Being a leader’s council is hard. Keeping a population from revolt, fending off invasions, handling outbreaks of disease, stomping out treachery. It’s a tough gig, which is exactly what The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles wants you to feel as you wade your way through tough decision after arduous dilemma.
Based on the original board game released in 2019, The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is a video game all about choices and consequences. It’s a choose-your-own adventure political simulator where you perform one of the most important roles of the kingdom: making tough decisions. Is it for the betterment of the nation as a whole or for your own selfish desires?
There’s a fantastic premise to the game. You’ll need to navigate opposing clans’ views and dozens of disasters to bask in the glory of a risky choice paying dividends. But does The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles live up to its head-scratching, morally blurring promise?
Ascend, Abdicate, Repeat
The land of Ankist is in turmoil. Rival factions and houses with a history of bad blood, religious opposition and competing ideologies are vying for control of the nation. What’s worse? A dark prophecy has foretold a final uprising that’ll inevitably arise in the near future. The people are divided and the King’s council must traverse this treacherous period if the kingdom is to survive.
As a jumping-off point, it’s a brilliant setup. You’ll select a house that best represents your answers to an initial set of moral quandaries. Each faction have their own unique goal to achieve, establishing natural allies and uneasy truces between rival desires.
You are the sole arbiter of the King’s council, giving you overall control of the decision-making… for the most part. Not only are you required to manage your relationships with the various factions of Ankist, but you must also further consider the needs of the people – peasants, soldiers and upper class alike. This is a realm where few agree on even the most basic of fundamental answers.
The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles establishes a strong foundation for what to expect: you’ll need to simultaneously balance resources (army, food, finance, morale, knowledge) against keeping clans onside, while also preparing for the inevitable dark prophecy. It’s a daunting prospect, as it should be and the game nicely introduces you to this constant sense of imbalanced pressure.
Checks and Balances
The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is a game purely about making choices. No elaborate cutscenes, no real-time strategy commanding of troops. You spend your roughly 3-hour playthrough selecting arisen problems from the map screen, weighing up “aye” or “nay” decisions at each problem’s crossroads and then using the clan and quests tabs to track your allegiances and upgrades to your city.
Selecting one of the various current dilemmas from the map will provide you with some brief context for the issue at hand. A rogue peasant has started killing people out of desperation, a heralded knight’s tale has been discovered as a fabrication, another nation has threatened your own etc.
You’re then presented with the quandary – do you agree or decline the proposal at hand. The other council members (of which the number grows as the campaign proceeds) will each tell you what they wish the vote to be. Voting against the majority will require you to spend power tokens, or you can use coins to corrupt their vote to your preferred choice.
Voting against nations will lower their relationship with you, eventually turning them hostile (which can be recovered). Voting with them increases the relationship, allowing you to forge an alliance. Should you run out of power tokens or have no coin to buy your own way, you’ll be forced to accept the majority verdict.
The system, which is surprisingly streamlined, is pretty fantastic. Many of the quandaries are morally grey, while some are blindingly obvious, yet other factions may be outright maniacal in your eyes. More than once I was forced to accept a decision I absolutely knew was horrendous having already corrupted or overruled too many times that reign.
It creates a fantastic sense of political wheeling-and-dealing. Sometimes you’ll fall on your sword having spent everything to get the right outcome. Other times you’ll have to accept watching your people toil knowing you were powerless to prevent a terrible choice being made.
A majority of the dilemmas you’ll face will influence the 5 core resources mentioned earlier. At the start of each “reign”, you select the type of alignment you’ll follow. Using the vertical board, you’ll need resources to be within the gold section in order to gain rewards once you’re inevitably overthrown or killed (which happens… a lot).
Each resource will move up or down depending on the choice and the decision made. Push too many resources too high and the kingdom becomes overburdened, push too many too low and the people suffer from a lack of supplies.
Should the overall scale hit the pinnacle or the depth, or should you run out of power tokens, your reign as the head will meet an unceremonious end. Luckily, the measure of a dynasty is conducted over generations, not a single life. Provided you survive at least 3 dilemmas, you can select a new morale alignment and invest light or dark crowns, as well as coins, into various upgrades for your land.
Mismanage resources within your reign’s alignment, or fail to survive three dilemmas, you’ll get zip for your efforts. Once again, it works really effectively at pressuring your decisions, having you constantly weighing up maintaining an alliance versus getting, say, finances into a reward zone or running out of power to prevent the end of your current reign.
