Review: Kurukshetra - The Epic War

By Sean Clancy 22 Jan 2013 0
You take the blue die, we go further down the rabbit hole.

It's been said that the scariest thing for a comedian on stage is to make the audience laugh without knowing why. In a similar vein, the scariest—or, maybe, least satisfying—thing for someone playing a game is to win without knowing why. Kurukshetra: The Epic War seems intent on boiling down the strategy-rich broth of an 18-day Indian war to a goopy reduction of dice throwing.

It's a shame that a title with such an eye for pseudo-historical myth does so little with its source material. The Kurukshetra War is a hazily understood ancient conflict between the Kaurava and Pandava over the Kuru kingdom, recounted as part of the Indian epic Mahābhārata. In Kurukshetra: The Epic War, you control the forces of the Pandava, specifically the brothers Yudhishtir, Bheem, Arjun, Nakul, and Sahadev (who were, apparently, all married to the same lady. Doesn't factor into the game but, hey, the more you know).

SEE. Told you.

“Wow!” you might think. “This is better than that fragrance commercial underwear ad body-oil infomercial movie Troy with Brad Pitt.”

And then the battles start. Kurukshetra tasks you with defeating 18 armies and their attendant commanders, sticking with the 18-day timeline of the legendary war. But, unlike Kurukshetra (the war), Kurukshetra (the game) is conducted largely via rolling dice, with the victorious commander being the one better able to.. roll numbers that are higher than other numbers. Epic.

In the ground battle phase of each day, you must construct a force of seven parts, with each part being assigned one of four different units: foot soldiers, cavalry, war elephants, and charioteers. Each unit—rather than having any sort of mechanics-grounded eccentricity which separates it from other units—is simply a stronger version of the unit that precedes it, with strength being a bonus number added to that unit's dice roll. Before the battle, the computer rolls seven standard (d6) die, die the player then assigns to each of their seven units. The enemy do the same with their seven die, both sides add the respective rolls to their respective unit bonuses, fight, and the bigger numbers win. Win four out of seven faceoffs, and you win the battle. (By the way, fighting is represented by lasers shooting out of elephants across the battle field. That one actually is epic.)

Wait wait wait. So... it's just rolling dice, yeah?

After each battle the Pandava brother you chose to field faces off against the enemy commander. These duels rest on three attributes: health, mana, and power. So maybe our warrior Pandava, Bheem, has a power of “10,” and his weapon does 5x damage on critical rolls, while another has a power of “7,” and his weapon does 4x on criticals. Pre-battle, you can assign boosters to attack and healing rolls. These do things such as adding your character's power to all attack rolls and significantly boosting heals. A neat mechanic... that's quickly undone. Boosters are tied to mana, which is easily depleted. Run out of spirit juice before you've finished off a commander with a constant +9 on attack, and you'll literally be unable to beat them on standard rolls. See, that's the thing with d6. It only goes to six.

But, all is not lost, for you have an extra die which your opponent doesn't: the weapon die. Roll the weapon that your chosen warrior is proficient with, and you'll do critical damage which far outpaces the crits opposing generals can roll. Even better, you can roll criticals even while using heal die, which means you can deal no-risk damage to enemies.

See where this is going? Like in the field battles, there's a most effective, least interesting strategy for commander battles. Just continually roll the heal die, boosting your own health while your opponent boosts theirs, but with the added bonus that you can potentially deal damage to your enemy, while they can't. You have the advantage, over time. Key word: over time. Because you might be sitting there rolling that heal die for a while.

Boys, that stuff is going to play hell with your roots.

There are a host of other issues with Kurukshetra: The Epic War, a laundry list of missing features that could have added depth and real strategy. Things like out-of-battle healing, unit variety, and so on. But the real issue with this game that's so promising, theme-wise, is the fact that it makes something as natural to gaming as dice rolling alien. People have been playing simple dice games for ages. There's nothing wrong with simple dice games. Kurukshetra: The Epic War is a simple dice game, but one where you roll wearing thick woolen gloves, with your hand hidden inside a box. Sure, every time you lift that box the numbers are the same as if it hadn't been there at all. But that begs the question: why the box? For my time, that'd better be one hell of a box.

Review: Kurukshetra - The Epic War

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