shotgun king looks deceptively simple and silly on the surface: take the king out of the so-called game of kings and replace his armies with a boomstick. The funny premise belies an extremely addictive turn-based roguelike, one of the best to come out in recent times.
The black king of the chessboard managed to alienate all of his army pieces, causing them to switch sides. With no other option, he takes a Royal Shotgun and swears bloody revenge on the White King and his traitorous subjects.
Each stage features a chessboard with increasingly difficult layouts of enemy pieces for the king to navigate, with the ultimate goal of, what else, eliminating the opposing king. The player’s king can move one space in all directions each turn or aim with his trusty shotgun. The shotgun follows typical video game rules, being more effective in close-up, but having a spread in distant shots, which allows you to cut multiple enemies with less damage.
At the end of each stage, you can choose between two mutually exclusive upgrades, each strengthening the king and opposing team in different ways. You can choose between a valuable +2 range boost combined with a modifier that strengthens enemy pawns, versus a fixed damage boost tied to a modifier that spawns additional turrets, for example.
It seems strange to compare this adaptation of chess to other video games, but the action reminds me more of Subset’s Into the Breach or Firaxis’ new XCOM games. Shotgun King has that same kind of Oh shit The moment you realize you’ve cornered yourself, the AI is about to end a successful run and you know you have no one to blame but yourself. Traditional chess pieces also give the game a healthy variety of enemies, as well as a way to gradually increase the difficulty, introducing more and more rooks, knights, and queens.
I also have to go out of my way to highlight the Shotgun King’s titular weapon. Video game shotguns are a venerable art form at this point, and Shotgun King’s is a standout example, even through its low-fidelity presentation. It has a tall, cracked replica and satisfyingly rips its opponents apart.
Shotgun King came out of a 72-hour game jam, and this version is available as a free demo on both itch.io and Steam. Developer Punkcake Déliceaux has also expanded it into a larger game, available now for $6 on itch.io and released May 12 on Steam.
Punkcake also has Patreon where it is trying to release a new game every month, with Shotgun King as its most recent production. The team also released the cozy mushroom builder Shroomchitecht and card-based Civilization-like Race to the Ages so far this year. The developers at Punkcake have set a pretty breakneck pace for themselves, but have managed to deliver some charming and impressive little games.