The Best Game Never Played
Hoard (Strategy Action / PC)
Introducing the Genre
I’ve never really played a game like this, at least not on the computer. It half-reminds me of a board game, but it’s played in real-time, at the speed of an action game. The closest thing I can compare this to is Hungry Hungry Hippos, but with depth. You can easily employ a strategy and if it’s not working, adapt, change, and implement a new one at any time.
Introducing the Game
Like many games, I saw it when Steam was having it’s annual 2012 Summer Sale. There was a dragon on the cover, so I was immediately drawn to it. I conjured up a game on the Perfect 10 section based on the Dragon’s World fake-documentary. This game seems to have actually taken many of those features and brought it to life. It’s called, Hoard!
There just aren’t enough games out there where you play AS a dragon, living the dragon lifestyle. Raid kingdoms, kidnap princesses, repel knights, fight other dragons, and hoard treasure. You get to do all these in Hoard. Throw in a batch of random power-ups and score multipliers, you’ve got yourself a game. I’ve just never played a game where you live a dragon-life. There are other games that might involve dragons like Breath of Fire, Lair, Panzer Dragoon, but the dragons there are just tools or fancy-looking vehicles. The fact that you’re riding a dragon isn’t played up.
The game plays like a re-imagined “digital” board game, if that makes any sense. There are dozens of maps to play, different game types, and ways to win. You begin with a lair where you will deposit gold. Fly out into the countryside to burn down buildings, supply carts, or crops and take the treasure back to your lair. As time goes on, stakes escalate. Towns become bigger, wizard towers appear, princess can be kidnapped, archers and knights try to take you out, thieves come to steal your hoard, and it all happens in 10 minute sessions. There is a distinct early-game, mid-game, and end-game. There can be multiple dragons on the same map with lairs spread out. You can rob other dragons, destroy towns, have them fear you and pay tribute. There’s many different strategies to implement.
As your hoard increases, your dragon levels up. When this happens, you can increase your flight speed, fire breath power, carrying capacity, and natural armor. Every round you begin fresh. So you can level up all over again, and adapt to changing circumstances with every level. Maybe you want to stay close to your hoard to protect yourself from thievery? So flight speed won’t be important. Maybe you want to fight knights off, so firepower and armor are more desirable? If you play co-operatively, and I love co-op games, you can each customize your dragons to optimize your hoarding strategy.
Your dragon has a health bar that can be affected by archers, wizard towers, other dragons, giants, and knights. When your health reaches zero, you automatically fly back to your lair to heal. The longer you go without reaching zero, or having your hoard robbed by thieves, you gain a gold multiplier up to x3. Every gold piece deposited counts as 3. One strategy I enjoy is to attack other dragons just to remove their multiplier. It really gives you an edge.
This is a fast paced action game, not the Dragon’s World game I imagined, but it’s the closest thing to it. Instead of a long campaign of hatchling to elder, it’s all played in 10 minute bursts. Instead of customizing your own dragon’s appearance, they’re all the same except for color. Instead of a behind-the-shoulder camera, it’s all top-down. Regardless, I’m very happy with this. There’s nothing else like it.
This is an action board game, there really isn’t much of a story other than: You are a dragon. It’s your job to hoard treasure, kidnap princesses, raze the countryside, and fight away knights, thieves, and other dragons.
The graphics are exactly what they need to be. Everything looks a little small because of the “board game” perspective. It looks like a high-resolution version of Warcraft II. I’d love to see more detail on the dragons, but that’s not really necessary. It’s just me wanting more dragons. On the plus side, the simpler graphics mean more computers are able to play it. It’s an excellent game for resource wary computers.
The music is enjoyable, not too repetitive, not of poor quality. It hasn’t been stuck in my head yet.. yet. By the end of the month, it may be. The music is not dynamically generated so that means there are some actual signature tunes in this game. I haven’t played a game with a definitive soundtrack in a long time! Yay!
Since this is an, action board game, it might not be out of place in any arcade, the sounds are very video-gamey. The sounds are simple and distinct so you always know what’s going on in the chaos. It matches the small scale of a board game.
The game is very easy to learn, though I must confess that I failed the first tutorial mission. I quickly recovered and have been enjoying it immensely. The dragons all fly using a combination of WAS and D. Fire is the left mouse button. Activating a power-up is the right mouse button. Leveling up is done with the space bar. This game might do well on the mobile or tablet market. Fly with a digital stick, tap a circle to breathe fire, and double tap to activate a power-up, tap level-up to apply points.
This would be an excellent LAN party game. You can arrange teams verbally, if you like, or just go all out and team up on whoever is winning in a frantic king-of-the-hill climb. The game plays out in 10 minute rounds, so whoever wins, might not hold the title for long.
Even in single player mode, there can be multiple dragons. To me, that feels like playing with bots in Counter-Strike, and that’s good enough for me. The AI dragons all have personalities reflected by their name like, Mr Honorable, Miser, Sheriff, and so on.
Steam offers a 4-pack bundle, 4 being the max number of dragons on a map, so you can gift it to friends. I think I’ll do that before I host the next LAN event.
