A Review of Kingdom Rush (Rift in Time), Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

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Kingdom Rush came onto Kickstarter some time ago. I hemmed and hawed about picking up this cooperative tower defense game, but in the end, I didn’t back it. There were so many goals and expansions it seemed like backing it would just be so expensive for a game I knew nothing about (and it didn’t really grab me). So I ended up passing on the Kickstarter … I didn’t back it all. It just seemed like too much money. Fast forward: Kingdom Rush delivered to its Kickstarter backers in late 2020 (November? December?) and a number of reviewers seemed to give it a good review. Tom Vasel liked it enough (see video here) and the coopboardgames.com made it their number 8 cooperative board game of the year for 2020!

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Well, CoolStuffInc had just a sale on Kingdom Rush just this last week for like $35 or so. Hm: I thought it was worth $35 to try this out!! So I grabbed some birthday and Christmas presents for my friends (yes, I get a lot of my friends board games as presents, so sue me) to get my order to $100 (for free shipping). It arrived today (Feb. 6th, 2021)! Let’s check out Kingdom Rush (Rift in Time), a cooperative tower defense game for 1-4 people!

Unboxing

This box is actually quite big! For $35, I think I got a really good deal! Opening up, I was a little disappointed to see how much empty space was at the top of the box:

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I assume all that extra space was for all the Kickstarter stuff I didn’t get.

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The game has some stickers for a “legacy aspect” (to denote how far you got in the campaign). You don’t have to use them to denote your progress (pencil and paper work fine if you don’t want to finalize your game).

The rulebook is right there at the top of the pile: it has a lot of art and looks good (but see our Rulebook discussion later)

The Scenario book is next in the box: Kingdom Rush comes with 10 Scenarios in the base game.

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There’s even a little map that shows how the Scenarios unfold (see below). You’ll note that the map describes ALL the scenarios in ALL the expansions and base game. If you end up really liking this game, there appears to be a ton of content. For now, the base game comes with 10 scenarios.

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Underneath the books are a bunch of cardboard sheets: there is a lot to punchout in this game!

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Below, you can see the cardboard sheets divided into (a) landscape (b) spells/powers (c) generic tokens and (d) polyominal tokens. The polyominal tokens are the basis of the game: you’ll be placing those tokens on tiles to do damage!!

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It’ll take you a while to punchout all the tokens.  I want to say it took be a good hour or more.

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Unfortunately, the game didn’t come with too many extra plastic bags, so I ended up having to go find some extra to help me rebox (at the end).

There’s still a bunch of stuff under the cartdboard bits: cards, minis, plastic trays, some clear plastic cards, and player boards: see below.

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The minis are held down by some cardboard inserts to make sure they don’t move much in the box.

The minis do lot pretty good. I’m not a minis guy (so I don’t know minis that well), but I liked them well enough.

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The player boards (5 total) are stored over on the left. Interestingly, they unfold and kind of remind me of the Dice Throne character boards (see review of Dice Throne Adventures here).

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The boards look nice unfolded, but they were kind of stiff and stayed open: i.e., they didn’t stay flay too well.

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The character boards still look very cool. It’s also clear that every character has a “color” associated with them WHICH IS VERY CLEAR! I like this, because it makes it blindingly obvious when some other components belong to that character. I remember being a little frustrated with the color choices in Tainted Grail (see here), but luckily this doesn’t have that problem. The character card (below) is used to help you notate when you’ve “activated” your character on the board.

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There’s some helper cards (1 for each player). I am always a fan of these, but these were just more a reminder of certain icons. There is a very tiny player summary on each character boards, but I really wanted a TRUE summary card, especially since the rulebook kinda sucked (foreshadowing). I’ve found that a good turn summary card can carry a crummy rulebook (it saved Code 3: see here), and I am sad to say there’s not a great turn summary card for Kingdom Rush, just an icon summary.

The big bad Bosses that you fight also have miniatures and some cards describing their behavior.  They are pretty cool looking, especially Lord Blackburn!IMG_8059

I’ve got to give a shout out to the clear cards in the game.  I love clear cards!  These are used in the game to notate where players can place their towers (this is a tower defense game after all). 

