AKA, “Banished meets Slay the Spire” (the devs’ terrible description)
AKA, the other game with Beaver-people
AKA, a game to taunt both EA and EGS haters with!
AKA, the procgen builder that isn’t trying to be another Dwarf Fortress
AKA, “Hey, guys? What if Frostpunk, but rainy?”
AKA, the most innovative city-builder since… well, probably Frostpunk again
AKA, the game most likely to make you say “Just one more city”
AKA, the best use for that Epic coupon you have (assuming you already have Beast Breaker)
I got this game over the holidays and enjoyed it but also got a bit frustrated by it. Then I played it this weekend, started winning consistently (as opposed to getting stuck in what I thought were impossible dead ends (but probably weren’t)), and fell hard for it.
In this game, your Queen sends you out repeatedly into the stormy wilderness with a crew of humans, beaverfolk, and lizardfolk to establish settlements that can survive long enough to feed the capital city with some of the resources it needs.
Each trip out goes to a unique randomly generated forest. By clearing out the forest around your starting space, you open up new clearings. These might have new resource pools, farmable land, caches to unlock, or in some cases, dangerous challenges that attack some aspect of your town until they’re dealt with. To gather resources, farm the land, or deal with events, you assign your workers to work slots. New workers show up regularly (right after the also regular Blightstorms that erode your workers’ morale and tests your supplies of housing and clothing).
It’s not just the terrain that’s random in each session. The queen offers you choices of goals to complete, with a wide assortment of individual objectives. Similarly, she gives you a choice of new building blueprints as the start of the session and after each goal is completed. That means in each game, the buildings you’ll have available to you will differ.
Which is both what’s cool about the game and potentially frustrating–at least until you get used to it. If the queen doesn’t offer you a Tavern… well, then maybe avoid taking the goals that have to do with keeping your populace happy. This need to stay on your toes and make parallel choices of goals and blueprints is what makes the game feel a bit like an RTS or some Euro board games: You can’t follow the same build order every time; you have to learn to be reactive to the moment’s specific circumstances.
It may be hard to imagine a city-builder where you don’t get half the buildings available. The way AtS makes this work is that buildings make multiple things, and their uses overlap. You can make Planks from Wood at a Crude Workstation, a Carpentry, or a Lumber Mill. But the latter requires less wood to make more planks. It also produces tools and (a little head-scratchingly) flour. If you really need flour, you would do better to make it at a Provisioner.
Oh, except the Provisioner is one of many buildings that isn’t even available at the start of the game. Between each settlement session, you return to an overworld map, with the queen’s capital city at the center. That’s where you go to spend some of the rewards from each more-or-less successful expedition to unlock new buildings. You can’t extract that copper ore from the ground until you’ve unlocked mining, or gather mushrooms without an Herbalist’s Camp. And so the breadth of possibilities in each trip expands and expands.
There’s a lot going on in Against the Storm, though I found that the UI manages to show you almost all of it in a surprisingly effective manner. The indicator showing you how many Beavers you have in your populace (and whether they are working and whether they have homes) expands out to show you the dozen+ factors that determine their Resolve. (When it gets low, they take off.) Resource pools on the map tell you with a mouseover which several buildings allow them, to be extracted. The multitude of icons on every screen almost always have tooltips to explain them. It’s a lot, but for an Early Access game, the UI already has a high level of refinement.
My number one tip for anyone who gives the game a try: Don’t miss the fact that most refined resources can be created from multiple primary resources. Just like with buildings, there’s a lot of overlap. So you can make flour from grain (which is usually farmed). But if you don’t have farms in a particular city, maybe you can harvest roots or mushrooms. They also can be processed in to flour. The key is to notice the round resource buttons on the manufacturing screen. You can click on these to bring up a menu of all your options for resource inputs.
You end up spending maybe a couple hours with each settlement, which feels just about perfect. In that time, you’ll face a few unique serious challenges (from Dangerous glades). You’ll unlock about a dozen different buildings. You’ll sprawl across the map, repositioning harvesting camps in the latest opened glade once the last glade’s resources are depleted. You’ll have built specialized housing to keep the Lizards extra happy (they especially hate the rain, those coldblooded suckers), and started making their favorite foods (lizards like meat jerky; beavers like biscuits!). Those improvements steel your populace against the ever growing menace of the forest, which threatens to wear folks down until they can’t stay any longer.
If the rising danger doesn’t get you, the queen’s impatience might. Your rate of completing goals has to keep up with her impatience meter, which increases steadily. If you can’t keep up, you might find the queen calling you back home in disgrace.
I’m finding the game’s systems a lot of fun to steadily master. While it seems like you are always in danger of finding yourself at a production-chain dead-end, once you grok all the different ways to progress toward your goals, you will be surprised at how smoothly you can navigate to a victory.
Given that it’s Early Access, it seems likely things might get shakier as you move toward the end game (I would say that after about eight missions, I’m transitioning into the mid-game?). Time will tell, but I think the team has shown they have the skill it takes to sew up any loose ends before Q4 of this year, when they expect to launch.
Curious who else has given the game a try, and what their experiences have been. I don’t think I’ve found a city building game this compelling since Tropico 4. Frostpunk was too oppressive, and I would usually play a scenario for six or eight hours only to find myself totally unprepared for the final challenges. Surviving Mars and Per Aspera were good, but got pretty redundant and unmanageable after awhile. The session-based structure of Against the Storm doesn’t seem like an intuitive fit for builders, but Eremite Games seem to have made it work!