Tenderfoot Tactics - open world exploration and elemental turn-based tactics

So I debated sticking this in one of the indie game threads but I think it deserves more eyeballs, and topics are free, right?

I finished this last week and had such a good time with it.

It’s important to know that this is not your typical ‘RPG’. Tenderfoot Tactics is an open world turn-based tactics game where you play as a band of goblins exploring a vast archipelago, getting into cool fights and pushing back a malevolent force known as ‘the fog’.

The fights are cool because they’re all about manipulating and dramatically transforming the battlefield. You can smash craters and crack ravines into the earth, fill them with water then electrocute, boil, or even ice the water over to cross it. You can grow movement-hindering (or enhancing!) brush then set it alight to toast your foes (or your tender toes). You can even infect enemies with a fecund poison that, on death, spawns a ‘bog body’. My first bog body was called Bobbie. Bobbie the bog body.

How many turn-based tactics games do you know that model water, soil moisture, plant growth, plant hydration and wildfire? In Tenderfoot these things intuitively feed into the combat. Every fight becomes an elemental sandbox where you experiment against all kinds of pesky enemies (the AI is pretty damn good too). You’ll unlock a new skill and think ‘that sounds very situational, I’ve no idea how’d I’d use it’, then later it’ll hit you: ‘if I pair it with this… ohhh hohoho!’ while letting out a giddy laugh. Or not. Maybe it’s just me. Either way, you become a sort of mad scientist cobbling together different tactical plays, and the results can be spectacular and devastating. Sometimes they get out of hand as you flood the entire battlefield so your goblins have to tread water (oops!), or a brush fire burns through your archer and healer at the back (oh no!). There were times when I even created dams and rows of hedges to keep water, moisture and enemies back from my team. That’s just brilliant.

But where Tenderfoot’s tactical battles are exciting, chaotic and deeply mechanical affairs, brimming with unexpected and satisfying synergies, the open world is a simple, calm, quiet and sparsely populated space to explore. There’s a main quest hinted at early on and pinned with a marker, but with no pressure to pursue it, you’re free to roam. And you’re going to do a lot of roaming. There’s no GPS, and maps have a fuzzy definition of north with mysterious points of interest scribbled on them. There are few things I like more than open world games that say ‘get lost’ (see Miasmata and Subnautica).

Tenderfoot Tactics isn’t a traditional game too concerned with telling a sprawling story with lots of dialogue, side quests, dungeons to spelunk and stuff to do. It doesn’t give you much, which, bizarrely, made me want to know more. I relished the weird little snippets of lore, spotting things in the distance and poring over maps to investigate doodles. What’s that skull there? What are those circles? What’s that I can see in the distance? Those kinds of questions always excite me, often more than the answers. But perhaps the biggest reward for exploring is the evocative presentation and feel of the world itself. The sound design and music are also fantastic. Check out Stinkhorn Outskirts. Or Sky Lake.

For some, the minimalist open world might not be enough. I admired it for not being stuffed to the gills with junk to collect, boring folk to talk to and things to check off. It’s happy to give you a lot of (gorgeous) negative space to simply move through, to be curious and present in, punctuated by discoveries and full-blooded tactical battles. There’s a certain spark here as the game oscillates between that minimalism and the relative maximalism of the combat. Of course, it depends how much you enjoy either, but if you like the sound of navigating and exploring an unusual and beautiful place with plenty of chaotic but intricate turn-based shenanigans, then Tenderfoot Tactics might just be for you too.

Can you save anywhere? In a dungeon, mid-combat…?

Maybe I didn’t word it well, but there aren’t really any dungeons! There are special set-piece battles however. The game does allow you to quit and resume at any point, whether in combat or exploring. It resets the current battle though when you return.

My brain can’t comprehend what’s going on in that gif you posted (why the terrain is deforming drastically as your boat goes past it)

The game’s visuals kind of bubble and undulate like a living painting as you move through the world, with strange impressionistic forms roiling around you. It’s a bold artistic choice, and strange at first, but I love it!

What the heck, this looks amazing! Sold!

This looks and sounds really neat. Thanks for the write up. If it ever comes to Xbox, I’ll certainly check it out.

Great writeup, thanks! I recommend posting that awesome review on Steam too if you haven’t done so already.

Oh and bought it and looking forward to diving in!

I put this one on my wishlist just based on the art style alone, kind of reminded me of Massive Chalice a bit.

Thanks for starting a thread for this one and the write up.

Hahah, it’s a slightly rejigged version of my Steam user review, which is a condensed version of my full fat review! The worst thing was making tweaks here then realising they sounded better than my other write-ups, so I had to go and update all them :-) Thanks for the kind words and let us know how you get on with it!

