King of Dragon Pass [$9.99] originates from what I consider to be on the tail end of the golden age of PC gaming, where developers focused more on depth and originality instead of texture resolution and polygon count. In fact, King of Dragon Pass is a fantastically extreme example of this as there's no polygons to speak of, and the graphics only really consist of a assortment of hand-drawn illustrations to accompany whatever event is taking place at the time. I think the easiest way to describe what the game is all about is to call it a largely text-based menu-driven mash up of a Civilization game and a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you're the kind of person who requires flashy graphics, fast action, rock-bottom pricing, and online multiplayer, stop reading now. This is not the game for you. If, however, you can barely even fathom a more glorious conglomeration than Civilization and Choose Your Own Adventure, prepare to absolutely lose yourself in King of Dragon Pass.

The game is set in the fantasy world of Glorantha, created by Greg Stafford, and used in several other traditional roleplaying games, literary works, and even a board game. The universe was originally imagined in 1966, and is chock-full of things which have since become standard in fantasy-based worlds. The people of Glorantha are the pawns of an array of both new and old gods who offer various benefits in exchange for worship. Magic and supernatural occurrences play an important role in the world, and aside from the typical races found in most fantasy worlds like elves, dwarves, etc, Glorantha is also home to strange humanoid hybrids such as anthropomorphic ducks and scorpion-men.

It's in this world where your clan will settle. The game begins with a brief history of your clan, which goes all the way back to the "Godtime" where gods and people lived side by side. This part of the game plays very similarly to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, with the game tossing a hefty amount of backstory at you while offering you choices along the way where you decide things like your clan's main deity, how you feel about dragons, how much land you're going to take up, and other things like that. The cool part about this, which persists through the rest of the game, is that there's no wrong answers to any of these questions. You never hit a point where one decision you made caused the game to end, instead, the decisions you make have consequences, and a main part of King of Dragon Pass is how you deal with those consequences-- But more on that later.

After you establish your clan's history, you come up with a name (mine have all been fart-centric) and decide if your clan is going to be peaceful, balanced, or focus on war. From there, you decide on either a normal or hard difficulty, with the main difference here being what your clan starts with. On normal, you're dropped into a reasonably well equipped settlement with existing trading partners and allies. Alternatively, on hard mode, the game basically treats your clan like you just wandered to a plot of land and decided to make it your home.

From there you can choose one of two victory conditions in either "short" or "long" games. In a short game, you win by forming a tribe with neighboring clans, getting one of your clan members elected to be the tribal king, and hold that position for ten years. In a long game, you'll need to take this one massive step further in convincing other tribes to form a kingdom, and lead one of your clan members' ascension to the position of King of Dragon Pass.

Accomplishing these goals is ridiculously difficult, and requires a serious understanding of the game's mechanics. King of Dragon Pass comes with a huge in-game manual (huge for an iOS game, anyway) which I seriously recommend reading cover to cover. The depth of the game leads to various systems which you'd never utilize or fully understand otherwise, which was the source of every single frustration of mine with the game initially. There's a small tutorial which helps you get started, but I think the best tutorial would have just been a huge button that says "No, really, read the manual."

These various mechanics involve everything you can imagine that would go into managing a fledgling clan trying to make it in the world. You'll need to keep an eye on your clan's population, the number of people filling various roles in your clan, and how many of them are sick or injured. Everyone in your clan has to eat, which requires either successful farming, or trading with nearby clans. Also, a clan without wealth can't really be taken seriously by other clans when forming alliances or trade agreements, so you also need to keep up your production of goods and establish trade routes to keep the economy flowing.

Exploring is also important to find new clans to engage with, who might not always be friendly… Which is where your clan's defensive and offensive capabilities come in. As I've played, I've chosen to take a defensive stance and really only attack when provoked, but you could just as easily be a warring tribe and let your proverbial fists do the talking when it comes to negotiating and taking what you want from other clans. There's so many more little ins and outs that I can barely even summarize them all, even after spending nearly a week with the game now I feel like I'm still finding new ways to approach challenges.

These random challenges are what initially attracted us to the game. They happen quite often, and always keep you on your toes. These random occurrences could be something like a surprise raid from a feuding clan. If you've got a force ready to fight, you could take them head on, or if you're vulnerable because you've sent most of your warriors to accompany a particularly valuable trade caravan you might opt to focus on evasive maneuvers and survival.

Explorers could stumble across a potentially powerful set of runes, but how you choose to deal with them could potentially result in upsetting your clan, the gods, and other things down the road. Refugees from other clans can seek admittance to your clan, and you can decide whether to greet them as equals, or take them as slaves. These random events can be completely ridiculous too-- The best example I've seen of this is a ghost that potentially comes to haunt your settlement. Among other options, you can pursue legal action… And depending on how you've structured your clan and the strengths of your leaders, it can work.