This game is endlessly replayable. The more gold you hoard, the more powerful your dragon becomes. Each player, human or AI, can customize their dragon. If you find a need early-on, you can invest in one skill above another. Skills are flight speed, fire power and quantity, carrying capacity which increases deposit speed as well as amount, and armor. You might find a preference right off the bat which doesn’t work, you can change easily enough. If you lose, the next game begins in less than 10 minutes. Do you want to fly back and forth to your lair quickly, or gain an advantage over other dragons by defeating them and denying them the score multiplier? It’s the old buff vs de-buff argument. Do you want to increase your hoard, or decrease theirs? Do you want to fight wizard towers and claim large gems? Or kidnap princesses and fend off knights? Maybe you just want to sweep the countryside and capture supply carts? Are you waiting for a particular power-up like max speed, max fire, fireballs, or ice breath to use in your strategy? Do you attack the town without destroying it? That makes it fear you and supply you regularly with gold and tributes. Do you let the towers, towns, and castles grow so they produce more valuable carts, princesses, and wizard gems? Or do you raze everything as fast as you can, keeping the world in the dark ages?
The strategy involved in this game is very interesting compared to a game like Starcraft or Command & Conquer. In those RTS games, you usually have to find a Rock, Paper, Scissors strategy and stick to it. Adapting means wasting an investment. If you immediately made a bunch of upgraded marines, and the enemy invests in area effect tech to wipe them out, you’ve already lost, it’s just a long, long time before it’s official. In Hoard, it’s much easier to come back from a strategy that didn’t work.
Every dragon is personal, every strategy is adaptable. The maps are many, the game modes are varied, the AI is varied, the treasures are varied, there’s enough variation mixed with strategy to keep anyone interested for a long time.
Dragons! What more do you want? Mod tools. There’s got to be some mod tools or a map maker available for this game. Google, ho!
This would be a great first game to introduce young players to.
Boiling it Down
This may be one of the first of a generation of endlessly-replayable, digital family board games, appropriate for all ages. And, dragons!
Originally written on 3/25/2011
The Best Game Never Played
Introducing the Genre
I’m a sucker for anything dragons. Bahamut was always my favorite Final Fantasy summon. I loved Draken, perhaps more than it deserved. I made a dragon creature in Spore. I feel guilty whenever I have to fight a dragon in any action / RPG. The friendly dragon Scorch from The Lost Vikings 2 was one of my favorite characters to play. I always root for dragons in movies like Dragonheart and even Reign of Fire. I never had a PS3, PS2, or PS1 so I missed games like Lair, Drakenguard, and Spyro. I was happy to see the friendly dragons in King’s Quest VII The Princess Bride, and The Longest Journey.
This game is also an intriguing animal simulator, not like a virtual pet, but closer along the lines of Wolf Quest, Savage(lions), and Spore. You actually play and experience the life of a wild animal. You’re not creating a virtual pet. You are the pet. The above mentioned animal games do their best to mimic the lives and challenges of the creatures they feature. Though instead of a real-life animal, it’s an animal without a strong frame of reference.
Introducing the Game
This is a game I’ve been waiting for! You’re a dragon! That’s about it, but that’s all you’d need. I remember the MMO, Horizons, promised that as an option, along with a dozen other varied and different species I’d never seen in a fantasy MMO before, faeries, angels, demons, giants, and more. All I wanted was the dragons, I knew they could carry their own game. And this is it, Dragon’s World.
Dragon’s World was the title of a documentary from The Discovery Channel produced around the end of 2004. It followed a “discovery” of a partially preserved dragon body frozen in ice. The Discovery Channel experts did their thing and based on the discovered “evidence.” What followed was an amazing amount of theoretical speculation about if dragons existed, how did they live, fly, fight, survive the dinosaur extinction event, the ice age, and survive into the middle ages, and eventually die out. Even though it’s all a lie, it’s all presented as if it were real.
As I mentioned before, the gameplay is all about the life of a dragon. It takes place in several historic and pre-historic settings. It’s kind of sandbox that way. You begin life as a hatchling, exploring the surrounding area. There are some basic needs to fulfill, the likes of which players of The Sims or The Ship should be familiar with. You’ll have to hunt for food from different hunting grounds, subdue it, find a watering hole, mark your territory. As you grow, you set out to make your own territory, and possibly defend it.
In the prehistoric age, if you choose to play there, you’ll have giant monster on monster battles against dinosaurs. Surviving the ice age is very difficult, food is scarce, but the environment is very pretty. The middle ages is probably the most interesting and dynamic. Castles and cities pop up. Civilization encroaches on your lair. On the up side, food is abundant! You can either snatch livestock like sheep or cattle. Or, in a humorous nod to the fantasy genre, you can raid a castle, destroy bits of it until a you see a princess, kidnap her and bring her back to your lair. If you can manage that, you’ll have a steady stream of food right to your lair. Heroes will regularly come looking to rescue her. Besides princesses, you can also steal and horde treasure.
Robbing and looting is a double edged sword, sure it’s fun, but it does draw more attention to you than you might like. The more you do, the more attention you get. It’s like gaining a wanted level in Grand Theft Auto, sure it’s fun to see how high you can get it, but you know your game may end very soon.