I really enjoyed the structure of having so much to contend with, but it does also make for a stressful experience. Personally, I appreciate this aspect, but some people might not. It can feel a bit deflating to be forced into a failed reign by picking your personal “correct” decisions, but that felt like an empowering part of being a leader/corrupt POS (delete as appropriate) in a time of crisis.
Total Eclipse of the Smart
The end goal of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles then, is about all of your decisions leading up to the fated Eclipse. Every choice you make is progressing one of the 6 main threads. Once each is completed, you enter the endgame. I won’t spoil it, as this is a game based all on the consequences of your decisions, but it comes together superbly.
If, like me, you prioritised knowledge and preserving people’s freedom of expression, you may have some information available to aid your realm’s success or failure. Prioritise the military above the peasants and you’ll have a stronger force to meet the Eclipse, but at the expense of particular characters who may have aided your endgame in other ways.
I was surprised that even some relatively minor choices ended up significantly helping or decimating my chances of survival come the end times. The reliance on “preparations” – the upgrades you can purchase between reigns – is probably a bit over-emphasised in some cases and it does lead to purposely “good” or “bad” choices purely to ensure you can upgrade, rather than selecting based on the game’s other systems, too.
Having said that, reaching the end knowing that you’re well-prepared or terribly lacking is satisfying given that it was (mostly) your decisions that have brought you to this point. My ending felt earned, satisfying and rewarding as a result. Plus, given the extent of choice – from faction, alliances, dilemmas, ending scenarios – this could be endlessly replayable if you find yourself absorbed in this fantasy problem-solving extravaganza.
The one element I didn’t feel was as well fleshed out is the alliance system. Once you’ve setup a favourable relationship with another clan or house, you have 4 “lives” with them. Vote against their decision and you lose a life, eventually losing the alliance altogether. It feels kind of pointless to enter any alliances before near the end of the game simply because you’re guaranteed to lose them before then and they only really pay off at that point.
A Smooth Venture For Unstable Times
The journey of The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles will be full of turbulence and varying degrees of excitement versus trepidation as you approach the reckoning. Thankfully, the presentation and technical performance of the package are as smooth and crisp as a fresh medieval morning.
While initially intimidating with its various systems, icons and moving spheres, The King’s Dilemma does a great job of translating a board game into a functional video game UI. The map is easy to navigate effectively and information is clearly conveyed at the points that you need it. The preparations page is a little cluttered but it only means taking a little extra time to figure it out.
Given there’s no actual “gameplay” per se, the game runs phenomenally well, staying rock solid at 120fps throughout which is always satisfying. The lore and exposition on offer is hugely detailed and full of rich offerings provided you pay attention to what’s happening in front of you.
The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles isn’t the most immersive game in terms of raw gameplay, but the clean art style, nicely detailed stills and attention to detail in text delivery make up a lot of the difference for this. The fact it runs so beautifully and has an accessible UI simply elevates the package further.
A Dilemma Worth Pondering? Aye.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect when I started my campaign with a faction that merely aimed for social equality. Endeavouring to be a “benevolent” ruler, I quickly found myself forsaking my ideals to ensure I earned dark crowns or throwing my morals to the wind to ensure no potential knowledge, no matter how extreme, would be lost in my efforts to save my realm.
It’s rare I really take on the “role” of a character in an RPG in such a convincing way. Yet, I was hooked. Every tense exchange, hard-considered decision and sacrifice I made only immersed me further into this conundrum of mental gymnastics. You really find out who you are when presented with dozens of equally disastrous choices.
Is it the most engaging “game” within the medium? Probably not. Is it one of the most immersive? Potentially. It’s exceptionally well-written, thoughtfully designed and certainly unique. There are some issues with a couple of mechanics and the formula probably won’t suit an audience prone to choice paralysis, but it provides a fantastically replayable experience for those who invest themselves into surviving the end of times.
The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is a wonderfully adept video game adaption of the 2019 board game. Excellent writing, buttery presentation and with ethical dilemmas galore, it offers a huge amount of potential replayability. Aside from minor mechanical issues that don’t translate quite as smoothly and the fact this is for a niche audience, this is a realm well worth setting out to save or doom.
The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles is available now on PC (review platform).
Developer: Big Trouble Game Studio
Publisher: Big Trouble
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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