With a title like A Kingdom for Keflings, the first question that should come to mind is “what even is a Kefling?”. Well, besides being a word that looks like it’s missing a letter or two, a Kefling is a tiny person who seems to want nothing more than to live near a castle, and it’s on you as the player to become a giant in their world and get to work on making that a reality.
A Kingdom for Keflings is a city building game with a fantasy flair. Mixing the more realistic designs of medieval houses and keeps with the fanciful ideas of magical crystals and witch’s huts, the game doesn’t forget that your human character is towering above what might as well be gnomes. The game starts simple and slow, the player able to pick a premade character or their Xbox Avatar to serve as their giant in the world of the Keflings. The area you are plopped down into is limited in space but certainly wide enough for you to build your kingdom in, but it begins cluttered with forests and rocks that you need to get to work clearing and gathering to help build the Keflings’ town. As the giant, you can walk around and gather these yourself, but Keflings can be assigned roles as well, the player picking them up and dropping them in front of the areas they wish them to work on. Keflings can only really do simple tasks though like mining, cutting down trees, and delivering resources, so the giant is tasked with the actual creation of new buildings and the management of the gathered resources. The giant is also able to kick Keflings if they feel like, a feature the game seems a bit giddy about, not even punishing you if you bully your Keflings, but it doesn’t help in any way either.
The progression of your kingdom is tied to the acquisition of blueprints, certain buildings unlocking new designs along the path to building that castle at the end. Certain buildings have certain functions, such as places that will refine raw materials into more useful goods, workshops that give the giant access to new building pieces, and a few areas just for making the kingdom look nicer or increasing your “score”, a secondary but not too important rating that basically tells you how nice the game thinks your kingdom is. Working down the tree of blueprints can be done with a bit of freedom despite its somewhat linear design, but most of the time it is a forward march of making the next useful building to open up the ability to make the next one. Optimal management of your Keflings and your own actions can make it go much faster, as can finding new items hidden in the wild or building certain structures that will increase the speed of you or your Keflings. As time goes on you can increase your population as well, and while the number of Keflings never really gets too high, it still gives you a gradually increasing workforce to turn your kingdom into a bustling production center all working towards that goal of eventually building the castle.
Overall, building the kingdom is a relaxing process, and the clear map of progression for your work towards the castle makes it pretty easy to go from one task to the next, never really left to wonder what should be next on your plate. However, there really isn’t any real adversity to your development in A Kingdom for Keflings. There are no disasters to contend with or bills to manage, and you never have to worry about the Keflings dying or leaving. The only impediment to your continued expansion are the resources, the player needing to have the right amount to build what they are working on. However, even this isn’t too much of a concern. If you shear all the available sheep, the wool will grow back, and harvesting wood, rock, or crystal won’t become a worry when you hit the edge of the map and find they provide infinite amounts of the resources, your gathering of it only limited by how much you can harvest at a time. Moving buildings around is a bit of a hassle so delivery of goods can still slow you down, but none of these obstacles really challenge the player so much as make them spend more time completing things.
Building up your kingdom can still be a decent time despite the game not really upsetting your progress or requiring much from you, and perhaps that could be part of the appeal. It’s a very simple game about crafting new buildings and getting lost in the development of your kingdom… but there is one niggling issue that prevents it from being totally smooth. Many city building games allow the player to sit back and just let the place run for a while, accruing resources without the player’s input. While not many buildings in A Kingdom for Keflings have a purpose outside of material turnaround, the need for resources can be high at times and it would be nice to let the game run while you do something like eat or shower in real life and return to find you have what you need to continue playing. The thing is… the game doesn’t allow that. If the giant doesn’t move for a while, the Keflings will realize they aren’t being supervised and stop working. This isn’t a glitch or some quirk of coding though, the Keflings have specific sit down animations for when they’re slacking off, and they’ll only get back to work once the giant is on the move again. I understand this is likely meant to encourage active participation in your kingdom’s development, but standing in place mining rocks to make sure your Keflings are moving isn’t really the engaging hands-on experience that justifies such a design choice.
Outside the goal of building a castle, the mayor Kefling can sometimes give you quests that might encourage you to deviate from the laser-focused goal of building progression. Once you do build that castle though, there isn’t anything saying you need to stop, but the kingdom’s focus is pretty much on production of house parts, meaning that besides building more buildings to make the place look nicer, there’s nowhere left to go. This makes the sandbox mode a bit dry as well, since besides placing buildings to look nice, your infinite resources don’t have much to do. Even odder is the game has a few fixed buildings in place so you can’t make your perfect design in that mode. The game does allow multiplayer where giants can walk around and build together, but there’s not really much to the package that helps it evolve outside the initial push to build that castle in the objective focused mode.
THE VERDICT: A Kingdom for Keflings feels like it was designed by people who liked city builder games but didn’t fully understand them. The game hits the appeal of gradually growing a town into something larger and makes it relaxing and simple, but some complexity and adversity helps a city builder stay lively and challenging. A Kingdom for Keflings wants to keep you actively involved, and being able to move resources or do the mining yourself does alleviate issues you might have with your workers, but outside of constructing new buildings, it’s essentially just you doing their work. It is easy to get lost in the development of your town and easy to transition from one task to the next, but that laser focus on building a castle for the Keflings is really the only thing to shoot for since everything in the game is designed to support that goal. Ultimately, the game ends up being a decent time-waster but doesn’t offer anything outside of constantly crafting your way up to the game-assigned objective.
And so, I give A Kingdom for Keflings for Xbox 360…
An OKAY rating. While not open like a city builder usually is, the game quite clearly tells you what you’re meant to do. You build a kingdom for the Keflings in this game, and while it’s not an incredibly exciting process, it does hit the marks of gradually seeing your work pay off in the form of a bustling kingdom. Individual agency isn’t really valued though, the game wanting you to work towards that final goal almost exclusively, and that’s where the earlier theory feels most apt. The designers feel like they knew what they like about a city builder, that being the gradual growth of something small into something you created, with more options unlocking as you go, but they left out the parts where the player has to consider their options, make tough decisions, or tighten their management of resources to ensure the city isn’t ruined by disaster or bad choices. Everything feels very practical here and feeds into the creation of the kingdom quite directly, with little room for individual flair outside of coloring the roofs of buildings, where you place them, and one instance of mutual exclusivity between two buildings.
A Kingdom for Keflings isn’t about building your own town, it’s about answering the request of the Keflings. They want a castle, everything works towards that goal, and it makes for an okay city-building challenge. Being locked into that objective means there isn’t much room to do anything but work towards it, perhaps putting it closer to the feel of real construction rather than any of the potential the fanciful setup of tiny people commissioning a giant to build for them had.