How do I define King of Dragon Pass? RPG? Strategy? Management sim? Choose your own adventure? I honestly have no idea, but this right here is what this column is for: An obscure, brilliant, and unique game that was only popular in Finland for some reason.
King of Dragon Pass was created by A# Studios, and the game was released in 1999. It quickly faded into obscurity, although it's recently been rereleased on iOS. I haven't played the port, but I hear it's well done.
So back to that tricky question: What is King of Dragon Pass? Well, it's maybe best described as an interactive story. You (although you don't have an in-game avatar) are the leader of a Viking-ish clan of nomads who have settled in the mysterious Dragon Pass. From there you have to manage your clan, interact with the denizens of the pass, and deal with whatever mean things Glorantha decides to throw at you, as you attempt to build your clan up and become (wait for it) King of Dragon Pass.
So from this description you might expect it to be similar to Civilization, or maybe a city-building game like Zeus or Sim City. Except it's really not at all. To start, let's take a look at the interface where you spend most of your time (this is the Trading tab):
|Okay, so you do have an array of advisors. But that's where the Civ similarities end.|
I'd also like to briefly mention religion, because I like the way it's handled. Religion comes in two primary flavors: worship and heroquest. There are quite a lot of gods in the game, each governing stuff like war, storms, motherhood, etc. The primary role of gods is providing blessings. Initially you'll only know the blessings of the gods you start worshiping (which is affected by your choices pre-game). In order to learn more blessings you must sacrifice cows, trade goods, or thralls to a god of choice. Certain gods have certain preferences (the goddess of husbandry likes cows, the god of trade likes goods, etc.) that increase your chances of learning a blessing with your sacrifice. Once you learn a blessing, you can sacrifice again to ask your god to provide you with it, or you can construct a shrine to make the blessing permanent. The catch is that each shrine requires regular upkeep, and you must make them bigger (and thus increase upkeep) if you want to have more permanent blessings. It creates an interesting balance in the resource management: Focus too much on temples and sacrificing and you won't have much to trade, but focus a lot on trading and the gods might become neglected.
|Orlanth shown here about to shoot a laser from his head, Ultra Man-style.|
|A klanth is that weapon he's wielding there. It's basically the Gloranthan equivalent of a Macuahitl.|
The combat is also quite easy to get adjusted to, but surprisingly fun. At the start of combat you're presented with a strategy screen:
|I've been practicing my barbarian battle cry for just such a moment. BLAAAARGH YAAARGH FLARGLFEFLASLLAAAAASAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGLB.|
The choices, of course, carry on into normal gameplay. Multiple times per in-game year you'll find yourself presented with various events you have to respond to. The events are varied and interesting (I believe the count is somewhere around 500), and the long chain of choice and consequence is absolutely brilliant. For example (slight spoilers): I lost an exploration party to the wild beastmen in the northwest. Several years later a beastman wandered into my village, claiming he was the leader of the lost expedition, having been turned into a beastman by a profane ritual. I decided to believe him and took him in. Over the next couple of years I had to deal with several events related to him, such as reconciling my citizens to his appearance, finding him a wife who'd accept him, and dealing with the fact that his curse is hereditary (his child came out tusked). However, it all payed off when the beastmen tried to raid me and he was able to talk them out of it thanks to his appearance. I haven't completed that game yet, so it's entirely possible there are more events related to him. Choice and consequence in pretty much any other game pales in comparison to King of Dragon Pass, if I had done something different at some point during these events, the guy's story would've ended up completely differently.
|This is the guy, by the way.|
|Oh yeah, I'm threatened... (The sad thing is, the duck totally murdered the champion I sent to face him.)|
|I definitely don't want to mess with anyone who slings a deer over his shoulders while meeting with emissaries.|
The music is also very good, making good use of more folky instruments such as bagpipes (don't worry, it's not too ear-rending) and shakers to give the game a tribal feel.
I really don't have anything bad to say about King of Dragon Pass. It's excellent, unique, and challenging, and has tons of replay value due to the events and general different directions your clan can go in. In my time playing the game I didn't notice any significant flaws or bugs. The game's fairly unforgiving and can be frustrating when, despite all your best interests, things turn out terribly, but that's part of the point, and I'd strongly suggest against save scumming (for those not in the know, that means saving before something important and then repeatedly reloading until you get a favorable result). Over all it's a brilliant game, and has easily made it into my top 5 games list.
|Silly Enastakos, there's always room in the budget for thralls!|
And you can conduct lawsuits! AGAINST GHOSTS! What more do you need?