Forget the king! In Hoard, it’s good to be the dragon.

, | Game reviews

I did a podcast a while ago in which I asserted that you can’t really be a strategy game fan without having a console. As evidence, I brought up all these cool strategy games available only on console systems. Like Age of Booty, Greed Corp, Swords and Soldiers, Risk: Factions, and Hoard. As of yesterday, Hoard was the only one that hadn’t eventually migrated to the PC, making me look more foolish than usual.

Then today rolled around. At which point, Hoard developer Big Sandwich games announced their supercool dragon sim will be available for the PC and Mac on April 4th. And good news for all you hateable Steambabies who whine about waiting until a game is on Steam to get it: it’ll be on Steam.

What’s Hoard?

After the jump, I’m glad you asked.

Here’s the elevator pitch for Hoard: a dragon simulator played from a top-down view for high scores in a dynamic world. Cool, huh?

But Hoard isn’t very fancy. I would say it controls like a twin-stick shooter, even though it’s not paced like that. It’s never about reflexes so much as decisions in real time. Your dragon flies out over a tiny map with the left stick, spitting out a modest gout of flame with the right stick (you PC gamers have gamepads hooked up, right?). Once something is burned up, you gather the gold and bring it back to your lair, where it sort of accrues interest in the form of a multiplier on new deposits. The longer your hoard remains unmolested, the higher the multiplier. Don’t stray too far afield or nasty little thieves will creep in to take some of your loot and reset your multiplier. Now I know how Smaug felt. The real incentive for collecting gold is that once you reach certain thresholds, you get points to spend on upgrades like better fire or faster flying, which makes it easier to gather gold.

The really cool thing about Hoard is that it plays out on a map with a dynamic economy. Farms grown food, which is delivered in carts to cities, which grow bigger and then export goods to castles, which cultivate princesses, who drive out to cities so you can kidnap them en route. As a match progresses, the map grows in unique ways based on what you are or aren’t doing. If you leave one side of the world alone, it will develop thriving cities bristling with defenses, castles manned by powerful knights, and deadly wizard towers. But if you pillage too much on one area, you’ll be stuck with nothing but impoverished villages and meager shipments of grain.

The basic concept reminds me of a simplified version of Holy Invasion of Privacy, the PSP game in which you cultivate a dungeon ecology to kill intruding heroes. But here you’re harvesting the map, striking a balance between letting it grow so you can pillage better treasure and kidnap princesses, but not letting it prosper too much lest knights and archers run rampant.

In single-dragon matches, you play against a time limit trying to get as high a score as possible. But Hoard really comes into its own with other players, either AI or human, where you have to compete for resources (or play co-operatively to collaborate for a high score). With multiple dragons on the map, you can even terrorize towns into sending you their loot automatically, which makes it a prime targets for enemy dragons and changes the dynamics of the map. And lest things go too smoothly, there are magical power-ups, wizard towers with uber-loot, and nearly unstoppable dumb giants blundering around and messing everything up.

In the console version of the game, it’s a bit cramped when you zoom the screen out for multiplayer games with multiple dragons in the same room. But it’s one of those unique multiplayer experiences where you can just suck it up and deal, because you’re playing something unlike anything else. I suspect that won’t be an issue on the PC, where you’ll be playing with your Steam friends. You’ll also be getting a new night mode and a winter tile set (pictured).

Hoard will be out for the PC on April 4th, and it’s available now for the PS3 and next week for the PSP.