We spend lots of time playing games as powerful adventurers, chosen heroes, and the prophesied defeaters of evil. As such, we commonly rub elbows with kings and queens, dukes and lords, and other types of noble folk. Along our heroic paths we might occasionally meet peasants, talk to them, and even help them out from time to time, but mostly we just impatiently sell our collected junk in their shops, steal what we want from their homes, or even thoughtlessly kill them simply because they're standing around and we want to quickly test out a FUS-ROH-DAH or two.
In other words: it's hard out there for a peasant. Now you can see just how hard it is for yourself.
Royals is a rougelike strategy RPG from Asher Vollmer, creator of the ultra-popular Threes app. In Royals, you play as a lowly peasant who dreams of becoming a king or queen. Using simple keyboard controls, you move around the randomized map, engage in activities, and try to stay alive long enough to see your dream of a life of power and influence come to fruition. When you die, your game is over and you start again from scratch.
You begin at the ripe old age of 12 with nothing but your health. Each square of map you explore presents you with a choice of tasks, each task takes a year, and each year deducts one unit of health (you can also rest on certain squares to regain health). Visit a farm and you can work the land for a year, earning money or resources. In a forest you can hunt animals or chop wood. Mountains can be mined, and houses, stores, and inns can be built on empty patches of land. You can also buy existing structures if you've earned enough money, train yourself to be a warrior by serving at a garrison, and attempt to recruit followers who will do your bidding.
There are plenty of violent options as well. You can raid, ransack, or destroy buildings, farms, and mines, but if you haven't accumulated some combat skills you might find yourself battered and bruised with nothing to show for it.
While you're trying to build yourself into a royal, don't forget about the existing royalty, who reside in a castle somewhere on the procedurally generated map. Even when your activities are innocent, and only done with the goal of supporting yourself, they may not be seen that way. Rest in a field to regain health and they may consider it loitering. Hunt in a forest and they may accuse you of poaching. Create a structure and they may consider it empire building, a threat to their own kingdom. Angering the local royalty triggers a patrol that stalks the map, and they may ambush you and cut down some of your health.
Of course, if you deliberately stir up trouble on castle grounds the royals get really bent out of shape and the entire map will fill with patrols.
Royals presents a tricky balancing act, wherein you try to weigh your need for progress, wealth, and materials against your waning health and the ire of your king or queen. It's actually quite tough: every positive result seems to come with a drawback, and one misstep can seriously cut into the progress you've made.
What little and limited success I've had in Royals is by doing everything I can to recruit followers. Once you have some toadies, you can send one to work on a farm, another to spelunk a mine, and another to do more recruiting, which lets you tackle multiple tasks in one turn, leaving you to either pursue another goal or simply rest to regain some health. It's not foolproof, however. A follower I sent into a mine simply got lost and never came back. One I sent on a recruitment mission angered the people he was supposed to enthrall. He didn't come back either. Not only is it hard out there for a peasant, it's hard out there for a peasant's assistant.
Royals is available to download at Vollmer's website under a pay-what-you-want system, or you can try it out for free. It's got an appealing low-fi look and the sounds to match. As Vollmer describes it on his site, it's "an old forgotten game from your youth. you can't find the manual." It certainly feels that way.