The King Is Watching’s free demo turns city building into a brilliant balancing act of feudal surveillance

A watched pot never boils, so they say – ‘they’ presumably all being dead now after having their minds physically melted after hearing the first kettle click in readiness while stubbornly staring in the opposite direction. Yes, yes, it’s a metaphor, but we don’t have time for all that. Your kingdom is under attack by goblins, and the only way to get your useless underlings to chop the wood, till the fields, and train the guards needed to defend it is to provide constant surveillance. The King Is Watching is a minimalist resource-chain-em-up and wave defense goblin-knocker with a brilliant twist. I’m now a little bit obsessed with it, I think, and what is RPS if not a vehicle for chronicling my many fleeting obsessions?

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Like many of these compact concept-driven strategy games do (Slipways, my beloved), The King Is Watching started as an Itch project. “Once you build something, it only works if it is inside your gaze,” is its unique thingamajig. Your ‘gaze’ starts as three squares on a 4×4 tileset, although you can upgrade it for wider gazitude. If a building falls outside your gaze, it doesn’t do anything. I love this concept so much, casting you as a jobsworth supervisor king constantly leering about his kingdom to scare the serfs into quitting munching on their straw sandwiches and get back to work. The gaze limitation makes you consider which sets of buildings you’re going to want active and complimenting each other at any one time.

So, training soldiers takes wheat, so it makes sense to have a defense-ready quadrant with a field and a barracks. Stick a wall-repairing structure in there too, while you’re at it, alongside a mine for the clay you’ll need. Ah, but you’ll also want hardier troops for later waves. But! the training building costs gold, so you’ll want a marketplace to sell wheat…and you can already see how the gaze restriction turns a standard need-and-fulfillment pipeline into a more far more involved and puzzly affair. God save the king’s neck as it relentlessly spins o’er hile and vale in perpetual motion.

Days tick down on a timer, and you’ll be attacked by periodic waves of goblins that try to batter down your stone walls with their fists, plucky shitmunchers that they are. Those first waves take time to arrive, though, and I do sort of wish you could increase game speed from the offset. Locking convenience behind upgrades is a long-standing bugbear of mine, but there’s also a soporific rhythm to the default speed – enhanced by the warped bloops of slightly detuned synths – that’d be undercut if this was the case.

Anyway, you throw in a few optional spendables like increased production for ten seconds, plus a roguelike framing that lets you buy upgrades at the end of each run, and I’m hooked. Well, this hook’s big enough for the both of us, reader. Come hang. Worry about the whole impalment thing later. You can grab the free demo on Steam here. As you can see from the above trailer, the full game looks way more elaborate. Also, the new king’s got a Nigel Thornberry thing going on, so there’s that too.

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