Just after I completed the game last week, they updated the AI to make use of more skills (the downside of playing games at launch!). Last night I decided to go and investigate a scribble I’d forgotten about on the map and ended up getting into a fight along the way. Well, my old tactics didn’t really work against the updated AI and all their new tricks, which was pretty exciting.

I’ve not played Massive Chalice despite hearing a lot about it, but the visuals made me think of it too!

I didn’t think the game worked with a controller but was surprised to find out that it does, so that may very well be a possibility in the future. I suppose it depends on its success, as is often the case with these lesser known games.

Glad to hear it!

Yeah, I saw later on the Resetera thread that there was full controller support on PC, and that the devs have said they are considering console release. I’ll keep an eye out for it in case it ever happens.

Is the open world as big as Kenshi?

I’ve not played Kenshi but I doubt it. I get the impression that is huge!

I really have fun with the tactical battles, but I have to admit I’m lost when it comes to navigating the world map.

What’s the secret?

You don’t have a map? I saw screenshots of a map.

Glad you’re enjoying it!

The trick is to use your bird’s-eye view to visually trace the coastline shapes and any nearby points of interest then see if you can spot them on the maps you’ve collected from the different towns. Of course, north isn’t always the same on each map so there’s a fair bit of tilting your head and swinging things around to get a ‘lock’ on details. As you find more bird nests and are able to go higher and fly further (to see more), and once you start to get a little more familiar with certain areas in relation to each other on the maps, it’ll start to click. Once you know where you are, you can then more deliberately investigate the crosses and other scribbles and doodles on your maps. That was the most exciting part for me when exploring!

Another general tip: use your boat to get around faster, and be sure to check out the first few objective markers as soon as possible. That kickstarts the main quest and allows you to start unlocking the specialised classes. If there’s one criticism I have with TT it’s that ignoring the main quest to explore (as you usually would, and as I did) can artificially draw out the experience when the main quest gets you into the meat of the experience faster with better battles and more rewarding exploring anyway. I suppose this is a symptom of other games’ main stories sweeping you away from all the fun side stuff but with TT it’s all on the main path.

Yeah, I loved the tactical battles too. There are some really powerful synergies and after Tenderfoot Tactics and Phoenix Point I’m almost fully converted to hybrid class systems. They can be so exciting and creative!

Thanks, I’ll try and work with landmarks. The land deforms as I travel making it hard for me to keep my bearings and for whatever reason I find handling the boat a bit counterintuitive.

Also, I just wandered off from the start so I suspect I’ve not been moving the main story along at all yet. At this point I’ve got like 4 or 5 classes opened, and it seems like you take a ding for using them because if I switch the unit falls back to level one and loses and the traits I’ve earned them?!

Also, funny you should mention hybrid classes because once again this reminds me more than anything of Massive Chalice where hybrid classes are one of the core design components of the entire game.

This one is some really good fun so I don’t mind wandering around engaging in tactical battles, but I guess maybe I should try and find my way back to the start and try and pick up the main quest line.

Yeah, it’s a little slippery. I wish it was possible to just stop and enjoy the views.

Yeah, that’s what I did at first and while it was still fun, when I started progressing the main quest I was like ‘ohhh, I should probably have been doing this all along’.

Each goblin remembers the classes and respective traits its learnt so don’t worry! You can switch classes freely once a gob meets the level requirements. For the specialised classes (Knight, Shaman, Druid etc.) you have to use fey weeds to ‘forget’ traits to respec a skill point. Fey weeds are easy enough to find though. For the standard goblins, you can switch traits around without penalty which can be useful.

I recall you mentioning Massive Chalice upthread. I really should check it out! Thanks for the extra nudge! :-)

So, still love the battles, they’re quite engaging, but man if I can’t make heads or tails of how to navigate the map.

I’m afraid if I can’t figure it out I’ll play some more for as long as I find the tactical battles engaging and then give up, which would be a shame as I get the sense it might be going somewhere but the land morphs around me so much I honestly have zero clue where I’m going 99% of the time.

Yeah I know some folk struggle with that kind of thing. I’ve always been naturally good with space and orienteering so when I get lost in a game it’s pretty exciting for me (that’s why I name dropped Miasmata and Subnautica in the original post). I really should play The Long Dark soon.

Tenderfoot Tactics gives you enough information to know exactly where you are all the time (unlike Miasmata and Subnautica) but you do have to use those birds to trace coastlines and triangulate your position based on towers, towns and the central castle structure by cross-referencing your maps. The goblin village Hork (I think) was one of the hardest places for me to find because it was in a forest and while I knew roughly where it was, there were no distinctive (or visible) landmarks to easily pinpoint it. Another wrinkle is that after tactical battles the game doesn’t always return you to the same orientation so you have to get your bearings again!

I hope you crack it @easytarget! Do you have any go-to class and skill combos? What classes do you have unlocked? What tactics do you enjoy?