Developer: Big Sandwich Games / Publisher: Big Sandwich Games / Played on: PC / Price: $9.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Fantasy Violence]
Hoard is all about a dragon that collects gold. Why a dragon wants gold is beyond me. Maybe he’s saving for an iPad 2 or a pair of those limited edition Nike Air Force Ones.
Taking control of this greedy tyrant, your mission is simply to amass as much cash as you can within a time limit by burning villages or smashing gold carts to smithereens, kidnapping princesses for ransom, and causing all-round havoc and fear while pesky humans do what they can to swat you out of the sky.
To win you must scavange enough gold to gain a medal within the time limit (usually 10 minutes) and, more importantly, rake in more gold than your opponent dragon (either CPU or human controlled).
At its core, Hoard is a simple-looking but surprisingly deep strategy rush game where every second and every move you make counts towards winning or losing.
The controls are essentially twin-analogue shooter-style. If you have an Xbox controller plugged in the left stick controls movement while the other directs your flame breath. Using a mouse and keyboard, the usual ‘WASD’ keys direct movement while the mouse controls the flaming breath.
You take collected gold to a base where it counts towards your score. As you burn up villages you’re attacked by archers and knights seeking to protect their kingdom. If they manage to deplete your health you’ll drop all the gold you’re carrying and be forced back to base to heal, wasting valuable time, and, more crucially, resetting your score multiplier.
The multiplier increases over time, doubling and eventually tripling any gold you bring back to base. Preserving this is vital to earning the best scores so, although there’s no ‘game over’ through taking damage, you really don’t want to run out of health. Your multiplier can also be reset by thieves who frequently attempt to raid your base, forcing you to go on the defensive.
Those are the basics, and are not particularly inspiring, but from here the game layers on a number of deeper mechanics that make for a more compelling strategy game.
Gold you collect also earns you stat points that can be spent on upgrading your dragon’s health, speed, gold carry limit, or flame breath, forcing you to think carefully about how you want to configure your flying beast.
Villages grow over time, creating more gold carts that transport riches between towns in the level. Although it’s tempting to storm into villages at the earliest opportunity and wreck everything, it’s often better to hold off and let them develop so that they’ll produce more of those lovely gold carts that carry far more money than buildings.
You can also scare villages into giving you money by only partially destroying them. Villages that fear you have your logo above them and ship gold carts directly to your base. In multiplayer (or multi-dragon) modes this is the basis for a constant base-capture battle, because other dragons can scare villages into giving them money instead.
You’ll also occasionally see princesses riding in their fancy chariots. Destroy their cart and you can take the princess back to base. Fight off the pursuing knights long enough to get a ransom and you’ll cash in big time, but knights can be tough and often require more strategy to defeat. Do you take out the knights before grabbing the princess? Do you leave princesses alone until you have a flame power-up, which appear in the level at regular intervals, giving you a better fighting chance?
Giants also appear, stomping around, wrecking buildings at random. You don’t want them to destroy villages sending you cash, but killing them isn’t the only option. You can attack giants, luring them in your direction and, if you’re clever, towards towns supplying opponent dragons.
Everything we’ve talked about so far makes for a pretty entertaining, chaotic strategy game. The core gameplay is good. But other areas let the game down somewhat. The biggest omission is a persistent single-player campaign. There’s no story or quest and each level is simply a self-contained score attack mission. This is further (and rather annoyingly) reinforced by the game’s insistence that you return to the main menu after each level, forcing you to re-enter single-player and choose a level to play.
Even leveling-up your dragon only counts for one mission; all your stats are returned to zero at the start of each level.
A few other modes change things up slightly: Princess Rush mode has you focusing solely on kidnapping, Hoard mode has you fighting to survive intense attack waves for as long as you can (grabbing princesses to heal), and Co-op mode has you work with other dragons to amass huge scores within a time limit. But none are different enough to provide any real variety.
The game suffers some odd glitches too, particularly the appearance of what looks like debug code – random letters and numbers – flickering on the screen, which is terrible for a retail product. The visuals are bland and without any real flair or special effects, the user interface is cheap-looking (like a $.99 iPhone game) and there’s no speech or particularly impressive sound.
It has its faults, the lack of a campaign one of the biggest. And it certainly looks and sounds like a low-budget title (which I guess isn’t such a surprise for 10 bucks).
On the plus side, every mode in the game is playable in multiplayer as well as offline (with up to three other dragons), and it seems like the game was geared towards multiplayer play. Facing off against other humans is definitely where the real fun lies.
Hoard is essentially a no-frills score attack game with base-capture, twin-analogue shooter and real-time strategy elements all rolled into one. Its lacking content and technical niggles give it a cheap, rushed feel, yet it still manages to provide a surprisingly carrot-on-a-stick, addictive experience with just the right level of complexity for its 10-minute missions.
6 / 10