The background, the introduction and the conclusion images are all from Age of Fear – The Free World
Chaos often goes hand in hand with genius, and nowhere is this truth as apparent as in the indie game dev scene. For years now, the main abode of this community of artists and madmen was itch.io. Here the works of supreme quality and inspiration stand right next to strange half-broken experiments, abandoned and unknown.
There’s a certain romanticism in going through that labyrinth of disorderly creation, watching for a sparkle of gold among the bleak stones. Yet, it’s a sort of voyage for which plenty of time must be set aside. It’s too easy to get lost amidst the many twists and turns, only to realize, after hours of searching, that you still have nothing to show for all your journeys.
This is where reviewers come in – the brave explorers of the seas of randomness – with me among them. Well, truth be told, this list isn’t the best demonstration of my, most certainly unquestionable, courage. Here I mostly look at the well-known titles, the greatness of which is beyond dispute. However, today, I won’t cover the traditional indie genres – RPGs and roguelikes. Instead, I will steer my ship into the less explored waters, of tactical battles, tangled mechanics and grimoire-like user manuals. Towards the realm of turn-based strategies.
Let’s begin our odyssey in the known seas, by starting this list with a game I personally reviewed, not a month ago. Karawan is a journey, in its own right, and as uncertain as a venture into the unknown can be – with no chance of ever returning. It’s a doomed voyage, where a sense of melancholy never leaves us, even during the moments of glory.
As the world literally falls apart behind you – you’ll have to make hard choices. There’s just so much supplies you can gather on your way, and there’s no time to lose. Across rivers and over the mountains. With a woodcutter’s axe or spells of a magus. Will you be able to lead your ragged caravan of followers to the magical portal, beyond which salvation may lie?
Katja’s Abyss: Tactics
Our path now leads us into the strange and mysterious caverns, deep beneath the ground. There are many secrets buried among the dark stones – many dangers guard the subterranean treasuries. Yet, there’s also plenty of opportunity for those adventurous souls who aren’t afraid to delve into the forgotten depths.
So – are you ready to descend into the dungeons in search of profit and glory? If so – have you played Minesweeper? A somewhat unexpected question, right? Yet, in the world of Katja’s Abyss, I could definitely see that revered classic being a part of the training regiment for aspiring miners. The basic mechanic is, really, that similar. However, the game add so much on top of it! The many units, the various types of blocks, the enemies. The engaging lore you can discover. Not to forget the charming aesthetics, somewhere in-between an NES and a classic Westwood Studios style.
Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar
With the next game, or two, on our list, we must leave the earthly oceans and sail towards the stars and the vast reaches of deep space. Yet, the new setting doesn’t mean that we must abandon our ancient traditions. Board games have been around since the dawn of civilization. I’m talking about the greatest of the great – like chess, checkers, go, tafl. What unites these all is the simplicity of rules, that, nevertheless, lead to an incredibly varied, deep and complex gameplay. This is what Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar reminded me of, just as I began playing it.
The game looks and feels truly elegant, with its seemingly basic mechanics and its smooth holographic space combat aesthetics. Yet it offers a great complexity of tactical planning, in the best traditions of classic board games. The rules can be learned in but a moment. It will, however, takes much longer before you can say with confidence that you’ve mastered them. It may not look like much as you start the game for the first time, outside its striking style. Just a single chess-like board with two groups of spaceships opposite each other. However, as you start playing it – it really draws you in, just as the great puzzles and strategies of old.
Remnants of the Precursors
However, the cosmic reaches we get to explore on this list aren’t limited to just battlefields. Remnants of the Precursors offers us an entire universe to conquer, not only with strength, but with scientific and diplomatic endeavors as well. This game is a true and uncompromising 4x strategy. Here you can forge giant multi-planetary empires, though war or diplomacy. Assemble vast fleets to explore the deepest and darkest corners of space. Discover weapons of unimaginable power, strong enough to annihilate civilizations in but a couple turns.
Does this all remind you of something? It certainly should if you’ve played enough classic 4x strategies. Remnants of the Precursors isn’t just inspired by the legendary Master of Orion. Instead, it’s a complete remake of that exalted masterpiece. Yet, with all original art and music as well as clean and intuitive modern UI, it certainly could pass as a worthy sequel to the famous classic. By the way, if this short excursion into the realms of deep space isn’t enough – I just wrote a whole review of the game, here on TBL.
Age of Fear – The Free World
Now, at the end of our list, we steer towards the familiar warm shores of classical fantasy novels. Where dwarven warriors are always ready to refill our cups with ale. Where elves guard the tranquility and the peace of nature. And where heroes of the human kingdoms stand unafraid before the legions of undead. I haven’t played Age of Fear before writing this list. Yet, as I started this game, it immediately felt like home to me.
It seems perfect – in so many ways. From its beautiful and intuitive interface to the fantastic voice lines and music – and great art. To the simple yet challenging and engaging gameplay. It all draws you in, the same way a good fantasy book does – and the game does contain a lot of well-crafted descriptions! Often it seems as if you are playing an old D&D-based board game, especially since most of the gameplay consists of turn-based battles, with a strong tabletop feel to them. So, what I recommend is to get a cup of tea and a warm blanket – and forget our world for just one evening, as you go on a grand adventure across the realms of fantasy.
Our voyage has come to an end now – but the journey, I hope, is just beginning. From the dark cosmic domains, to the deep dungeons and the bright lands of fantasy – adventure calls! Will you be the one to lead your followers to salvation across a crumbling world in Karawan? Will you create a mighty interstellar empire in Remnants of the Precursors? Or, maybe you are content with a fate of a simple warrior, roaming the lands in search of glory and coin in Age of Fear.
The roads are many – and it’s now for you to decide which one you’ll choose. I know where my road leads, though – I just hope my dwarven comrades haven’t drunk all the ale in the tavern, while I was writing! Thank you for reading this – and goodbye!