Kingdoms Reborn, by developer Earthshine Games, is a city-builder game where you slowly build your settlement into a sprawl of buildings. And there are hundreds of city-builder games these days, all bringing their own little twist and idea into their take on this genre. Some lean on the survival aspects, others give off a more chill experience.
So what does Kingdoms Reborn bring to the ever-sprawling city-builder genre, then? Surprisingly, it brings 4X elements.
What If Civ VI Was a City-Builder First?
If Civilization VI is a 4X game with city-building elements, Kingdoms Reborn is the other way around. The moment-to-moment gameplay is all about placing buildings, roads, and keeping an eye out on important resources so you don’t run out, otherwise, the citizens that call your town home will be packing off to better lands, or die.
So, there is some survival city-building going on here. Starting out with foraging and hunting game, then move on to clearing land for farming and ranches, and then doing a little bit of trading by exporting and importing goods. The usual Banished/Farthest Frontier style of survival city-builder.
But the way you start a new game of Kingdoms Reborn is that you pick a civilization, set your map parameters for it to randomly generate one, and assign how many AI players that will be competing with you.
No really, it does feel like Civilization. From the dual tech tree to the starting prompt that explains the simple premise of why you must rebuild civilization (with its own catchphrase, “cheers to the new beginning!”.
Okay, maybe not just Civilization. Kingdoms Reborn also took some inspiration from Endless Legend, another stellar 4X game with some good ideas. The starting screen in Kingdoms Reborn is more familiar to of Endless Legend. And the way you expand land is by purchasing territory with pre-determined borders.
Brave New World
From a visual standpoint, Kingdoms Reborn has something good going on. The different buildings look distinct enough that you can remember from their silhouettes. The buildings also change their look as you progress through the era, so the city visually evolves over time. The game starts looking like Banished and by the endgame it’s like you’re playing Anno 1800.
The map can be zoomed out to see the whole thing in its entirely, showing the other competing cities around the world as well. The transition between the overview to the city view is seamless in the early game, but understandably chugs a bit when reaching the endgame. To the point that you might need to scroll a little bit harder as it “sticks” to one view to prevent accidental scrolling- which stutters the game a bit.
The music is fantastic too. It feels like as you progress further the music composition gets more complex and layered. If you love the music in Rimworld, then you will love Alistair Lindsay’s work on this game as well. It’s not all moody guitar twangs- which is still here in some songs- but you get some more epically scaled tunes as well.
Cards Stacked Against Them
The other interesting twist to Kingdoms Reborn is that it has a card system. To plop most of the buildings you need to use cards. Cards can also be used as a buff, where they can be slotted into buildings.
And I have mixed feelings about this. In the early game, having to play with whatever hand of cards being handed to you sounds found. I have to adapt to what’s being thrown at me rather than just play it leisurely at my own pace. But then I realised that the cooldown for the next draw of cards isn’t that long. And before I know it I have a stack of five undrawn decks. Why pick any of the card right now when your hand is limited? Yes, you can’t hoard cards. And with a later tech upgrade you can have a card “inventory” to store them.
And then I discover that if you keep over five stacks of unclaimed cards, it will convert into one “wild card” which just lets you choose what building you want to build. And that’s where the card system, in my view, crumbles like a house of cards. Having stacks of wild cards is just a better play overall than ever picking any of the card you get drawn as it reveals itself. You can pass or reroll the cards, but the wild cards completely negate any need to engage in the random draw of cards.
The card draw becomes meaningless in the endgame. I ended one game with 300 wild cards with no good use of it. Certainly, some numbers need to be further balanced out.
But the cards system become obsolete by mid-game. A new update, which adds the Shogunate (Japan) faction in the game also adds a “copy building” feature. Right now, you can just click on a building to copy them, and placing it will also incur gold costs. And that’s it. You can circumvent the entire cards system this way. Get a wild card of one of each type of building, and then all you need to do next is just copy from the existing buildings.
The cards that can be slotted into buildings also lose their fun when a city scales up. It becomes too tedious to check each building and see if you can fill its card slot. And the one pop-up event available, where you can decide to welcome immigrants or not, gets tedious too. It’s weird to see the same event pop up where you can get 3 immigrants and a selection of cards occasionally when I’m at a point where I can reliably recruit 5 immigrants through an Immigration Office building.
It’s not that the cards system couldn’t work in a city-builder (Against The Storm goes roguelite by not having each city able to build all the buildings available and really make you think carefully about which “cards” to pick), it’s just that the one being implemented in Kingdoms Reborn doesn’t feel well thought out yet.
There’s still time to tinker a bit and consider some changes to make engaging with the cards system more fun, or encourage players to play in different ways and reward them for it.
On that note, Kingdoms Reborn also has a diplomacy and military system, but the normal difficulty AI is too docile to make you ever want to engage with it, and the medium size maps are too big to encourage any warfare to begin with. Maybe a multiplayer match would see these play out more.
That said, Kingdoms Reborn is certainly ambitious. As a city-builder it makes you think before you plop, ensuring housing is just far enough from workplaces, but not too far, and has amenities surrounding the homes to keep people happy. It allows you to build multiple cities, by colonising distant lands. Factions can produce different goods and luxuries to encourage you to trade.
There are plenty of hallmarks of a good city builder that I can see here. including a 10-hour runtime for a completed game. Like a 4X game, there is a win condition, but you can keep playing forever.
Kingdoms Reborn still needs time to perfect its city-builder and 4X blend of gameplay, but as it is right now in Early Access, it’s one of the better ones from this ever-growing genre. If you like bits of Banished and Farthest Frontier that can also remind you of some bits of Civilization VI and Endless Legend, Kingdoms Reborn is worth a try.
Played on PC. Review key provided by the developer. Early Access impressions based on “Lands Of The Rising Sun” update.