For the King brings tabletop RPG adventure to the PC

Articles: Gaming
Mar 20, 2021 Written by:Eric Born

We chased the agents of chaos across the land. We plumbed the depths of dark caverns, wresting powerful weapons from the creatures that lurked in the winding tunnels. We cleansed poisonous swamps, evaded the fearsome kraken as we crossed the sea, and broke free of the clutches of the dread Hangman. The end of our quest was in sight, but disaster struck. Out of lives, out of healing herbs, and bereft of our protective Sanctums, we fell before the onslaught of a Mind Melter. Game over.

That was just one evening of For the King, a game that brings the dice rolls, socialization, and endless variety of tabletop RPG adventures into a unique online adventure. As a relative newcomer to roguelikes, I was a little intimidated by the game’s loading-screen warning that I would almost certainly fail repeatedly. I shouldn’t have been worried. In this game, dying and starting over isn’t a penalty, but an opportunity to try again with new upgrades and characters.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve played many rounds of For the King, some with friends and family and some on my own. Every time I play, I’m a little more prepared and a little more powerful. I can’t recommend the game enough, especially to anyone with a regular gaming group.

ftk-5Image source: Gamesplanet

To start a round, I first pick a game mode. These remind me of classic pen-and-paper campaigns. Each game mode has its own story and potential twists to the rules. There are several adventures with the basic ruleset, including the titular For the King map, an adventure up into the frozen north, and a map that focuses on sea travel. Next, I can invite friends. For the King supports up to three players in local or online co-op. If I’m not in the mood for company, I can control all the characters myself in single-player mode.

Once everyone joins the game, we pick characters. The different classes offer charming twists on familiar fantasy tropes. Until I unlocked new characters through the game’s progression system, I had four options available to me: the burly and tough Blacksmith, the intelligent and magic-wielding Scholar, the versatile Minstrel, and the fast, deadly Hunter. I find the low-poly character design immediately endearing. They feel like digital representations of fantasy board game figurines, with the added bonus that I can customize their look with a click of a button.

ftk-2Image source: Gamesplanet

After everyone has picked a class, named their character, and customized their look, For the King begins in earnest. The game world is laid out like a tabletop adventure, and the game plays out like one. Players take turns moving around the world’s hexagon-shaped tiles. Dice rolls determine just about everything players do, from how far they can move to whether they’ll survive an accidental step into quicksand. On my turn, I might visit a city to buy new gear and pick up a new quest, initiate combat with a nearby enemy, or simply work my way closer to the next objective. There’s no time limit for turns, so my groups always have time to coordinate our strategy, banter with a teammate who’s having a rough stretch of dice rolls, or just take a moment to talk while we play.

The combat system feels like a cooperative version of the classic turn-based JRPGs. Once a player starts combat, the game pulls in any allies and enemies that are within range. Melee combatants have to be closer to the action than ranged ones. The members of my party and our opponents all take turns in a system based on our speed stat. On my turn, I can use one item and cast one ability. My available abilities are based on the weapon I’m wielding. A staff, for example, might give me a single target and an AoE attack, while a sword might give me a basic melee attack and a secondary option that can apply a bleed effect. A weapon upgrade is always an exciting moment, because it might offer new abilities in addition to increased damage.

ftk-3Image source: Gamesplanet

The stat system undergirds everything in the game. Every time I initiate an action that triggers a dice roll, the game checks the relevant stat. If I perform an attack with a strength-based weapon, for example, it checks my strength. If that particular stat is high, I’m more likely to roll successfully. Players with higher speed are more likely to move farther on each turn, players with higher awareness are less likely to be ambushed by unseen enemies, and players with higher vitality are more likely to win drinking contests. Games are full of unexpected events and encounters that test my team in different ways, so it’s important to have a well-rounded group.

ftk-4Image source: Gamesplanet

The interplay of weapon-based abilities, character stats, and unique class traits leads to strategic and deeply rewarding gameplay. In one game, my team focused on speed, trying to start every combat with initiative and using key abilities to slow down enemy turns—or prevent them from performing any action at all before we burned them down. In another run, I used a Minstrel to keep my team supplied with Focus, a resource that lets you “cheat” a dice roll and guarantee a successful outcome. I’m particularly fond of building up a character that can taunt enemies and shrug off damage with his high health and buffed-up defensive stats.

Part of the fun of For the King is starting over with a fresh round and new characters. Each time you play, you’ll periodically loot Lore points. In the Lore Store in the main menu, you can then spend those lore points on new gameplay elements for your next round. There are new characters to unlock, new gear to add to the pool of weapons and armor that appear in the markets and chests throughout the game, new ways to customize the look of your characters, and new encounters that might appear on the procedurally-generated world map. Every time I spend Lore points, I’m more likely to be successful in my next playthrough. Amusingly, I can also spend Lore in the Lore Store to unlock a Lore Store Store that only sells Lore Store gear.

ftk-1Image source: Gamesplanet

After getting the hang of the regular mode, I tried out the other options. I’m enamored with Hildebrandt’s Cellar, a never-ending dungeon crawl that skips the overworld entirely in favor of an endless succession of fights, traps, and random encounters. All day long, I’ll plot a new strategy and mix of characters, and eagerly try it out that evening and see how many rooms I can survive before falling to the increasingly dangerous adventure below the cellar. Gold Rush mode adds a welcome competitive element to an otherwise cooperative game. In this mode, players race to be the first to amass 100 gold and deliver it to a devious leprechaun. The trick is learning how to cooperate just enough to survive combat encounters while finding the right moment to take advantage of your teammates and secure a win.

For the King checks all my boxes. It’s challenging enough to engage my love for strategic play, yet friendly enough to newcomers that I’ve been able to draw in my friends and family. It’s got a lo-fi aesthetic that runs well on a variety of systems, but is charming and engaging. There’s enough luck and variance to make each round different from the last, but victory always feels like the result of planning and coordinated tactics.

I haven’t said “Just one more turn!” this many times to my wife since my last playthrough of Civilization VI. For the King reproduces all my favorite memories of classic tabletop RPG adventure, but in a clever online format that lets me enjoy these experiences with my friends scattered across the country. If you have an itch for a challenging, strategic fantasy role-playing game that’s just a little different every time you play, doesn’t hesitate to get your gaming group started on this excellent adventure.