I couldn’t figure out what the little wooden soldiers were for until quite a bit in (they are used to help stop the bad guys from moving).

There some more cards we’ll see in the playthroughs, but overall there are a lot of really good components! The game looks really nice: see below!

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The Rulebook and Scenario Book

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I had a lot of problems with this rulebook. Almost all of the games I’ve learned here at Coop Gestalt, I’ve learned myself just by reading the rulebook. This was the first time in a very long time that I had to go find a you tube video to help me learn the game: I ended up with this one from Lucky Duck games.

The rulebook starts out well: it shows all the components on the first few pages (hint: turn the page, there’s more components on the next page):

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This worked well. I always like having a list of components while I am unboxing: it makes it a very visceral experience as I correlate physical pieces with the pictures from the components page. This made me very happy, especially seeing all the cool components in the game. Next, almost all modern rulebooks head into set-up. We don’t. We get redirected to another book, and this is where things starts to go wrong.

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You’ll notice above, I have two book open now, the rulebook and scenario book. And we start talking about general set-up. I had to re-read this page a few times to get what I was trying to do. There WAS NO INTRO SCENARIO. After playing Tainted Grail last week, I think I am spoiled: Tainted Grail has one of the best “get up and start playing right away” books I have ever seen, so coming into this, I was a bit overwhelmed. It seems to just “jump” into things without explaining a lot. I had to go back and forth between the rulebook and the scenario book multiple times to figure out the set-up. It felt very non-linear and frustrating.

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This General set-up is just FILLED with words without any pictures! The best set-ups show a picture with annotations. This “generic” set-up frustrated me. I still didn’t get it, so I had to turn the first Scenario I would play and look at that:

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Finally, some pictures! But really compressed on a page. So now, I am flipping between the main rulebook, the “generic set-up” on the pages before, and the Scenario picture itself! No! I think this was when I started looking for a you tube video.

Why does this rulebook frustrate me so much? I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I played.

  1. I don’t like the font choice. A “comic-book” all-caps font my be thematic, but this font isn’t expressive! I find that reading a lot of text in this font is draining. (Recall, I had the same problem with the rulebook for Obliveon). Fonts on cards should absolutely be this font. Rulebooks should be a soothing fonts, especially if you have to consult it a lot.
  2. There seem to be a lot of walls of text in the game. A first look of the rulebook would seem to indicate a lot of pictures, and sure there were a number of good pictures. But there just seemed to be so many “walls of text” that didn’t help explain anything. The solo rules would be a good example: no pictures! As would the portal rules.
  3. Pictures that WERE there were poorly referenced. For example, the scenario book refers to “difficulty” and “stars”, and there is sort of a chart on the page, but what does it mean? It doesn’t actually seem to refer to the chart, you just kind of have to realize it correlates, sorta.
  4. Some rules, especially for solo weren’t explained well or at all. According to the rulebook, the only way to upgrade your towers is to pass them. It’s very clear in red font:

    Yet, that is IMPOSSIBLE in a solo game (there’s no one to pass cards to)! And it wasn’t discussed in the solo rule section. I went ahead and assumed that you could “pass to yourself” and update any towers I didn’t use.
  5. Frustration with the first play. Too much non-linearity. I have played 100s of board game and read 100s of rulebooks, and I was especially frustrated with the jumping around so much in a game I knew nothing about.

A very simple example: when do I turn up my hoardes to see what’s there? There’s no mention in the rulebook. The video guy just said “ok, let’s turn up the hoard cards and see what’s there”. When am I supposed to do this?

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Kingdom Rush needs a few things and I think the game would be a LOT better.

  1. It need some player summary cards: those would have helped a lot and maybe answered some of the questions I had with game flow.
  2. It needs a “first play” that shows you more step-by-step how to set-up and play the first time, a la Tainted Grail.
  3. It needs another pass at the rulebook with a different font.

I guess you could say this is a Kickstarter rulebook. It really put me in a bad mood and I almost gave up on this game.

Set-Up and Solo Game

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First try at set-up (above).

