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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • The core puzzle is both tense and fun.
  • The mechanics are designed perfectly for cooperative play
  • This looks and feels like the original mobile games burst into real life.

Might Not Like

  • You might get tired of it… at some point.
  • Beware the rulebook. It’s mostly good, but a YouTube search could be your friend here.
Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

Kingdom Rush: Elemental Uprising

Elemental Uprising

I’ve spent many hours visiting the Lake District.
(Hear me out, there’s a point, there always is.)
I’ve made my way up a few fells, trekked around some sizable lakes, though myself lost once or twice in the woods. There’s little in the world that can compare. Stroll around Buttermere, for instance, and you’ll reach a point where you think you’ve stumbled into the pages of the Lord of the Rings. It gets a grip of your heart, and you’ll keep returning because you’ve become a part of it and it has become a part of you. These hours were time well spent. I’ve put many hours into playing Kingdom Rush on mobile phones (See? This post is pulling itself together, have faith). I’ve upgraded my towers, I’ve spent all my diamonds and gold, I’ve pushed to the furthest reaches of the campaign. There’s little in the mobile gaming world that can compare. Stumble through the first through waves, and suddenly it gets more intense than that fight at Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings. It gets a grip on you, and you’ll keep returning because you’ve just got to defeat this level.
These hours were time well spent.
Now, Kingdom Rush and the Lake District are not the same thing, but I’ve enjoyed them both immensely, and… Um…
There was a point, but it seems to have wandered off on its own. No worries, it might turn up again later. We’ll crack on, shall we? Let’s get to…

Unboxing and setup for first playthrough

Boy oh boy, does this come in a big, chunky box! This is the biggest game of my meagre collection by some distance. The second thing to strike you is the incredible artwork. I’ve always loved the bright cartoony style of the mobile game, and it carries across perfectly into the physical game. This appreciation only increases as I open the box. Every card and piece is high quality, and so much of it is instantly recognisable from the franchise. The plastic minifigs are fantastic and look exactly like the digital characters, rendered in detailed 3D. It was quite a thrill to see the characters like this - and I don’t believe for one minute that design-wise it’s easy to move from 2D into three dimensions. Fans of the series will be thrilled.

When it comes to instructions, you will get a thick rulebook, a glossary booklet, and an introductory scenario pamphlet, along with a sheet explaining how to integrate the characters from this game with the previous Kingdom Rush board game, Rift In Time. This sets off an initial twinge of overwhelm: there seems to be a lot going on here. Will this be fun, or overly complex? A flick through the rulebook resolved this concern. Most of the book is taken up with detailing the 12-part campaign, and there are lots and lots of images to help you along. Every scenario shows clearly how to set up the map, which order to stack the incoming hordes, where the tower sites can be found for however many players are in the game, which towers you will use, and so on. I love the foldable character boards. There’s space for relevant markers and game pieces, some important info, and great character art on the rear. The hero action cards and the special ability tiles are all colour-coordinated with the hero boards. The colours are bright and strong and easily distinguishable from the others, which really helps with set-up and staying organised. The attention to detail across the board (game) is phenomenal, and the art team should give themselves a pat on the back. I was hoping for a similar feel to the source material, but I was honestly surprised (happily) by just how much this feels like the videogame has burst out of the screen and onto the table. Overwhelm threatens to return as I realise the amount of content tucked into the box. There are soooo many cards and pieces. Way more than in the last couple of games I’ve bought. In fact, there’s approximately 600 pieces in total. If my cats get their paws on this lot, there’ll be a riot.
It’ll be alright, though. The rulebook will save the day. Right?
Well…
It tries hard to be clear and easy to follow. We’re not looking at densely-packed pages of instructions here. The font is suitably chunky and the pictures are large. After getting a few playthroughs under my belt, however, I can’t help but feel that the rulebook makes the basic principles of the game more complex than necessary. You’re told early on to follow the introductory scenario pamphlet and assured that this will teach you everything you need to know. Despite this, I needed to use the pamphlet in tandem with the rulebook (and occasionally the glossary) to understand the necessary moves and actions you can take. A single YouTube video helped far more than either of these resources. I’ll add here that while I was researching this game before its arrival, I read comments from multiple people saying you should skip the introductory scenario as it doesn’t do a good job of teaching the basics… and despite what I’ve said about my initial confusion, I’m going to disagree. Read everything a few times, find a good playthrough video, and stick with the intro. Thematically it fits into the campaign well. You’re dealing with scouts who are poking around your area (oo er) before the main armies featured in the campaign descend upon you. Also, you might as well get value for money and play everything in the box.

By the end of this tutorial scenario I did find that many of the different elements and play pieces stopped feeling overwhelming, and it got me in the mood for the game proper. I was in the flow, and it was a flow I really enjoyed. It seems strange, but once you’ve absorbed the rules and the introductory scenario, this actually feels like a game you could easily teach to others. I view it as a bunch of mini tetris-style puzzles moving towards you on a nicely-decorated track, and your early choices and your long-term tactics will dictate whether you can solve them in time.

