2021 was a strong year for the Australian games industry, with The Artful Escape, Webbed and Unpacking astounding gamers with their imaginative interpretation of gameplay and genre-bending. Now that 2022 has come around, there are new contenders in the Aussie scene, and recently established Developer Henry’s House has made their stand with Kardboard Kings.
As the first game developed by this Melbourne and Perth duo, Kardboard Kings is, first and foremost, a promise for future creative and tightknit games by Henry’s House. In the short runtime of Kardboard Kings, the duo’s expertise in creating effective and addictive gameplay loops, beautiful visual designs and actualising an interesting concept makes me excited for their next (and hopefully bigger) project.
So, what is Kardboard Kings? It is a Card Shop Simulator game based in an Australian seaside town. You play as Harry, a young man who has inherited his father’s rundown and forgotten store ‘Harry’s Card Shop’. The premise is simple, but matters are made complicated when the CEOs of Warlock, the popular card game that everyone wants to buy, and your father’s old buddy Christopher Marlowe start a war for company ownership at your doorstep. Not only do you and your annoying sidekick Giuseppe (a talking yellow-tailed black cockatoo) have to manage this rack and ruin store, but you also must fight off the advances of rich businessmen trying to coax you into their schemes.
The plot sets you up for a mammoth task, however the gameplay is as relaxed as they come. Channelling the laidback nature of seaside Australians, Kardboard Kings takes management simulation to the serene. Each day of card selling is greeted by a grace period before your store opens, where you can buy cards, display those you wish to sell, decorate your store, and check out the news for the coming week. During the day, customers will trickle in wanting to buy cards or ask for help, however the only demanding part of the day is the occasional rush hour, where customers enter the store like a stampede buying out your whole stock.
Management simulations are notoriously overwhelming by expecting you to manage different working parts in a fast-paced environment, and usually once you’re out of the tutorial you’re expected to remember it all. Kardboard Kings administers a different approach to this formula, prioritising accessibility over confounding multi-layered systems. For instance, you’re given a calendar that marks when cards will drop and rise in value, when new stock will arrive and important dates like card-opening parties, tournaments, and discount clearances. Nothing is a surprise in Kardboard Kings, because you can plan around your next week and month through the calendar.
Additionally, each card has its very own graph displaying its worth over time, and equally important red or green colour-coding over its present price to quickly tell you if it’s worth selling the card on that given day. Managing sometimes over 20 or 30 cards is made easy by these small yet effective design choices that allow you to act fast when choosing appropriate cards to sell.
Visual design plays an important role in making information accessible and Kardboard Kings executes this masterfully. For such a small store, Henry’s Card Shop manages to remain uncluttered and spacious. This can be attributed to the slide-out menus on the side of the screen that harbour all your important information. Hovering over them reveals the information you need, but they are otherwise hidden so you have a full view of your shop. To buy cards and decorations, you’re taken to a computer-like screen with easy to navigate categories and a cart function to buy your chosen items, all laid out on a translucent background.
Kardboard Kings is primarily driven by character interactions within your store. Every day one of the quirky cast of characters, from a girl completing a PhD on card games to a wayfaring dog, will ask for help on anything card related. Mechanically, the intention with helping customers is to gain reputation and subsequently have a higher chance of triggering rush hour. They usually ask you to trade, sell or check the worth of cards, however occasionally they will ask you to predict a winning card build. This is made difficult by not knowing how Warlock is played or any parameters that would determine what card build would win. To me, the decision was based on chance as there is no way to determine the stronger deck, which was frustrating when you could control and predict the answer to every other question aimed at you. I ended up losing a lot of reputation from this question alone, which made it harder to progress.
While the characters are well designed and have a wealth of personality, I was often left confused when they mentioned the larger story associated to Kardboard Kings. The story, in general, struggled to set up a clear narrative arc. The inciting incident, marked by a secretive Phantom Mask arriving at your store, was a quick interaction followed by vague mentions of legendary cards, taking over the card game Warlock and an almost random Tournament where, after its completion, the credits rolled. Kardboard Kings sets up a huge overarching plot that has neither the stakes nor the time to explore it in its entirety.
The story, while interesting, felt rushed and therefore unsatisfying due to it being tied up too quickly, leaving unanswered questions and an anti-climatic ending. The clear highlight of Kardboard Kings comes from its tightknit gameplay loops and beginner-friendly management simulation design and mechanics. Kardboard Kings is addictive, relaxing and you’re sure to lose track of time playing this Australian-made game.
If you’re looking for a beginner-level management simulation game, then look no further than Kardboard Kings. With its simple and easy-on-the-eye design, accessibility features and relaxed tone, Kardboard Kings is everything you need for a relaxing afternoon, despite its at times disjointed storyline.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Henry’s House
- Akupara Games
- Februray 11, 2022