Challenge can be overrated. Not every game needs to be a struggle against overwhelming odds, or even a delicate balancing act involving the careful management of limited resources. Sometimes it's nice to just kick back, relax, and build a little world. A Kingdom for Keflings lets you do just that, and it's almost scary how it makes the hours disappear.
The Keflings are a good-natured race of people living on a secluded plain. They could use a bit of help getting their civilization built up from a small workshop supporting a handful of people, and that's where you (yes, You!) come in. While there are several pre-built characters to play as, A Kingdom for Keflings is the first game to allow direct control of the 360's avatars, letting your creation run itself ragged. Your avatar is a giant in the Keflings' world, and they rely on you to direct them in harvesting resources, turning those resources into buildings, and adding some decorations to the place while you're at it.
Eventually the village will grow into a town, complete with a mayor who hands out mini quests such as "Bring 50 gems to the Contractor's Office" or "Kick several Keflings." Completing these quests earns items that increase the giant's stats or the Keflings' speed, but the best reward is the ability to build another house for the two Keflings it produces. While on the surface it looks like there are four resources of wood, rock, crystal and wool, there's actually only one thing that needs to be managed and that's labor.
The giant can do everything a Kefling can and do it better and faster, but the volume of materials needed to build new toys means that the Keflings need to do their part. Harvesting resources is just the start, because they need to be in the right place to be of any use. Early buildings require logs, for example, but later on those logs need to be sent through the lumber mill to be turned into boards, and the last several buildings need the boards taken to the woodcarver to become, appropriately enough, carved wood. The final produce then has to be taken to the proper building, because different suppliers create different rooms that, when placed according to a blueprint's plan, turn into buildings.
Buildings are more than just a collection of rooms, however. A sawmill is no good without a Kefling to run it, and the population is limited. Each Kefling assigned to a building is one less available to either harvest or transport resources, leaving the giant to schlep the bulk of the goods from point A to point B unless some careful town planning is applied. It's fun to see an efficient town in action, but not so much being a powerful giant pack mule.
Eventually the town will grow to a city, complete with a keep and eventually a castle, and that's the point at which the Keflings' kingdom starts falling apart. The problem is that the early game is lively, filled with Keflings scurrying across the landscape as you build and manage the town's growth, but just past the halfway mark life slowly begins to drain away. Newer buildings just sit there, doing little more than providing decoration and a few extra points to the final score, and the (roughly) eight Keflings that comprise the work force throughout the game aren't enough to make the town feel alive. What's the point of building an arena or cathedral if people you're building it for don't care? The progress that makes the early half so addicting turns into busywork, and that's nowhere near as rewarding.
By the time this starts to become obvious, however, A Kingdom for Keflings is nearing its end, so it doesn't take a lot of pushing on to see it to completion. Once the castle is complete it's pretty much over, although it's possible to keep playing in the town forever, decorating and rearranging the buildings to your heart's content. Once the finishing touches are in place, however, there's no driving force to keep playing, and the map layout is the same every game so there's not a lot of replay value. Still, while it lasts, A Kingdom for Keflings is a relaxing bout of stress-free town building, and it's smart enough to end before descending into tedium. There are games with 100x the budget that would do well to take notes on that feature.