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Wednesday, May 02, 2007


”The king of Cats”  Kissie!!! by rubyran from flickr (CC-BY)Long time ago, before Web 2.0, before Web 1.0 even, there was a computer game "Kingmaker", closely based on a board game with the same name. Out of nostalgia I wanted to try it out again, a decade later.

The first impression - abandonware websites are not what they used to be. The download links often don't work, and one of the website was bold enough to require you to comment spam some blog with link to them before it would let you download. One spam per downloaded file (a few MBs). And even then the only way to download is using their download manager program, possibly infested with some spyware.

Using a trivial "workaround" of creating an html file with link to them and deleting it immedately afterwards I got Kingmaker zip, badly scanned manual, and something that claimed to be "a crack", but didn't really do anything.

The game worked fine in a dosbox. To start it typed dosbox -c 'mount c ~/kingmaker', then c:, and finally king. The correct sound settings from the startup menu were "Adlib/Sound Blaster" and "No Speech". I don't really remember if speech worked in the original version, but it doesn't in the dosbox, and it's not really important for the gameplay anyway.

In the default settings dosbox uses very little CPU, and the game is slow. Pressing Ctrl-F12 a few times tells it to use more CPU, Ctrl-F11 to use less, Alt-Enter to toggle fullscreen mode, and Ctrl-F10 to release the mouse - normally once the mouse is captured it stays in the dosbox. That's all I needed to learn about dosbox.

The game

In the game the human player and between 1 to 5 computer players control factions in War of the Roses (1455 - 1487), each trying to get their royal heir crowned, and all other eliminated. The rolay heirs are merely puppets here, the faction can change their mind about who has the most rightful claim as often as they wish.

First, a few gameplay tips.
  • When fighting a battle, it's usually better to control manually than to let computer decide the outcome. That's true for pretty much every game where there is such a choice. In manually controlled battles there are no stalemates, and your nobles won't risk their lives when fighting against much smaller enemy armies. You also have a change of winning with a somewhat smaller force - in computer-controlled battles the only possible outcomes are "bigger force wins", and "stalemate" (plus a small chance of each noble dying). You should only let computer decide when you have no chance anyway, and want a chance of killing some enemies or saving your army by a stalemate.
  • When you control the only king (or Chancellor if there are 2 or no kings), you can summon the Parliament. This can easily win the game - you can give your nobles a lot of titles and offices, and force enemies to come to the Parliament, even if they're hiding in Ireland or Calais. If there are too many titles and offices, give some of them to the least important enemy nobles.
  • The easy win strategy is grabbing any royal heir, keeping them safely somewhere, and hunting small enemy nobles. You will gradually grow in power, while others will keep fighting each other. Just keep harassing others and keep your nobles safe.
  • You can move mercenaries between nobles at any time. Just move them each turn to wherever they're most needed. You can move bishops too - if you have a crownable heir somewhere and need to crown them, just reattach bishops to the right noble. And you can move ships, but that's just to
  • If your nobles are captured in battle, computer will sometimes demand ransom. Usually the ransom isn't high, so just accept it. You can demand ransom too, but it's safer to execute them all.
  • In basic plague mode stay in castles not cities, to avoid plagues. In advanced plague mode move away from infected area.
  • In advanced weather mode if you get "severe storms, movement restricted", you cannot fight, so don't even bother. Computer doesn't seem to know about it.
  • Don't bother conquering random castles and cities. The chance of your nobles dying is much greater than the benefit. Conquer only if there is something inside (heir or enemies), or you have some use for the castle/city.
  • If there are many factions, the resource stack is going to become empty. Lost titles and offices do not get back to the stack (they can only be given by the Parliament), only nobles, bishops, and soldiers do. If the stack is empty, and one noble dies in your turn (killed by you, or by enemy), you will get them. So you can safely take 10-troop noble and attack (computer control) a big enemy army. Either they die and you get them back anyway, or they die and kill someone in process, and you might get that someone. Or you can attack small enemy nobles with your big armies (manual control) - you will get whoever you killed.
The biggest problem with the game are long periods during which nothing happens. After initial chaotic phase all factions consolidate their armies, keep their heirs safe somewhere, and everybody is waiting for some random event to tip the balance. It can take half an hour, and then suddenly something happens and the game is over. AI is not too smart, for one it never summons the Parliament. The interface is a bit annoying, especially for splitting armies and for Parliament, but not much more so than in other old games.


The game contains an unusual DRM. You are shown a picture of some location, and have to look it up it the manual and type. The locations are (by page, some pages contain no picture):
  • 7 ASHBY
  • 9 BATH
  • 11 BELVOIR
  • 12 BRISTOL
  • 15 CAISTER
  • 17 CARDIFF
  • 20 CHESTER
  • 22 CHIRK
  • 25 CONWAY
  • 26 CORFE
  • 28 DOVER
  • 30 HARLECH
  • 36 LEEDS
  • 38 LINCOLN
  • 39 LONDON
  • 40 LUDLOW
  • 41 NORWICH
  • 44 OXFORD
  • 46 RABY
  • 50 ST.ALBANS
  • 52 ST.DAVID'S
  • 57 WARWICK
  • 59 WELLS
  • 60 WINDSOR
  • 62 YORK
The pictures in the scanned manual which is available online are big black blobs, so you can't use them. The only easy way I found was starting up a second instance of Kingmaker and checking all possible answers there (the game gives an 11-page range, so it's not that bad). You have to go through this only once - then simply don't quit the program.

One could also make a lot of screenshots and automatically extract the pictures, but I was too lazy for that.

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