(This introduction is more like a story of one of my playthroughs. Scroll down if you are more interested in features and mechanics. Yet, stay if you want to get a good impression of this game’s atmosphere, at least from my point of view.)
You watch as your world slowly retreats into the darkness. The trees, the mountains, the villages. You think of all those who followed you to the end and those you’ve abandoned. Of all the hardship and all the greatness destiny has bestowed upon you. Now, there’s nothing left of it – just the stars and the cold. You close your eyes. You return, in your last dreams, to the times when the road lay straight and clear before you. Seems like it was so long ago – yet you can almost see it clearly now. You can see yourself, standing proudly with your arm pointing forward, at the head of your caravan.
The stars still shine, but not as cold this time. You look down – at a long array of wagons, full of supplies, warm clothes, lumber. At all those who left their crumbling world behind to follow you. As your gaze follows the winding road – the road abruptly disappears. A black void begins where it ends. An infinity of stars lapping at the shores of your world. Each day it claims another piece. Sometimes as you look back, you can see parts of the land float away. Sometimes there are houses and people looking back at you – from across an ocean of darkness. Well, you can’t save all, can you? You turn away.
You look once again at the line of half-empty wagons following you. Where are all the supplies? You saw the lists, of course – nothing was stolen or lost. Still, somehow you can’t quite understand it. There was so much. Yet, there are also so many now who put their trust in your leadership. You have to decide now, as much as you resent making that choice. There’s not enough provision to cross the mountains. You’ll need to return for more supplies, if anyone is to survive. You order the caravan to turn back – towards the stars and your doom.
You open your eyes, one last time. Far away, you can still see the lights. No stars are these, but torches. You look back, as if from another world, at those who once have followed you. You won’t help them now. If they hurry, though, they might still make it. Your road, however, has come to an end. At least, you’ll get to sleep now – you haven’t slept for so long. As you close your eyes for the final time, all of a sudden, you see a magical portal. Its bright, warm light illuminates a handful of survivors standing before it. A line of mountains stretches behind them. Did they really make it? The thought makes you smile just as the last warmth leaves your body.
Overview and the Setting
It’s difficult to explain what Karawan is, if you haven’t played it yourself. It’s not a long game – neither is it particularly narrative-heavy. Yet, each playthrough feels like its own story. There are moments of action and of tough decisions. There are also moments when you can allow yourself to sit back and relax, being content with your progress.
The game is turn-based and grid-based, very classical in its approach. Yet, it never becomes too slow or repetitive. The unique combination of its setting, its melancholy atmosphere and its varied mechanics really draws you in. You really start feeling like a fearless caravan leader, making quick and often harsh choices – all to give your followers a chance to reach the portal and escape the darkness that chases you across the land.
Let’s talk about the setting, for a moment. It’s a somewhat traditional post-apocalyptic story. The world is falling apart, literally. There’s no way back – and no real escape from the disaster. The only thing left is to gather your belongings and set forth on a journey to try to outrun the inevitable. You and your caravan of followers attempt to do this by reaching a portal to another realm, gathering whatever you need on the way.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The Karawan gameplay itself is already somewhat hard to explain. It’s very strategic, for one. Yet it also feels like a puzzle at times, as well as somewhat of a base-builder. There are no battles here and no enemies. Instead, the goal is to gather enough supplies to allow you to move forward, as the world literally falls apart behind you. You do this by carefully navigating your caravan so that your followers can gather the most resources they can on the way. These help you overcome barriers such as forests, mountains and rivers. Especially if you manage to buy the support of a powerful magus.
Although there aren’t too many spells and upgrades to choose from, each of them feels unique and important in its own right. These range from the obvious sight range increase and time dilation to the more situational caravan reversal and land rearrangement. There’s just enough variety so that you never feel limited in your choices. As you finally get to the portal, you keep thinking whether there was a better road to take. Could you maybe save another village or another group of followers?
Yet, what really sets the game apart, in terms of mechanics, is how polished and well-balanced they feel. Each map is a puzzle and while there are multiple ways to beat it – it never feels too easy and always requires you to make hard decisions. Do you take another group of villagers with you, or do you leave them to die? Or do you just take everything they’ve got and move on, without looking back at the ruins?
Atmosphere and Style
What makes each choice feel that more real is the incredible atmosphere. From the art to the music and the text – it all leaves a certain melancholy impression. The void is always one step behind you. As you pass – the road disappears behind you and there’s nothing to look back at. Karawan draws you in, and all of a sudden you find yourself thinking of that village you left five turns ago. It’s gone now, an island in the darkness. Did you make the right choice? Time will tell.
Each tile looks unique and is extremely well-detailed. From the main character with their proud Napoleonic visage to the arcane followers of the mysterious magus – It really does seem that the artist has put a piece of their soul into each image. There’s nothing particularly grandiose about the design – nothing screams at you from the screen to take a notice. Yet, it all leaves an impression, and it feels unique and poetic without being over-the-top.
The music deserves its own mention – yet how can I explain with words what it sounds like? It’s not a very long soundtrack, just one or two tracks. However, it fits perfectly the style and the atmosphere. It has a brooding and melancholy yet happy undertones to it, at the same time. It works just as well for when you are busy looking for resources as for the final moments of your journey, however it ends. Not only that, but it also works very well for writing reviews!
Performance and Options
Finally, I’d like to talk about the more basic aspects of the game. That is – how well it runs, are there any bugs and such. Karawan works fantastic. There were no crashes and everything played very smoothly, including the rather elaborate animations. In short, I did not encounter any serious issues.
This is especially appreciated since the game does not offer any save option, as far as I can tell. I would consider that a problem on its own, yet for me, it never became one. The maps really do not last long enough for this to become important. It all comes back to the puzzle aspects of the gameplay. If you know what you’re doing, you can beat a map in minutes. It’s really more about learning the mechanics and becoming experienced with the game. Rather than making progress on a single map.
Well, there was one bug, though. Yet, it added so much to the atmosphere, that I really couldn’t see myself complaining about it. What happened was that two wagons got stuck together and neither could move afterwards. I mean, considering what the game is all about, which is navigating a rather long caravan in a crumbling world – it was bound to happen sooner or later. Yes, it’s certainly a bug, but I can definitely see it becoming an essential mechanic in this particular game.
If you like puzzles or strategies – it’s almost certain you’ll enjoy the experience Karawan offers. Yet, even if you don’t care about complex gameplay mechanics and just want to relax in the evening with a glass of wine or dark beer, and listen to some great music – then Karawan may also be that game you are looking for.
I see no real reason not to give it the highest rating. Playing this game, to me, feels like reading a good poem. It doesn’t have to be long or particularly complex to capture your imagination and to remain in your memory. It knows exactly what it wants to be – and it’s great at what it does. So, here it is – my review. You can try the game yourself on itch – it’s free.
Thank you for reading this, and goodbye!