Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 27, 2022

I have been playing Timberborn from Mechanistry. That is a survival village building game in which your population consists of beavers instead of humans. Now that at first looks like a gimmick; you could replace the little people in most survival village building games by any number of cute anthropomorphic animals. But in the case of Timberborn the beavers point to the unique selling point of the game: Water management.

The main environmental threat of Timberborn are the droughts that hit the land in regular intervals, and for longer and longer durations. In droughts the water sources stop producing water, so rivers dry out, and the lands next to the rivers turn from green to barren. Beavers, of course, can build dams. And so a good part of Timberborn is about using dams, floodgates, and later dynamite to create areas that remain green when the water stops flowing. Only on green areas can you grow crops and trees, so water management is essential for the survival of your village. But if you flood an area, only specific underwater crops can still be grown.

With water comes the importance of terrain height. Water always flows downwards, or sideward if all downwards paths are blocked. The steeper the terrain, the faster the flow, and Timberborn has water wheels that power industry like lumbermills. Height also appears to be important for wind, and windmills, although that is a lot less visible than the flow of the water.

Timberborn is still in early access, but is already completely playable, and the list of features is growing. Most importantly there is also a map editor, which provides a lot of additional player-made content, and thus more replayability. A second beaver faction, unlocked by getting to a certain point with the first one, is also providing a variation. Overall at least a solid 20 hours of fun up to now for around $20 (available on GoG, Epic, and Steam, so it depends on who has what sales ongoing).

I've got it some time ago and it's a solid game with some good ideas (like different foods/improvements providing boosts to citizen's performance). The problem is games are very much binary (at least at the highest level): either you manage to get droughts under control and then they are irrelevant, or you don't and you "die" (something which you can always avoid with some creative population management tricks, actually....).
The weak points are:
- the number of resources/production chains is bloating for no particularly good reason. Banished felt a lot more dangerous and it had very few resources.
- there's an exploit which can be used to negate droughts almost completely and, unless they do some major modifications to the way water evaporation works, it's impossible to fix.
- the district management system, supposedly there to help with the pathfinding, is cumbersome and extremely annoying to use.

Even with these shortcomings (which may be fixed one day), it's well worth the price if you like city builders with a minecraft taste.
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