Attracting a mate is part of the game. The better lair you can provide, it increases your chances of successfully attracting a mate. You may also try soaring and roaring around, listening for responses. You may have to fight a rival or rogue also seeking a mate(depending on the gender of your dragon). If you ever find one, mating itself is rather tricky. The mating dance is aerial. The female begins a series of maneuvers that the male has to match. At this point, the gameplay focuses much on stunt flying. The finish line is as high as each of you can fly, and dive bomb as close to the ground as you can, together, like how some birds mate.
Sim games don’t usually have this much action. Fighting games don’t usually let you detail your character like this. Flight sims are usually too realistic. This game has everything I’d want in the amounts I want it.
The story is little more than survival. It’s not a story driven game. No princesses to save(in fact you can kidnap a few). There is a living world to explore. You can dominate it as much as you like, conquer it, move on to other lands, settle down in a lair, or just be nomadic.
The “character” editor is the most advanced I’ve seen since Spore. While Spore had to be versatile, and could create just about anything, this editor stick to the basic skeleton of a dragon. There are greater texture resolutions. Animations are a bit better since there is much less than the infinite combinations Spore had to calculate.
You can cover yourself with scales or hide, spikes, horns, and claws. Have a long neck or short neck, two-legs or four. Wings can sprout from your back or be webbed to your arms. Fire, frost, lightning, or venom breath weapons are available, along with many patterns of coloration. Much of it is cosmetic, but it adds a sense of ownership and identity to the creature.
The game was designed for Western dragon lovers. There might be a few Otaku who wanted to play an Eastern dragon, and they’ll be disappointed. Maybe a sequel or expansion will offer it.
The weather effects are a real spectacle! Flying in the rain, diving above and below the clouds, is such a simple but satisfying mechanic. Running through the trees and wooded areas as a hatchling is cute. Climbing mountains with speed and fluid grace, using your powerful claws and muscles, is like watching a work of art.
There’s a change in music depending on the environment. While playing in the prehistoric age, the music is more primal and percussive. In the middle ages, the music gets more what you’d expect, Gaelic.
It’s a little more useful than the horn in a driving game, but roaring for the sake or roaring is fun. Especially if you’re on a mountaintop and get to hear the echo. Swoop down and roar to send livestock running, or some soldiers who were out for a trophy. Other dragons might answer your call and mimic you, especially hatchlings. It’s all a lot more fun than it should be.
Dragon on dragon combat is the most controller intensive part of the game. Ground and aerial combat require two different control schemes, but they’re each intuitive. Switching between one and the other didn’t take too long to get used to. The animators must have watched some episodes of Wild Kingdom and watched how many different animals fight with jaws, claws, and tails. As a dragon, you can leap forward and pounce, swiping with all four of your claws, sprint or whip your tail around like a lizard or alligator, pull a 180 like a snapping turtle, you can maul, rend and tear using your claws or hind legs, depending on your orientation. Your jaws are nearly always available to clamp down and tear. It’s all very violent and primal. I just hope it doesn’t influence kids to try and recreate what they see on the playground. Especially the fire breathing.
In the air, your goal is to outmaneuver the adversary and then clamp down with your jaws, and while you’re attached, rend and tear as much as you can while they try to shake you off. Your breath weapon is also available.
Defending is about evading or parrying at the right time. Besides the “parry” button, you can drop into a dive, roll, hop, or jump. Parrying at the right time can prevent another dragon from getting a claw or jaw on you. So it’s good to come at them from an angle other than the front.
I’m very glad there was no multiplayer for this. If this idea was conceived in the wrong frame of time, it could have become a shallow MMO. The lack of multiplayer also means the polycount is higher than MMOs. If there were other players and their actions to consider, the slightest lag could change the outcome of a fight.
I always get more enjoyment than most out of editors. I could spend hours in the character editor alone and forget, “oh, yeah, there’s a game that came with this.” I’ve made a few different dragons and play through each of them, depending on my mood. One is in the prehistoric era, and one in the ice age. I have two in the middle ages, playing separately. One is trying to live peacefully, and the other one is razing the countryside.
There’s no “real” end. You could consider dominating the island to be the end of the game. It’s not “re” playable, as much as it is endlessly playable. You could say it’s as endlessly playable as World of Warcraft.
Once upon a time, I was playing the original Discovery Channel’s Dragon’s World DVD in the common area at an army base. A bunch of folk just arrived from basic training and took a load off. They never saw the DVD cover, or the disclaimer at the beginning. So the whole room was watching in complete rapture. It didn’t help that I didn’t bother to disclose it was all fake. And I asked, “Why haven’t you heard about this? Where have you been the last month? This has been all over the news!” I’m a mischievous trickster at heart.
I love flying as fast as I can, flaring out my wings to stall, roll into a ball, then dive and pull up in a different direction to rapidly change direction. The game didn’t hold my hand and tell me how to do it, it’s just something I figured out. They didn’t simplify one button u-turns or loops. I wonder what it would be like for Kinect?
Boiling it Down
Best/Only dragon simulator?