What I like most about King of Dragon Pass is the seemingly infinite possibilities that the game has. The previously mentioned random occurrences are drawn from a pool of around 500, but none really ever have a "right" or a "wrong" answer. As you role-play your particular clan and play to its strengths, you could see the same problem pop up in future games, but the way it's dealt with and the outcome could be substantially different. Similarly, the simulation engine that powers the whole thing seems to completely embrace the whole "there's no wrong way" philosophy that permeates the entire game.

Success, it seems, comes from really playing the game making decisions as if you actually were a part of your clan. Just because there's not necessarily a right or wrong way to do things doesn't mean that your approach can't fail. In fact, you'll likely fail quite a bit as you get a handle on the game… But, understanding why you failed, and consulting the manual to learn what you could have potentially done differently to better manage the events that ultimately lead to your clan's demise is ridiculously rewarding.

Similarly, the flexibility of King of Dragon Pass doesn't make it an easy game either, even on the easy difficulty level. I think it most reminds me of playing a fairly realistic flight simulator in that you can realize your plane is going down, and you know you need to pull up, but there's also all these other buttons and switches that need to be hit at the right time and in the right order to make what seems like a simple maneuver actually transpire properly.

In King of Dragon Pass terms, you could have a random occurrence that suddenly leads to a disease outbreak amongst your farmers. The more time your farmers spend in bed sick, the less time they spend producing food for your clan. "Heal the farmers" seems like the obvious answer, just like pulling up in a flight simulator, but it's not that simple. To heal via magical means, you'll need to sacrifice to gods. If you're already low on resources, sacrificing even more can make the situation much worse. Alternatively, you could send out warriors to raid a nearby tribe to steal supplies from them, but the raid could fail, or worse yet, you could over-extend yourself and be defenseless if you get raided while your warriors are out on their raid. You could attempt to go out trading for food, but your caravan could be ambushed or not result in enough food anyway.

It's weighing all these options and executing the best potential course of events based on an entire dashboard of information on your clan has made what I initially thought was just a silly Choose Your Own Adventure style game into one of the most in-depth and strategic gameplay experiences I've had so far on my iPhone. I'm not sure how I'll ever tire of it either, as the replay value is through the roof because of how much variance there is in every different clan and every situation.

My only complaint with the game is that I wish it was for the iPad. The interface feels cramped at times, there's some weird text scrolling issues that wouldn't exist on a larger screen, but most of all-- Games like this that I want to spend hours on end playing are just flat out more enjoyable on the iPad compared to hunching over your phone. There may be light at the end of the tunnel though, as the developers seem to be receptive of the idea and want to see how iPhone sales go first, but aren't ready to commit to anything yet other than bug fixes to the small-screen version.

Hopefully I've done a good enough job here explaining what this game is all about, as I think if you understand what King of Dragon Pass actually is, and you want it, there's no way that you won't love it. We try to avoid pricing discussion in our reviews, but I think in this case the $9.99 price point is totally appropriate. This is a deep game, and definitely targeted at a niche audience. That price point will make people stop and research what the game is before buying, then feel much more inclined to actually get invested and learn the game instead of tossing it aside like most of the other totally disposable 99¢ titles flooding the App Store.

I've had an absolutely fantastic time playing King of Dragon Pass. Its slow pace makes it a perfect mobile game. Nothing in it is real time, making it totally conducive to just open the game up, send a trade caravan off, then come back to it later without any negative consequences. Cultivating a successful tribe is totally rewarding, and the random occurrences always keep you on your toes so it never seems like you can just fall into a comfortable successful groove where your clan is just on cruise control. I'd love it for my iPad, but either way, I can't get enough of King of Dragon Pass.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Tin

    This game looks amazing. Can't wait to try it.

    • Anonymous

      wooow , this is awesome ,I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37" HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use  http://fun.ly/wf2z

  • http://twitter.com/dominictarason Dominic Tarason

    I also ended up writing a similarly huge review of this game. It is a gem, and probably my most-played iPhone game since I got my 3GS a couple years back. Deep and replayable but accessible and entertaining. The $10 price tag is going to put some people off, but y'know what? They can go to hell. The game is worth twice that, easy. In fact, the PC version (which you can buy direct from the developer - he mails you a copy, even) IS double that.

  • Stinker

    DOwnloaded this and it made me read a bunch of fantasy crap before letting me start, oh and then by that point you get ot read even more fantays crap.  everything is text based and you cant really see what's going on evert.  the pictures are nice but this is suposed to be a game not a storybook adventure time with a 5 year old.

    • Andiron

      Your comments were not at all helpful...

    • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

      Don't forget.. back in the day, this is what alot of PC gaming WAS. That's why the NES/SNES was so successful. Can you imagine comparing this to Final Fantasy 6? Exactly.

      • Sergi Díaz

        I played both games back in the day and King of Dragon Pass was more enjoyable than FF6 by many orders of magnitude. And I liked FF6.

      • Zimzelenibrk

        No it was not, this game come out at golden age of PC gaming, at least as far sales and popularity was concerned. And you can argue as far quality as well. UT, Quake, CS, Tiberiun Sun, Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Homeworld, Planescape Torment, Baldurs Gate, System Shock 2, Everquest, Alpha Centaru etc. All of classics came out of this period in pretty much every genre. Damn 1999 was bloody brilliant year.
        King of Dragon Pass was small niche indy game at time that was pretty much ignored by every one, bit of shame, since it was quite unique and pretty good game as well.

        Oh, Final Fantasy VIII was allready out by that time.

      • Zimzelenibrk

        No it was not, this game come out at golden age of PC gaming, at least as far sales and popularity was concerned. And you can argue as far quality as well. UT, Quake, CS, Tiberiun Sun, Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Homeworld, Planescape Torment, Baldurs Gate, System Shock 2, Everquest, Alpha Centaru etc. All of classics came out of this period in pretty much every genre. Damn 1999 was bloody brilliant year.
        King of Dragon Pass was small niche indy game at time that was pretty much ignored by every one, bit of shame, since it was quite unique and pretty good game as well.

        Oh, Final Fantasy VIII was allready out by that time.

      • http://www.gall-holl.com/ Dan Miller

        Planescape was another example of a game that made you read all the time, and was just as awesome as KODP. Spent a lot of time playing both games in my youth. Sure some people don't like reading in their games, there's plenty of low brow stuff out there for them.

    • Dave

      It's you! You're everything that's wrong about modern gaming, ugh.

    • Anonymous

      I'm glad you posted this. A lot of modern gamers will feel this way, and I don't want them crapping up the game ratings with 2-star reviews. Spread the word far and wide that if you're looking for twitch and immediate gratification, this isn't for you.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        ^^^This times a million.

    • Ryan

      Researching a game before buying is important.  Especially so when it is
      a) a quality, $10 game
      b) a classic, well-regarded PC game known for its depth
      c) a superior port, the finest version yet

  • FreeFrog

    KoDP is an ancient game. I'm pleased they ported it to the iOS -- great game -- but $10 is a bit steep for an old port and for a game that's not for the iPad. I'll pass this rerun over.

  • Macaroon

    Excellent review for an excellent game! To celebrate, I  have decided to call my next clan the Clandestine Buttock Warblers ; )

  • HelperMonkey

    Awww... I think Podapp's in love. How sweet.
    Seriously, though, I'm very interested in this game, but the price is a big sticking point. Despite how well Eli described everything, this still feels like an unknown quantity, and that's keeping me wary. So I'll be waiting and gathering other impressions, and I'll keep my fingers crossed for a price decrease.
    I'm not dodging the expense based on principle or anything. It's just that I'm cheap and miserly (and poor).

    • http://twitter.com/dominictarason Dominic Tarason

      It's not really an unknown quantity. The game is over a decade old, and I've not heard a single negative word said about it in all that time. The iOS version is half the price of the PC version, and has new content and features. It's really a no-brainer.

      • HelperMonkey

        I should have clarified that it feels like an unknown quantity "to me." I don't have any prior knowledge of the game. But with its style and gameplay seeming fairly unique, it's just a bit difficult for me to tell if it's the kind of game I would enjoy.
        I do appreciate your comments, though, and it's statements like yours that continue to edge me closer to making the purchase.

    • eike

      If you are undecided you can try if the PC/Mac demo of the original still runs (and that you can get from the devs website). Lets you play one in-game year and gives an impression of the feel and depth of the game.

  • Ann

    this is fooeying stupid

    • Cowboysfreetyme

      Cool story bro.

  • ktern

    I've heard that the text looks weird on an iPad (I know it's not made for one, but I don't have any other iOS devices). Can anyone confirm/deny? If it's true I'll wait on a dedicated iPad version (or universal), this game looks text-heavy enough that it'd bother me.

  • Andiron

    In all honesty to someone who's played through the short and long campaigns, literally how many hours of gameplay are we talking here?  I know it can "vary" and that there is a lot of replayability in this game but approximately how many hours will it typically take to play through the regular (i.e. the long) campaign?

    • Sergi Díaz

      I have the PC game (and replayed it... I really don't know how many times, I lost count). One long campaign can last 15-20 hours, depending on your pace. And it's *very* replayable.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

    lol the artist had a hard time drawing a woman in the first image

    • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

      Artist? ;) hh

    • Anonymous

      you sure that is a woman? i though it was just a bad looking man

  • RadiancePool

    boring.

    next.

