Kardboard Kings | Review | PC

  • Developer: Henry’s House
  • Publisher: Akupara Games
  • Release Date: 10/2/2022
  • Price: £15.49 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by Akupara Games

Introducing: Kardboard Kings Review

I have been a fan of Magic: The Gathering for a number of years. When I first started playing, I had drive two or three towns over during school holidays. This is because the local “stores” were nothing more than market stalls, open on specific weekdays. I’d frequently trade cards with friends, but the idea of a card “economy” was further from my mind than my ability to purchase one of the power 9 in 2022.

When I got back into the game for the third time a decade ago, the scene had changed so much. Local stores are now, thankfully, in greater numbers and with greater hours. Kardboard Kings takes this premise and gives you the chance to run your own local game store. Combining the thrill and community of trading cards with the fun of a business management simulator. But, how does it play? Is it a Jewelled Lotus or does it have all the charms of a Zephyr Spirit? Lets shuffle up, roll for first, and dive right in!

Untap, Upkeep, Draw

No Mother’s day cards here

Kardboard Kings is a bit of a strange type of simulation game. The premise combines ideas from business management, card games and even stock market simulation. To really explain what the game is about it’s probably better to talk about the story.

You inherit your father’s card game store. Every day you buy in trading cards from various sources and sell them to customers. The price of those cards change based on various market facts. A celebrity proclaims a love of a certain card type, demand increases. The company that make the game ban a certain card, demand decreases. This cycle continues as you play through a wider story of art versus corporate greed.

For anyone familiar with collectible card games, the obvious parodies with Magic: The Gathering will be apparent. There are a lot of nods to the massively popular franchise, but the game also feels like it is trying to deliver a message or commentary about the future of the game. More on that later.

First Main Phase

Ripping packs / envelopes is SOOOO satisfying!

The game focuses itself around the collectible card game “Warlock”. The game is the brainchild of one man, a friend of your father, and has quickly gained popularity. Now owned by a larger corporate entity, the game has celebrity players and seasoned pros who are celebrities in their own right. The popularity of the game obviously creates a demand for cards, but people don’t want to purchase booster packs from you, they just buy singles.

The main mechanics feel more like a stock market simulation. You buy cards low and sell them high. Each day you are able to access the news and see what factors might affect sales down the road and adjust your practices accordingly. Do you hold onto that chase rare for a few days? Do you cut your losses in order to buy some stock and start again? Is it worth it to buy some damaged stock? Each morning you have a different number of stores to purchase from. Most of these are different types of card store but there are some where you can buy furniture or decorations.

Each day you will be greeted by a mixture of customers and NPCs. Interacting with these characters will unlock further dialogue and your choices will affect your reputation. Obviously the more popular you are the better your store does overall. You gain reputation by being knowledgeable about the game and it’s cards and giving your customers a good deal. There are also telephone orders that come in whereby the choice of card you send them can help both your reputation and your bottom line.

Into Combat

Buy Low, Sell High!

I think I’ve managed to convey that this game is hard to describe. Taking the core of the game, there is plenty here to keep you busy, but the game never feels overwhelming, creating a relaxed experience akin to Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. There are event days like new set release, clearance days, and the like to break up the day to day and prevent it becoming monotonous. Each day even has the chance of developing a rush hour.

The NPCs all fit into fairly traditional stereotypes. From characters who don’t understand the collectible nature of cardboard, to the young kid wanting internet stardom. There is even the comic relief of a card playing dog and your mentor being a talking crow!

The game itself plays in a really relaxing manner. It felt quite difficult to fail and because of that the tone took on a more relaxing feel. I wasn’t worried of getting sacked or losing the store for example. I still wanted to make a profit, but there didn’t feel any real risk. There is the ability to do well or do badly, but no massive incentive to stress over performance.

Gameplay

Buy all the things!

The game is a fun, relaxing title. A great one to pick up when you want something to play in between more complex titles as it is possible to dip in and out fairly easily. The relaxing nature also means you are more likely to just “play one more day” and thus get sucked into the same kind of relaxing addiction that life sim games provide.

The game’s main mechanic is fairly simple to anyone who is familiar with card games. Rarer cards and foil / shiny cards command more money than uncommon or commons and there are three different card types with a rock-paper-scissors-like trump system. Finally damaged cards command the least fee, but might still be worth owning.

Where the game lets itself down though is what makes it fun also makes it short lived. Card values are clearly displayed and any potential changes to value are highlighted in your calendar so it is relatively easy to plan our your buying and selling. There are also perks which can effect card price, your reputation, or just make people buy certain cards, but there is no expansion of the store or a way to improve your purchasing power. This means once you’ve picked up the basics, there’s little left to learn or challenge you.

Second Main Phase

Gotta Catch… well you get the idea!

The game is really nice to look at. The art on the cards has been well thought out to provide a simplistic look with detailed art. The different styles of the sets also gives a nice artistic dynamic, even if the gameplay mechanics don’t change. There are obvious call outs to a wide variety of card games and other pop culture references. The in game sprites are an interesting mix of simple pixelated models and gorgeous hand drawn assets.

Musically, the background is pretty Lo-Fi with tunes that are pleasant without being too memorable. They fit in well and don’t make you want to play with your headphones in, but at the same time its entirely possible to mute the game and listen to your favourite podcast or audiobook while wheeling and dealing.

In terms of the story, Kardboard Kings has one. The problem is it feels more like an opinion piece with a story loosely draped over it. The story focuses on the original creator of Warlock and his regret at selling the game to a large corporate entity who are more concerned with profits than play. The other main issue with the story is that it ends rather abruptly and feels like an “episode 1 of..” This was made more obvious by the abrupt end the main game has. Whilst you can still continue, it took me a while to realise that that was it.

This is compounded by the rather shallow character development. The characters themselves are full of quirk and charm, which makes them likeable. The issue is that once you work through their dialogue they go through the “NPC repeat.” The relationship between your character and npcs is superficially explored and the only real character development occurs with the game’s creator.

Endstep

The art style for each set is different and well thought out

Kardboard Kings is a great game to play. Anyone who is a fan of collectible card games and particularly Magic: The Gathering will love the clear references and nods to the franchise. Fans of business and stock management sims will also enjoy the mechanics. The latter however, may find the game a tad on the easy side and more of a “lite” title. However, where the game shines is in its relaxing nature that encourages the “just one more day” in all of us. This addictive quality combined with gorgeous art and chilled atmospheric soundtrack creates a fantastic title that is just begging to be expanded with DLC.