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King of Dragon Pass comes to IOS

WOW. Now here’s one that I didn’t expect.

A-Sharp’s cult classic 1999 PC game King of Dragon Pass has turned up on the App Store. If you’ve never played it and are remotely interested in RPGs, Civilization-style games, or even management games like Game Dev Story, you should really take a look at this amazing title. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever played.

Based on the Glorantha setting that has framed a number of tabletop RPGs and board games (RuneQuest and Dragon Pass among them), the game puts you in charge of a small clan of sort of Nordic-ish people all the way from their prehistory during the time of the gods up until you start coalescing power and building tribes with other clans. Along the way, logistical and administrative matters will take up most of your time, as will dealing with over 500 random events that require you to actually roleplay and make meaningful political, moral, and spiritual decisions that may have repercussions or effects that may not be apparent until many years down the road.

What’s really compelling about this game to me, other than the incredibly detailed game-signficant lore that you actually need to read to play the game, is that there is zero visible action in the game, as well as zero numbers. You will never see a screen that tells you what numerical effect a blessing from a particular god has, and you will never be able to min/max your way to the most efficient clan. All of that is backended in favor of a rich, narrative storytelling presentation. Everything that happens is accompanied by well-written text and hand-drawn artwork- no floating numbers or DPS values. No paper doll equipment screens. It feels much more like an actual role playing game than most that claim that classification.

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It’s very, very complex, menu-driven, and opaque so be prepared. There’s not a casual bone in its body. Yet, despite pages and pages of must-read manual material and help screens, it works extremely well as an IOS game. It’s completely turn-based, and it’s easy to tap the icon, make a couple of decisions and shift some things around, and put it away until later. But that’s hard to do, I find myself very much falling into the “one more turn” trap. Particularly since I’m re-learning the game and experimenting a lot.

It’s $9.99, but this game is worth a hundred “Profit Bird” titles you’ll play for ten minutes before moving on. This is the rare IOS game that you can really sink your teeth into. What are you waiting for?

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

12 thoughts to “King of Dragon Pass comes to IOS”

  1. As a fond fan of the original game (which was pretty much a dream come true to me when it was released) I was totally shaked (really) when I glimpsed this popping up out of nowhere yesterday.

    Again, thank you for the comments on the interface, Michael, as I had concerns and refrained from a compulsive purchase for… a few hours that have seemed like an eternity!

  2. They did really well porting it to the iPhone, and I don’t feel like the small screen is much of a liability. Since it’s all menus, touch works just fine and it’s pretty clear to see hotspots, and the organization of the content is exceptionally well done- with one exception. I don’t like that the “more info” explanation of each screen is actually one screen away, you’ve got to go back to the main screen to see the info about the particular screen you’re looking at. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see that changed in an update.

    I’ve very rarely made an input mistake, but I did cheese off the ducks once by accident.

  3. Totally. Greg Stafford, the guy that started Chaosium (Call of Cthulhu and others), created Glorantha and did a wargame set in it called White Bear, Red Moon. Dragon Pass is Avalon Hill’s 1981 reprint of White Bear, Red Moon. AH also printed most of the RuneQuest stuff I think into the 1990s. There’s also another Glorantha AH game called Nomad Gods.

    King of Dragon Pass isn’t a port of either of those, but it’s the same setting, world, and concepts involved.

  4. I know the lineage, that’s why I was asking. So, it sounds like no, the two games are not related… as games, just as setting.

    I’ll still need to look around for the old version (sorry, but I probably won’t get around to an iOS device for a couple years), still sounds like it could be interesting.

  5. After spending 2 hours of a great time, playing with this version, I totally agree with you: the interface is really, really awesome, and even improved in some respects. Excepting for that one time when I wrongly fingered Orlanth as the god to sacrifice to for curse casting, and there was no-way to turn it back (but it must have been his influence which dictated we slaughtered a few cows to the Swiss army knife of the gods).

    What a wonderful game.

    I was also under the impression, during the clan setup steps, that there were quite a few more options than before. Or my faded memories might be betraying me.

  6. Ah, I see…I’m not a pedant, I swear!

    You can actually still buy the PC game direct from A Sharp. It’s a $20 download, and I think they send you a disc too.

  7. I generally don’t get wrapped up in such things, but it really wasn’t the question I had meant to ask….

    Oooh… disk. Yum. I’ll have to look into it next paycheck.

  8. No comment relating to the content of the post, just wanted to remark that the duck in the image is very menacing. And creeping me out. Think I might have some duck nightmares.

  9. I actually bought a copy from A-Sharp, it’s a woefully unappreciated indie title from before that was a potentially lucrative business.

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