So, the game does come with a solo game mode (yay, Saunders’ Law),  but the changes to make the solo game aren’t expressed well.  You basically play one character (I am playing Malik, see above) and play the game normally.  There are 3 other changes in the book, but I  didn’t get what they meant until I read the book and watched the video a few times.  Basically, (a) you can use one of the other characters in the game as a “one-shot” when you really need it (b) Your towers can  come out on 2 of the 3 colors, (c) something else.

Admittedly, the solo mode works pretty well once you understand it, but it’s just so hard to get to that point.

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Remember, this is a tower defense game!  The players have a “tableau” of towers (see above) they can buy/upgrade during the game!  I ran out of space, so I had to put this tableau off to the side.  When you start the game, your character sheet describe which towers you start with:

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Note, Malik starts (in a 1-player game) with the 4 towers (bottom right): Mage, Footman, Archer, and Artillery (see above).  The game seems to very good at scaling which towers you get, based on the number of players. 

As you play, you can upgrade your towers (by passing cards to yourself or your teammates) or buy new towers (using crystal).  Defeating the invading hordes gives you more crystal. 

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You place your towers on the little points (see the “clear cards” we discussed earlier?) In a solo game, you can only use 2 of the 3 colors as tower spawns. In the picture above, I chose green and purple (and couldn’t use yellow) for tower spawns. Not that each tower has range and directionality! What are we trying to do? Cover all the enemies of an enemy tray with damage! If we do that, we have defeated the tray of enemies and that tray goes away! How do we do damage? With the polyominal pieces!

In the picture above, the 3 enemy trays in the column have all enemy spaces covered! So, they will be defeated at the end of the turn. The enemy tray on the upper right still has 3 goblins uncovered, so it will stay in play!

How do you win? It varies per scenario, but in Scenario 1 you simply must defeat both Portals (see more discussion of the portals below). You lose if your “hit points” goes to 0 or the Portals cross the exit (the exit is right next to the hearts above).

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You can see the “enemy” spaces better (above). Note you can also see Malik getting his hands dirty! You characters actually come out on the map and fight WITH the towers! So, to win you will need to place the right towers, use your characters to do special damage, and make sure you keep the enemies in check. You have to destroy the Portals to win, but you also have to make sure you aren’t overrrun with other enemies.

An “A-Ha” Moment

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In my first game, I had a Portal about to leave an exit. If it escaped, I lost. I was trying to figure out how to place my towers so they could do damage: I had to cover 6 enemy spots in the Portal (see above), but my polyominal tiles couldn’t be placed in such a way as to cover ALL enemies! Nooooo!!! “I’m going to lose!”

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… until I realized I could use my “one-shot” extra hero to help me! Remember; this is one of the modifications for the solo game: you can use a hero as a one shot to come in and do damage! With that realization, I had to use my extra (purple) hero! And I was able to stop the Portal!

This was my “A-ha!” moment. Up until now, I was pretty grumpy with the game (as you may have figured out), but at this point, now that I had been playing a few rounds, understanding the game and putting everything together, I saw how the game played out. And all of a sudden, I was having fun! This little “A-ha!” moment turned the game around for me.

Conclusion

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This game is probably too complicated for what it is. The rules aren’t explained well, and there are a lot of rules. I am glad I didn’t go full in on this. I think $35 (or a little more) might be just about the right price point for me for this game. As grumpy as I was with the rulebook, the whole game turned around for me at my “A-ha!” moment. I had fun and I’d like to play this again.

If you think this cooperative defense game sounds fun, check it out, but I would strongly recommend watching the Lucky Duck video to learn the game. Be aware that the rulebook isn’t great and your first play through will be very frustrating. (I had to actually leave the room and come back I was so frustrated)

I’d recommend checking this game out if you can find it for under $40. Maybe you’ll love it and want to seek out all the extra content. Or maybe you’ll find the base game to be enough as a satisfying cooperative tower defense game … if you can get through the rules.

3 thoughts on “A Review of Kingdom Rush (Rift in Time), Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

  1. Hate to break it to you, but you can’t use heroes on portals. Not even range attacks, damage or ANYTHING at all that originates from heroes. The game can be pretty brutal. I do agree with some of the things about the rulebook, it has its flaws. Game’s great though!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Makes me want to play again to see if I can get through! It does underscore my point that there are just a few too many rules for this game. But, the fact that I want to play it again speaks well for it!

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