly shallow, with the player tracking the progress of bars and how they move in response to your decisions. There are several main resource bars that you must balance to keep a reign from ending, much like in Reigns, and each decision moves them one or two blocks in a certain direction. The relationship with other families goes up or down based on if they voted the same way as you, but it lacks any oomph as the families themselves lack any character. While there are written backstories for each, nothing portrays it otherwise in the game, and thus they become just a bar to keep an eye on and track as you govern.
That does have some influence as if most of the council is voting one way, you have to either snatch some of them to your side or spend some of your limited power to overrule them. Your primary goal on a mechanical level is to get the resource bars into certain ranges based on what morals you chose the last time a reign ended. It goes from feeling like a narrative experience – choosing what to rule best or to uncover mysteries, to managing a few bars to maximize the points you get at the end of a king’s reign and it’s not engaging in how it does that.
At the end of each reign, you accrue points based on how well you did getting bars to those certain ranges, and you can redeem those points for a variety of preparations to use at the final showdown. This is perhaps the best of the mechanical additions, as it delivers some payoffs and costs based on the choices you’ve made. The final showdown also reflects on how you’ve gotten along with the different families, impacting whether they follow your lead or go against you. This isn’t without flaws though, as you make the same preparations whether you are planning to rebel or stay loyal to the kingdom. This creates some awkward moments when defensive preparations, like improving the castle walls or building ditches are somehow turned against the defenders out of nowhere.
In the end The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is both too faithful to the source material and too divergent to create a truly strong release. Going to singleplayer from multiplayer is a large change and it impacts everything about the game experience, and all of their mechanical additions are attempts to address that. Meanwhile, while the greatest strength is the story from The King’s Dilemma, sticking to it so rigidly meant that there was a lack of material done to work with the medium that they were in, and to match the other divergences made. Perhaps the biggest misstep was deciding to leave the other families without any personality, as that is a spot where discussion or conflict could have prolonged a run or created interesting new situations, taking advantage of being single-player rather than multiplayer.
I’m left with a feeling that I should play the board game, and not this pale shadow of it. As an advertising or complimentary product The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles may have its place. However, judged on its own, it disappoints, never fulfilling what it promises, and falters after a strong start.
TechRaptor reviewed The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles on PC (via Steam) with a copy provided by the publisher.