Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time is the board game implementation of the popular tower defence game app. But how can the frenetic, real-time click-and-upgrade-athon of Kingdom Rush translate to a tabletop experience? The answer is; it can’t. Yet that doesn’t mean that Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time is a failure. The design team have taken the IP, had fun with it and spun it into a complex puzzle that will get your brain cogs groaning and smoking.
The Bum Rush
Upfront, I am enamoured with Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time. It’s easily in my top 5 games and is the game I’ve played most in the last three months. I love it to the point of obsession. I think about it on the daily. Just catching the box out the corner of my eye gives life to a giddy nest of butterflies in my stomach. But as with all relationships, there are niggles and I want to get these out of the way so I can resume with what is, in effect, my love letter to my chunky box of joy.
First off, if you are coming to Rift in Time expecting a simulation of the computer game, that’s not what you will find. Sure, you are building and upgrading towers, deploying heroes and casting spells to try and beat back incessant waves of beasts and monsters, but it is not an adrenaline powered speed test. Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time is a think-before you-leap spatial puzzle where there are wrong answers.
To attack the hordes in the game, you place polyominoes on trays trying to cover up the ghastly beasties and ghosts that want to harm you. Co-operatively deciding who is going to do what, where and when requires planning and strategy.
I went at my first few games hell for leather and made bad early choices because I was just enjoying being a really muscly barbarian with a really big sledgehammer (which is, of course, a totally fine thing to enjoy). Poor choices I paid for dearly as I was overwhelmed by horde trays later in the level. Despite its lively cartoon art, Rift in Time is no joke of a game. It’s serious stuff.
Between a Rift and a Hard Place
This brings me to the second quibble with my new game beau; THIS. GAME. IS. HARD. Much of the complaints on forums centre on how difficult the game is out of the box. Even in the first ‘introductory’ mission it is easy to have one lapse of concentration in one turn and ruin your chances for the rest of that game. Though I have learned to embrace this and see it as a strength. Rift in Time demands you are switched on throughout and this makes for a thoroughly engaging co-operative and solo experience (though play with multiple characters instead of the solo rules).
Complexity doesn’t come at the expense of fun here either. I am pumped for the whole time I’m playing. Victories are sweeter because they are hard fought for. The excitement I get when I realise I’m going to finally beat that boss on my next turn is not something I get from most other games. It’s exhilarating!
Rush, Rush, Hurry, Hurry, Lover Come to Me
Enough negging. Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time is brilliant. The design is physically and mechanically on point and you get a good amount of game for the price. There are some genius component innovations; the plastic trays that you move the hordes along in and the acetate titles to denote building sites are just two. The minis are beautifully sculpted and full of character. I enjoy playing with different combos of heroes and spells to see how their powers interact. Trying, to get the edge to finally beat that fiendish level.
In Rift in Time, the design team have leveraged a surprising amount of variety in the way each level plays, through the slow introduction of different horde types and rule-bending boss levels. One of my criticisms of the app game is its repetitiveness. With the variety of characters, modular boards and range of baddies, that isn’t an issue here. And that’s before I added any of the three available expansions in.
As if the difficult gameplay and beautiful art and minis weren’t enough, undoubtedly my favourite part of Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time is the fact you get to put little star stickers on a map to show you’ve won. Most, games can be rewarding, but do they actually reward you with a star chart! I feel like a proper big boy when I get to put my stickers over the level totem when I win. All games should feature this mechanism going forwards. All. Games.
As is hopefully clear in this review, Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time surprised me in a big way. I thought I was getting into something frivolous. A quick and frantic fling with someone flirty and brash. I never expected it to get so serious. Yet, here we are, three months in and I’m still seeing Kingdom Rush on the regular. Each playdate brings new experiences and a deeper understanding. I still feel like we have so much more to learn about each other. As my mum might say; this one’s definitely a keeper!