How does it work then?

We’ll not go on about this for too long: we’re more interested in whether the game is any good, aren’t we? (Is it as good as the entirety of the Lake District? We’ll soon find out!) The map tiles are cobbled together according to the scenario instructions, and each player chooses a colour and a hero character. The instructions will also dictate which towers your team starts with, and which horde cards await in the spawn decks. There will usually be two or three horde cards already on the map - they sit in these little green trays that are just deep enough for the horde card and the damage tokens you will hopefully deal, and allow you to slide them across the map easily (genius piece of kit). You split the towers between the players however you wish, then each player takes their turn. Pop a tower on one of your coloured spaces, and that tower immediately ‘fires’. All the enemies on the horde cards must be covered with damage before the horde card can be defeated and removed from the game board. Mages shoot clumps of magical polyominoes, for example, and the barracks send out little meeple troops that sit on an enemy and also throw a spear at an adjacent horde. Once your heroes are activated they too can attack, and can even cover enemy spaces to help clear the hordes. This, then, is the puzzle: how efficiently can you cover the enemy spaces on each horde, remembering that more hordes will spawn and advance. Some of those hordes have faster enemies, or tougher enemies, wherein each of the four spaces they use must be covered in different types of damage.

How good is it, though? Really?

In the mobile game once you’ve passed the first couple of waves on a level the action ramps up quickly, and the tension increases. The board game doesn’t match that fast pace - hard to imagine how it could - but it definitely retains the tension and the feeling that disaster could strike with one wrong move, and it still has the relentless progress of wave upon wave of enemies. Those hordes keep on coming every turn, and you’ll have another one to deal with as soon as the ones you’re currently engaged with are dispatched. You need to be efficient in your puzzle solving. The last thing you want is to allow the hordes to pile up, as a fresh (and harder) hoard could easily skip to the front - or worse, straight to the finish line if every space is fully loaded and an automatic game over.
Fair warning: Kingdom Rush is tough, even on standard difficulty. The introductory scenario eases you in so gently that it gives a false sense of security. ‘I understand the rules,’ I said, ‘I know what I’m doing, this first scenario of the campaign doesn’t look so bad, it probably only gets hard around scenario three.’ What a turkey I was. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You’ll knock out three hordes fairly easily if you’re anything like me, then come the bad tactical decisions. Examples: not upgrading at least one of your towers per turn, or activating the blue blooming flowers with both heroes in round three when you should have used at least one to attack instead. Oh yeah, you’re going to analyse the heck out of this after every loss. Then you’ll set up and try again. Hopefully you’ll learn from your errors and not make new ones, because Kingdom Rush does not forgive mistakes. This difficulty may be off-putting for some. Personally, I’m resisting the urge to drop the difficulty down to ‘easy’ mode, even though it’s taking multiple attempts to advance past each stage of the campaign. The victories are that much sweeter when there’s a serious challenge to overcome. There’s a true solo mode, and a harder difficulty if you really want to drive yourself mad, and the extra tough iron challenges as found in the original digital games are also present. There’s even a map of the campaign and stickers to pop on as you complete each stage. It’s these lovely little additions that make the game feel so complete. I’ve come to realise that the sign of a really good game for me is whether or not I’m thinking about it afterwards, and if so then how long for. Basically, does it send me slightly crazy for a stretch of time, wherein I’m replaying the last round in my head and eager for the next?

Put it this way: I only put Kingdom Rush back in its box after my first session because of the furry nutters we share our home with (they refer to themselves as ‘cats’ apparently). Their idea of playing games is to bat the little pieces towards the furthest corners of the room then watch me fail to find them.

I’m really impressed with the board game implementation of Kingdom Rush, to the point where not only do I want to finish the campaign on all difficulties, I also want to go download the originals on my phone again. (Note: I did exactly this. Absolutely no regrets. However, for a few nights in a row my sleep was filled with dreams of tracks and towers and funny little goblins, endless streams of them. A small price to pay for the joy of these games.) There are expansion packs available with additional character models and scenarios, and I’m enjoying the main game so much that I’ve already popped these expansions onto my ‘want’ list, which is a dangerous activity: I’ve been advised that if anything else finds its way onto the list, it shall be cast upon the fire. Kingdom Rush: Elemental Uprising is worth the risk. To summarise, then (and to refer amusingly to the opening gambit of this review), in a league table of Great Things, is Kingdom Rush: Elemental Uprising as good as the Lake District? I don’t know about that - Derwentwater is mighty fine - but it’s definitely time well spent. And it’s cheaper than most hotel rooms for the night. Make of that what you will.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • The core puzzle is both tense and fun.
  • The mechanics are designed perfectly for cooperative play
  • This looks and feels like the original mobile games burst into real life.

Might not like

  • You might get tired of it at some point.
  • Beware the rulebook. Its mostly good, but a YouTube search could be your friend here.

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