Kingdom Knights might feel like just another city building strategy hybrid, but it does its job well.

Surely no genre has weathered the ups and downs of Facebook gaming quite like the city building strategy hybrid. Just when we as players think it’s dead or that we’ve seen every possible variation of the template we could possibly see – boom – it returns to mock us for our lack of faith. Its resilience likely lies in the fact that these games are just so fun when all the elements work. Take Kingdom Knights. I jumped into this cartoony strategy game with apathy, but before I knew it, an hour had passed and I was still eager to see where it’d take me.

Don’t get me wrong: at heart, it’s little different than the swarms of other Facebook city builders you might have played. You toss up a few cabins, click on them multiple times to finish them, and then you throw up a few scattered farms and harvest their crops. After that, it’s all a matter of upgrading castles and lumber mills and enlisting various units from your barracks for use in battle.

Kingdom Knights

Yet even here it displays a charm that’s often missed in the genre’s serious examples. Kingdom Knights is awash in that peculiar style of anime that puts the dirty business of war in the hands of what looks like preschoolers, and the aesthetic works well with the limitations of Facebook as a gaming platform (alas, it’s busy enough to trigger some annoying load times, as well as lag on low-end computers). But other games have done much worse with the same limitations. Kingdom Knights is always a joy to look upon, with villages that evolve into the kind of Hobbiton-esque wonderlands that invite you to stay awhile. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get some quiet satisfaction out of seeing its boundaries flesh out.

Now about those battles. City building for the sake of combat isn’t that uncommon these days (I most recently enjoyed War of Mercenaries’ take on it), but something about the sight of the little army you’ve created rushing into battle, destroying their foes, and lifting their swords in victory grants the largely automated proceedings with a rush that drives you to learn the next bit of story. Victory largely hinges on how full your morale meter is and your troops’ general composition, but Kingdom Knights handles this predictable formula in such a way that’s it’s always fun to watch the battles unfold. Even the lightweight story that envelops all this manages to engage in a predictable “Facebook fantasy narrative” kind of way.

Kingdom Knights

Oddly, that narrative reveals one of Kingdom Knight’s shortcomings. This isn’t a PvP game by any means; rather, you simply run through the campaigns and make daily visits to the villages of your Facebook friends when you need more gold or supplies. In other words, its social design isn’t terribly different from that of Farmville’s. Perhaps I’ve merely been spoiled by all the new games that spice up this well-worn template with a city defense component in the vein of Backyard Monsters, but nevertheless I found that Kingdom Knight’s approach to battle made me reluctant to come back for more.

But I did come back, mind you, more so to develop my cozy little town than to engage the enemy in battle, although I should add that the campaigns’ very existence ensured that I felt as though I was always preparing for a coming storm. And then there’d come a moment when I’d look over my little city and I’d realize that I wouldn’t mind fighting to defend such a town, and so I’d lead my troops into the battles, which always seemed available when I was prepared for them the most. Sometimes – just sometimes – I found myself believing that the little guys on the screen were fighting out of the same sense of affection. And when a social game manages to give you that feeling, be it derivative or not, you know it’s doing something right.