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You'll get there eventually.

Out of my avatar's way, Peck!Edit

Somewhere buried deep within all of us is a general contractor struggling to come out. Those of us who recognize this early become general contractors and save themselves a lifetime of angst, but the rest of us must resort to strategy videogames to scratch that nagging construction itch. Fortunately, developer NinjaBee (Band of Bugs, Cloning Clyde) has created a game that does just that: A Kingdom For Keflings.
Keflings was first released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, and NinjaBee has now released it as a PC download (for $9.95 as of this writing). Aside from a lack of Xbox Live Avatars and a smoother framerate, it's basically the same experience.
Keflings are just your average medieval villagers who are hopelessly inept at building things. You, the player, are a towering giant with a knack for getting things done the old-fashioned way: delegation. At the opening of the game, you're informed that the poor little blighters need a town built and that you're just the giant for the job. And any good contractor will tell you, construction is as much about managing a constant and complex flow of people, materials and components as it is about actually building things.
Scattered around the colorful 3D map are natural resources such as pine trees, stones, sheep and patches of precious crystals. All these materials can be harvested by you or your Keflings and turned into building supplies, but it's not as easy as chopping down a bunch of trees and making a house appear. Trees must be turned into planks, rocks must be cut into stackable stones, sheep must be sheared and their fiber spun into cloth, etc.So, for example, if you want to build a school to make your pliable little friends smarter, you'll need to unlock its blueprint (usually by building a precursor structure) and then follow it to build the required components out of the materials you've gathered. You can only build certain components at certain workshops, And the little suckers are flexible, too. If you want to change a Kefling's job, just pick him up, tap a button to change his hat, and then plop him down somewhere new. He'll be instantly re-programmed. And if you're in a hurry and your scurrying plebes get in your way, just tap another button to give them a swift kick. They won't love you any less for it. But if you feel guilty for punting them, just pitch in and do some work yourself if it makes you feel better, although you can theoretically play the entire game without lifting a finger to gather resources.
A Kingdom For Keflings was one of the first games to support the Xbox Live Avatars that went live as part of 2008's Xbox 360 Dashboard overhaul. It was a nice touch that gave a bit of life to the experience. That's lacking a bit in the PC version (understandably so), and as a result your character choices here are a bit dull. Not bad, just a bit drab.
As you make your way through the game, new buildings, resources and components will open up, along with some upgrades for you and your townspeople. The overall goal is to build a keep for your Keflings and eventually a full-blown castle. If you keep on-task, your Keflings will adore you for your efforts. And if you don't, well, that's OK too. Again, this is not a high-pressure strategy game full of pitfalls and game-overs. As far as I can tell, there's really no way to fail at A Kingdom For Keflings, unless you invite strangers to play with you online.
There is an online co-op function in Keflings that allows up to four people to play together online, but I recommend only inviting friends to your game unless you don't care about the structural integrity of your village. In the random matches I joined online, hosts seemed to spend the majority of their time begging newcomers not to destroy their churches. And unfortunately, there's no local multiplayer option, which keeps Keflings from being the perfect parent/child co-op game. and you'll need to build those as well. As you can imagine, things quickly become quite complicated, and soon you'll have a cluster of buildings all doing different things and a gang of Keflings scurrying about their business.
There's a lot of management that goes on in A Kingdom For Keflings, but it wouldn't be quite accurate to call it a strategy game. There are no enemies waiting in the wings to attack you, there's no timer ticking feverishly away, and there are no real consequences for doing things any particular way (even if you flub a building or component, you can always break it down and recycle its parts). Keflings is more like a city sim crossed with one of those tabletop 3D puzzles your grandparents think you're so fond of. And as such, it works remarkably well.
Like a puzzle, A Kingdom For Keflings is the sort of game best approached in short, concentrated bursts. Much of the gameplay is repetitive and routine, which can grow tiresome after too long at the controls. And as the blueprints balloon in size and the projects become more complex, the thought of starting yet another building can be somewhat overwhelming. But neither of those things are necessarily negatives, because the game seems purposely designed to gently push you away and then pull you back in. After spending an hour or so in Kefling-land, I'd turn it off and do something else for a bit, but my thoughts would eventually roll back around to my ever-growing kingdom. Sooner rather than later, I'd be back to build again. It's the kind of pace rarely set by videogames, and I found it refreshing.But the magical land of the Keflings is not without its troubles, although they are fewer than in the Xbox Live Arcade version. Keflings runs more smoothly (depending on your rig). But the music is a sticky spot. Its acoustic granola stylings are a nice change from the traditional videogame bleeps and bloops, but Keflings's soundtrack begins to seriously grate on the nerves after a while, to the point where you'll soon reach for the Options menu to switch it off. The problem is, once you do, the land of the Keflings is eerily quiet. Despite the fact that there are sheep being sheared, trees being chopped and rocks being chipped into tiny usable bits, you'll rarely hear a sound effect from your little laborers. Keflings may not be much to listen to, but it has a great visual style. The art is whimsical and full of character, and the Keflings, despite their diminutive stature, have a lot of personality. And the gameplay is instantly engaging. Rather than sticking you with a reticule and turning you into a faceless superbeing, NinjaBee puts you in the thick of the action and asks you to get your giant hands dirty. There's no pointing and clicking here.
To get things done, you'll need to head over to a Kefling, pick her up, head over to a resource and then plop her down. And like a good peasant, she'll get straight to work. Then, you must grab her again, walk her over to a processing structure (lumber mill, contractor's office, etc.) and show her where to place the finished product. And like a kitten who's just been shown the litter box for the first time, she'll get the picture and handle things on her own from that point forward.

Closing CommentsEdit

If you’re in the mood for a laid-back game with serious depth, A Kingdom For Keflings is the perfect choice. NinjaBee’s downloadable world-building game is whimsical, humorous, unique and has none of the high-pressure feel of your typical strategy game. Although it has some presentation quirks, Keflings rises above them to achieve a Zen-like quality of pleasant addiction.

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