  • Dzamir

    Bought the game yesterday and I'm already addicted! 

  • Sergi Díaz

    I bought the game when it came out on PC and it's still one of the best games I've ever played. I don't even know how many times I've replayed it. It makes me wish I had an iPhone.

  • Shamu

    boo hoo that there is no ipad version, i would of bought this today...

    this game looks like it would be way better suited to ipad. i cant see how this would look at all good double pixel size. surely that will cripple the text and render the artwork horribly.

  • Oxi

    I´ve never heard about this game but after reading the review...I felt that strange pull that always gets the better of me when I´m face with something rare...this game feels...special somehow. I don´t know what I´m doing yet but I can´t wait to read through all the lore :)

  • Zkline

    I can't speak to this myself, but I've heard multiple anecdotal reports that it works quite well in 2X. Go ahead and buy it if you want it, an iPad native version probably won't be coming along any time soon.

  • Marcusjstc

    Yeah it looks and plays just fine on the iPad doubled.

  • Paulmason94

    This is a beautiful game! Just be aware that you will need to read through the ingame instruction to get the best out of it! If you take the time you will love this story based text game.

  • Shamu

    well i bought it playing on ipad looks ok. the game is gripping, i played for the last 3 hours, great game, got a feeling im just scratching the surface but i really like it. artworks great as is the story, characters and happenings. loving it so far.

  • http://twitter.com/Janne_o Janne Ojaniemi

    Bought is as soon as it became available, and it's a superb game! And yes, I play it on my iPad. The graphics and text look a bit pixelated (naturally), but honestly, you don't even notice it after a while. The game scale beautifully to iPad-size.

    Highly recommended!

  • George Tucker

    I purchased this game on its first day out. So far I've only played through once (lost, too -- on the easiest setting!?!?). I've enjoyed this game so much that I actually play through the tough spots and usually I'm not that kind of person.

    There's an incredible amount of stuff to do and so many random events that they haven't begun to feel repetitive. (after 400 turns). That, AND your decisions have repercussions.

    All in all this is the best game I've played on iphone ever. It's pricey but absolutely worth every penny. 

  • Abc

    The game is fantastic. Enough said.
    Just wanna add about playing on the ipad. Playing at 2x on the ipad is great with slight pixelation.
    However, i've just been playing on the ipad for the last 3 days and on virtual HD mode and its freaking brilliant!
    Take note that the game is text heavy. 2x on ipad causes pixelation which is most obvious for text. Graphics and images are not that badly affected.
    There is this app called RetinaPad which renders iphone retina resolution 2x on ipad which simply gives brilliant HD resolution on the ipad. Unfortunately this app is not built for retina display, presumably due to the original artworks in the PC version being of too low resolution. So the artwork/images etc are not true HD when scaled 2x on ipad via retinapad. However, the text do get scaled perfectly to 2x WITHOUT any trace of pixelation.
    I'm usually very fussy with pixelation in my games. And i've played this for the last 3 nights and it looks absolutely gorgeous!
    So for all those asking about the game on the ipad... i'll say just go get it! U can consider it ipad-native!

    Only catch here is.....
    RetinaPad is a JB app sold on Cydia. Which means..... its not for everyone if u know what i mean.....

  • Ali Khazayeni

    it was legendary ! anybody know any similar game ?

  • http://twitter.com/KingDragonPass King of Dragon Pass

    Universal build is in development.

    • Brendon Towle

      Will the universal build be a free upgrade to the current version (i.e., can I give you my money now, or do I need to wait)?

  • http://twitter.com/KingDragonPass King of Dragon Pass

    The Universal version is now available as a free update, especially if you are an iPad player.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Classification - Legendary = The Gods can't stop playing this

    This is one of those rare games that completely and totally absorbs and immerses your mind in a fascinating adventure in a fantasy world. The words, excellent, superb and unmatched come to mind as I play this.

    You are the author of your own destiny and that of your kinsmen. You're the boss and every decision you make has an effect on the game and others around you, your enemies, those that trade with you and the gods you worship.

    If there is anything you can learn from this game it is wisdom, how to make wise decisions and think out of the box. An example: I fought too many battles and lost because I hadn't made enough sacrifices to the gods at their altar, after my women came and complained that they had lost their husbands in battle and might leave my tribe. So I held a marriage contest and invited other tribes and the women found new husbands and I got some gifts.

    Can you make decisions like this in a hack and slash game? In this game your intelligence not reflexes are put to good use and this is great as nowadays most games are just dull repetition and so our intelligence wains. I highly recommend this game and it is a game but not hack and slash.

King of Dragon Pass Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 5