Defend and Defeat: Kingdoms puts players in the shoes of a noble who is trying to conquer and reunite the land after an inexperienced teenage couple thrust into the roles of king and queen let it fall to chaos. That’s about all the story we’re provided in this humdrum medieval-themed strategy affair from Pigdog Games before being thrust into a series of 17 missions, each of which involves building up a town from scratch, defending it from enemies, and satisfying a series of objectives.
Things start off simply enough, with players provided instructions on how to build houses and farms on patches of dirt before moving on to commercial and defensive structures. We’re also given a brief explanation on how to manage resources including money, wood, stone, and iron (some combination of which is required for each new building and upgrade), and introduced the sort of goals we’ll be given in each mission, such as reaching a certain population level, building a set number of buildings of a particular type, and stockpiling a specific amount of a given resource
I breezed through the first two missions in mere minutes. Then things took a turn for the worse.
I was stuck on the third mission for more than two hours. It took nearly two dozen attempts for me to figure out how to keep from spending all of my money repairing buildings damaged by attacking enemy forces so that I could grow my town.
Turns out the game requires players to follow a precise formula in the construction of each town. You begin with a house and a farm, then add a sawmill, stonemason, and blacksmith to harvest resources before constructing at least one archers’ tower to defend the other structures.
The key, at least early on when you start with fewer resources, is to not exhaust any one resource before ensuring a steady flow of all resources, carefully determine which resources are in shortest supply and highest demand at given times, and ensure that at least two towers are in correct position to attack most approaching armies so that they can be destroyed before they do much in the way of costly damage.
Once I figured this out the game became a snap. The methodology is all but mandatory; every town must begin the same way. But once you know how to do it, it’s a breeze. Unfortunately, it also means that the only real strategy comes is in deciding where defensive structures should be placed to ensure maximum protection with minimum military expenditure.
Town building ultimately become a matter of repetition. Build the same six structures right away, then just sit and watch as your defenses take care of approaching armies and your resource coffers fill. Eventually you’ll build a market, which will let you buy and sell specific resource types (helpful in, say, constructing certain buildings on a whim or collecting enough resources to fulfill a specific objective), and later a university, which gives players the ability to upgrade their structures to increase production.
Unfortunately, each mission puts a cap on the type of buildings and upgrades a player can buy, allowing only one or two new structures to be built. That means players go through all the work of building the same old town just to be able to, say, upgrade a house to level three, or build a church for the first time; hardly reward enough for being forced to complete the exact same exercise over and over again.
And some new structures, like the university mentioned earlier, are almost more trouble than they’re worth. These places of higher learning let players purchase scouts for 500 gold each in hopes that they’ll run around and find resources. Thing is, they almost always get attacked, robbed, or lose money gambling, which ends up costing the player precious gold (why a scout would be entrusted to a significant chunk of a kingdom’s wealth is beyond explanation).
Worse, our objectives sometimes include a number of successful scout missions. Since you can only send out one scout at a time, and it usually takes several months of game time for him to either find something or fail, there will be times when players just sit around after accomplishing all other objectives, buying scout after scout and waiting long minutes for one or two to actually succeed.
Indeed, Kingdoms is all about waiting. Whether you’re waiting for resources to come in to buy more structures, your population to grow, or your scouts to find treasure, you’ll likely spend more time staring at the screen daydreaming than you will actually interacting with the game.
In fact, I’ve composed most of this review during the downtimes in two of the game’s final missions. You never know; perhaps PigDog is trying to carve out a place for itself in a new market of casual games that actually promote productivity.