ARCHERS, READY! Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time Blazes To Your Table
Note: This review is based on an advanced copy containing the first 3 of 10 scenarios, and without minis, bosses, or replayability modifiers.
Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time is Lucky Duck Games’ next venture in their continued success of bringing mobile app games to the table. With Vikings Gone Wild, Jetpack Joyride, and Mutants in their back pocket, they’ve now turned their sights on to arguably their biggest franchise yet. So how well does their latest make the leap?
This is one of the most faithful adaptations of a game from another gaming medium I’ve seen. Converting an established IP into a board game is normally something to be wary of, as it tends to have mixed results (we don’t talk about Batman: Arkham City Escape). In this case, Kingdom Rush is a masterclass in adaptation that maintains the feel of the original. Each mechanic makes you go, “Of course that’s how that would work!” when you understand how it plays out in the game. It’s not a pure 1:1 conversion, but fans of the series (myself included) won’t be disappointed when they see what designers Helana Hope, Sen-Foong Lim, and Jessey Wright have done.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Kingdom Rush is a series of real-time mobile tower defense games. You’ll build towers along the route that hordes will spawn, and the more you defeat, the more money you get to upgrade your towers to even stronger versions of themselves - allowing you to take on even badder baddies!
In similar fashion, Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time has players cooperatively building towers along a predetermined route, defeating waves of baddies, sending out their powerful heroes, and upgrading the weapons at their disposal. The game is 2-4 players, and runs about an hour per session. The version of the game shipping on Kickstarter promises 10 scenarios, boss fights, and multiple rules to help facilitate replayability - we managed to play the first 3 scenarios for this review. There are also 3 expansions planned (one of which includes 3D towers!).
Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time takes place after the events of the video games in a time of peace. With no enemies left to defend against, the towers were dismantled - leaving ample opportunity for the Time Mage herself to gather her evil forces and rip a hole in the very fabric of space and time! Defenseless, the engineers and mages of the Kingdom quickly learned to harness time magics themselves - they could temporarily summon the towers of old to push back!
The game plays simultaneously and is completely cooperative - on the players’ turn, they’ll place towers along the route to shoot at the horde trays on the path. Each horde tray contains a grid with multiple minions, and to defeat an entire horde, every minion on that tray must be covered up by attacks. The hordes will advance at the end of every turn, and if they reach your end tile, any uncovered minion will steal a health point. No health points? Game over.
Here’s where the really cool bit comes in: the way you’ll determine what towers to place where and how to attack is based on the polyomino shapes of each tower’s attack. For example, a Marksman tower can shoot an L-shaped attack that covers 4 squares, but only in the specific orientation it’s firing from. Upgraded towers will give you the ability to rotate your placement options. Some towers also allow you to fire in multiple directions, or with multiple attacks, or over a distance!
This spatial puzzle is at the heart of gameplay, and it’s where this game shines. Attacks can’t go on top of each other or overhang from horde trays. Do I place this Wizard tower here but only cover up 2 of the 4 squares I could in order to finish this horde off? Or is it inefficient? What if I stall this horde with a Militia that blocks movement so I can get them next round? If the red player places their Archer opposite my Artillery, can we fit their attacks together properly? How you work with your teammates to correctly Tetris things is an exhilarating and difficult challenge.
Speaking of teammates, the other really special feature of the game is how you upgrade your towers. In order to move a tower card to its next highest rank, instead of playing it that round, you’ll play it to the player on your left’s board. During the upkeep at the end of the round, they’ll then return that card to the supply and put the upgraded version of that card in their hand - usable next round.
It’s a simple yet brilliant mechanic that forces you to plan ahead - factoring in not only if you can give up using that card this round, but also knowing that it’ll only be playable on your teammates spaces (until they pass it back to you to upgrade again). Each player is allocated specific blank tower spots on the board, so you’re limited to where each player can place. If you’re not careful, you can end up with a situation where a player doesn’t have enough cards or the right cards to play on their tower spaces.
A nice feature that adds plenty of variability to the game are the heroes assigned to each player. You’ll pick from one of the available heroes, and this is your avatar for the game (series fans will instantly recognize Malik Hammerfury and Alleria Swiftwind among others). Each hero is represented with a corresponding miniature that takes up a 2x2 grid on the game board, and they can move on to horde tiles in order to attack or do other special actions. If your hero loses health, they’ll respawn in a turn, and sometimes it’s in your best interest to kamikaze them! Each hero has different abilities, with their own unique playstyles. I suspect these, along with the repeated play rules, will ensure a bit of longevity for the game beyond the 10 scenarios.
In order to win a game, you have to defeat the Time Mage’s portals. Special cards in the horde deck called portal cards will come out at timed moments, and not only do these have certain level requirements to attack (only upgraded cards may attack them), but they’ll damage any heroes that interact with them AND destroy any towers that attack them. Timing is everything.
For more detail, you can read the full current draft of the rules here.
The game feels very well-balanced. In the 3 scenarios we played, we felt stressed and challenged, but we were never overwhelmed or backed into an unwinnable situation. We managed to get through with full marks each time, but only by the skin of our teeth (in true app fashion, your grade is 1, 2, or 3 stars)!
Cooperation is key to winning, and advanced planning will get you far. As there is no hidden information among players in this game, it can be susceptible to traditional co-op alpha gaming. However, I’ve always seen this as more of a… player problem than a game design problem. If you find this happening, please find better players.
The only downside to the amount of available options and combinations in the spatial puzzle is that analysis paralysis-prone players will lose their minds. In our game, Phoebe found herself a little overwhelmed with needing to find the most optimal solution. While a co-op game like Spirit Island has very clear moment-to-moment “here’s what we need to do next” situations, the ability to micromanage polyominoes can lead to your downfall if you overthink it!
Also, like most games based on scenarios or a campaign, the first game can feel a bit simple as you won’t have every mechanic available to you yet. However, there’s enough going on that the slow ramp up is welcome as it gradually introduces you to more advanced styles of play.
Lucky Duck Games continues to surprise us time and time again with brilliant mobile adaptations and innovative gameplay. Rarely does it feel like their catalog puts out a game half-baked. The cartoony style lifted directly from the app makes this game perfect for both kids and bigger kids, and by being cooperative in nature, it’s a rewarding shared experience when you perfectly line up your towers together in just the right way. The Kickstarter is live now!