So, yeah, I played a lot of Barbarian Prince last summer. It’s hard not to see that inspiration when looking at Road of Kings. In fact, the original code base for Road of Kings was a simple Barbarian Prince combat emulator. At first, I was just trying to figure out the percentage chance of winning the most common opening fight with the royal guardsmen (turns out you have a pretty good shot at killing 1 or 2 of them, 3 is about a 50% chance of success, and 4-6 you’re best off fleeing). It wasn’t a huge leap from that to a full combat emulator, which was pretty handy when playing the physical board game. It really sped up play, and I wrote the thing in Java specifically so I could run it on my phone, which was much handier than having a computer at the table when playing the game.
Then I took a left turn and decided to make it into a full fledged game that I would sell on Google Play. I stopped slavishly trying to emulate the board game and let it evolve into something different. I took additional inspiration from other hex crawl games, like Delta’s excellent Outdoor Survival based D&D game, and changed things where I thought the original board game made poor decisions. Of course the map is entirely different from the Barbarian Prince board, and every event in the game has been custom written as well. While game mechanics cannot be covered by copyright, I would never steal another man’s words. And once I decided the game was not and could not be a direct translation of the existing game, I found my creativity liberated and my desire to take the game in new directions and really make it my own ignited.
I was excited that I could now add elements that you could never get away with in a solo board game. In our game we have events restricted to specific regions, or hidden in specific hexes that can only be discovered by exploring the map. We keep track of the player’s influence with various groups. Do too many illegal things, and you may find the town guard at the next town a little more aggressive than usual. Make friends instead of enemies with the Aesir you bump into, and they may invite you along on their next raid of the mainland. Our game can track a lot more data than the board game could without becoming too cumbersome, and our game can keep secrets from the player, two unique traits that I ended up leveraging quite frequently.
So the question that’s plagued me since I started talking publicly about our game is this: how much should I reveal about the original inspiration? The current game is a pretty far cry from the original board game in its internals and content, but the basic form remains the same: the goals are the same (gather X money in Y days), the format of moving across a hex map is the same, and some basic tactics are the same (gathering followers, balancing resources of days and food, choosing when to fight and when to flee). I want to appeal to fans of the board game, as I myself am one, but I do not want to be dismissed as merely a rip-off of an old game.
I hope Road of Kings respectfully pays homage to Barbarian Prince, giving you a similar experience with the ease of a computer that fits in your pocket handling all the annoying resource tracking and math calculations. I also believe it explores new ground adding elements the board game could have never gotten away with. That balance is a little difficult to communicate in a 30 second blurb at a panel or in two sentences of a press release.
Ultimately, Barbarian Prince is a pretty old and out of print game, and most people won’t recognize it at all. Those that do, well, I hope those that do are the kind of hard core fans who would also dig up the obscure blog of the developers, and find a nice long post explaining it all in detail. Rock on you hard core fans, thanks for coming and I hope you dig what I made. Now get out there and raise an empire!