I've always found tabletop RPGs to be fiddly and frustrating, but For the King, a virtual tabletop game which was explicitly designed to be played in co-op, managed to break through all that and introduce me and my friends to a compelling world filled with fun challenges and approachable rules. It's D&D for people who are put off by the scale and setup of D&D, and now's the perfect time to play it - not just because everyone is stuck at home, but also because it's free (to keep!) on the Epic Games Store until Thursday, April 30.
For the King is a three-player RPG played on a hexagonal grid. Everything is turn-based, so everyone moves in order both on the board and in combat. The bones of the game will feel familiar if you've played D&D or any of its successors - similar stats, stat checks, status effects, and so on. You roll to move, spend your action points looting, attacking, interacting with NPCs, or using skills, and then pass the turn when you're ready.
The foundation is rock solid, and the minimalist art is a great fit, but where For the King really shines is in its pacing and replayability. It has multiple campaigns featuring wildly different maps and enemies, and all of these campaigns can be cleared in a few hours. And while each one always uses the same themes and elements, individual runs are randomly generated. You can play the same campaign 10 times and never have the exact same experience, and encountering bosses, quests, dungeons, or towns in different orders can totally change the way and rate you progress.
Just one more run
Sequential campaigns are also spiced up by new items, bonuses, and classes. You earn lore points by clearing in-game challenges, and you can spend those points in the Lore Store to unlock new features for your next run. Unlocking a new class can totally transform your play style, and adding new weapons to the loot pool makes dungeons way more enticing. It's fun to unlock and play classes that complement your friends' choices, and it's hugely satisfying to have your life saved by a clutch feature you unlocked in your last run.
The Lore Store not only keeps the game fresh, but it also gives it that compelling roguelike loop of progressing through death. For the King is a tough game on any difficulty, and like Risk of Rain 2- which you should also be playing - it gets harder the longer your run goes on. You can mitigate late-game consequences through smart play, but the timer is always ticking. You're going to die a lot, especially in the beginning. But because you're always unlocking new stuff in the Lore Store, deaths and failed runs never feel pointless. If I make a mistake and get wiped out early, I'm not put off by the idea of starting over. I know it won't take me long to get back where I was, and I know I'll have more options on my next attempt.
For the King's short campaigns and high replayability make it perfect for game night, and to top it off, it's super easy to get into. I've played plenty of RPGs and roguelikes in my day, but very few tabletop games, and even I was able to pick up the rules and strategies very quickly. The bulk of the learning curve is tied to gauging your party's strength and mitigating risk whenever possible, and experience is the only teacher here. Sometimes you just have to touch a hot pan to learn that pans are hot, and between booby traps, ambushes, mini-bosses, and devastating curses, For the King is overflowing with opportunities to screw up.
As you can probably imagine, this makes for some laugh-out-loud funny moments when playing with friends, like when your friend strikes out on his own to "get a few more gold" only to get mauled to death by owlbears while you watch, cackling from afar. So if you're looking for a fast, fun tabletop game you can play while still following social distancing guidelines, you owe it to yourself to play For the King, especially while it's free.