Setting up frontier settlements is probably already hard enough as it is, but in Circle of Kerzoven you also need to factor in the fact that the weather, flora and fauna are all set on following their own patterns regardless of your plans.
There has been a fantastic surge in the number of games which aim to discuss, interpret or cause consideration or reflection on world ecology and environments. Circle of Kerzoven is the latest, and it does so alongside a joyful, peaceful fusion of city-builder and strategy game. I was lucky enough to sit down and play it while at Courage XL, during GDC.
Circle of Kerzoven asks a question that’s often overlooked by the strategy genre, especially the RTS genre; what happens when a resource runs out? Golden Age RTS titles like Command and Conquer or Age of Empires never addressed this, with deer, berries and ore being something that can be entirely depleted from the skirmish map… but it’s an incredibly valid question and one that — in an age of extinction, with animal populations and even ecosystems like the Coral Reef becoming extinct — is becoming more and more present in the public consciousness.
In Circle of Kerzoven your efforts as a leader initially have very little effect on nature, with you instead trying to work in balance with nature. As with many colony or town-building games, you’re at the mercy of the seasons as you try to get your crops and supplies in order. However, the moment you start clearing or repurposing land you start affecting nature.
From there on it starts adapting and changing, not evolving but relocating, or changing its behaviours based around what has gone on. Remove the predators and you might notice that suddenly grazing creatures are breeding rapidly, overeating and even damaging other parts of the ecosystem. It’s about balance, in the same way that you would balance your own resource pile.
Beyond that balance between nature and civilization there’s some other cool stuff going on; Crops are truly seasonal, which means that rotation of crops is critical to surviving; Goods have to be transported from point to point, rather than simply entering a magical stockpile; a fatigue and tiredness system that applies to both animals and citizens means you need to keep more than a close eye on work habits and access to sustenance. It’s a lot, and there’s no doubt that it’ll take a while for some people to get used to everything at play.
It’s exciting, it’s exciting like Timberborn and Banished were, and surely like Settlers was too. It changes up just enough to feel like something new, fresh and challenging but builds on systems that are well-trodden and familiar.
Circle of Kerzoven will be entering Early Access on Steam later this year.