Back in the days of treasure houses, harems, knights of the realm, and 30-course dinners with spit-roasted pigs, it was great fun to be a king.

It was all about being numero uno, so even though your life would be cut short by your bastard younger brother, you experience enough pleasure during those brief days that it was worth it. Especially in comparison to the deadly short lives of the serfs, child-bearing women, and children.

Now, however, to run a kingdom you need to be a lawyer like Obama, a PR man like Cameron, or an engineer like all those Chinese apparatchiks.

Basically it's repetitive, not much fun, and by the end, everyone dislikes you, which is somewhat like playing CastleCraft.

One stone at a time

I've been playing CastleCraft on a daily basis, and while there's always something new to do, it's not always interesting work.

Download the free app (currently only for iPad, with an iPhone version due soon) and you get to choose the name of your city and select a server on which to play. You can switch around, but an emptier one is best as it gives you more access to the natural resources that will speed your kingdom's rise.

Resources are Gold (found in mountains), Wood (forests) and Dragon Crystals (fallen meteors). You can also gain the first two by building and levelling up gold mines and lumber mills within your city. The other vital resource - food for your population - is harvested from farms.

Dragon Crystals can be gained by attacking meteor craters or spending real money (50 for 99c, 1500 for $20). Crystals are the game's currency, required to speed up building and upgrades, as well as for some building units and upgrades.

Will to power

When you start off your kingdom, things are bleak. All you have is a castle and a wall, surrounded by 29 empty plots for buildings. That's the most you can have in any one kingdom, which, if nothing else, provides the drive to expand.

Growth begins with the building of resource-collecting units, followed by residences for your people. A blacksmith, barracks, church, academy, stables, and other exotic buildings come as fast as your slowly regenerating resources allow.

Aiding you are quest helpers, one for each of the military, magical, and core gameplay strands. Despite offer quests rewarding you with resources when completed, they don't provide the game with much structure. Nor can you specialise in any single strand, as you pretty much have to have at least one of each of the 16 building types, levelling them up at roughly the same pace to get to the next stage.

Of course, this sort of technology tree progression is a staple of management games, but the lack of customisation means in this case it often feels more like a grind rather than a choice.

The artwork, a matte painted 2D background with some animated items such as birds and a dragon (getting a dragon roost is a highlight), provides eye candy, but after a few hours it's static and colourless compared to the likes of similar games such as We Rule and GodFinger.

Be my friend

The most surprising omission isn't the levelling up processes, but the game's lack of sociability.

From your city map, you can toggle to see the rest of the server world within which you reside. At the start, there are few other cities scattered around, alongside forests and mountains. Over time they expand, just as you do, and draw from the global bank of resources.

Yet interactions between players are not sophisticated. You can scout and attack them, message them, and ask them to become friends. There's also a real-time chat option - useful for quick queries - but the process of setting up big server-wide battles isn't well defined.

The main reason CastleCraft doesn't sparkle in terms of its social aspects is the Alliance system. This provides the ability for you to create large scale groups and all-out-battles.

Anyone can set up an alliance (at a cost of Dragon Crystals), but you can only be in one at a time. An alliance leader has to actively invite you to join his alliance, which makes it hard to get one off the ground unless you already know a lot of players not yet embedded into an alliance.

Be my enemy

While it could have just been me, I felt like a bad man when for the sake of the experience I attacked a couple of cities just to see what the process was.

Typical stone-paper-scissors mechanics operate between units - cavalry versus pikemen versus archers, etc. - plus there are support troops in terms of mages and priests. In the end, you just send out everything you've got.

Battles are graphically disappointing. They play out as a small animated scene of two cities going up in flames, with the real action shown via each side's slowly declining force bar. There are no tactical options in terms of what you do with your army, and little celebration if you win.

All-in-all, then, CastleCraft boils down to what effectively feels like a single-player resource collection and levelling up game, with the potential of wider social gameplay, which may or may not develop into something substantial in the future.

At the moment, though, it's hard to get very enthusiastic about it: a bit like running a country in the midst of an economic crisis.

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