Sometimes reinventing the wheel is as simple as realizing what each wheel does right and finessing those traits into a brand-new Mega Wheel—an ethos that translates quite well into the creation of Tenderfoot Tactics.
Tenderfoot Tactics is a turn-based strategy RPG, which takes the “turn-based” part quite literally. In the spirit of this, the main systems that player’s must account for while drafting their battle plans are the turn order itself and how best to manipulate it with the “unnerve” mechanic, which allows players to blindside their enemies into tumbling down the turn order. Not only does this mechanic demonstrate and require a masterful understanding of turn-based strategy games, but its unique execution also allows the game to set itself apart from its contemporaries.
While Tenderfoot may boast some of the familiar bells and whistles commonly associated with big-name entries of the genre (e.g. party customization, skill trees, equipment, exploration, class selection, and giant fightable Gods), I still regularly encounter completely novel situations as a result of the game’s cornerstone mechanics. Situations where, as a result of a misplay on turn 3, an even battle quickly turns into my party being relentlessly bullied as I’m combo’d into submission—a much-adored change in tempo compared to more classical turn-based RPGs.
The game is clearly handcrafted by and for mega fans of the genre in a way that remains challenging but refreshing to strategy savants. Personally, I have plowed through Fire Emblem, toppled civilizations in Sid Meier’s Civilizations, and defended against the aliens of XCOM without effort (and with a little save-scumming). However, I have found myself spending hours in single random encounters of Tenderfoot desperately trying to claw my way to victory.
Fortunately, the game comes with several difficulty settings to suit the needs of any player; whether you’re newly discovering turn-based strategy games, or have worked full-time in the depths of Darkest Dungeon. And if none of the preset difficulties really do it for you, the game offers customizable difficulty settings to further refine your experience into a more suitable challenge. Although, considering my distinct enjoyment of bashing my head into a wall to see which breaks first, I decided to play the game as the devs intended with the classic difficulty.
Something I really value about this game, as much as its quite humbling, is that RNG has minimal affect on battles. Sure, the field itself may be randomly generated. But, each attack, each spell, each turn of foliage growth or terrain modification are guaranteed. This means that all the cards are laid out for you to see in advance which lends itself beautifully to turning combat into raw strategy (even if it makes it more embarrassing when you lose). Each misstep, misplay, and character death are entirely your own fault—something the game makes sure to highlight as the soundtrack shifts to match the ebb and flow of combat.
But while I could go on and on about my adoration for the execution of the combat system, another thing could be said for the exploration system, which struck me as a bit odd. Contrasting the combat’s matter-of-fact precision, the overworld exploration left me feeling a little lost. Granted, it does seem to be on purpose considering the emphasis on non-gamified maps and a lore-based explanation for the hypnotic polygonal warping. But regardless of the explanation, I’d still end up losing my whereabouts and trudging into groups of enemies unprepared. So it may actually be the case that the true difficulty of the game lies in one’s ability to read a map and walk in a straight line without getting turned around.
All in all, Tenderfoot Tactics adds the perfect level of spice that an arguably repetitive genre desperately needed, and while it remains a very skill-based experience the challenges and consequences come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in order to create a tailored experience that’s capable of giving even veterans a thrilling run for their money. If there’s any TRPG fans out there that are looking to put their skills to the test, this is the game for you.
You can find Tenderfoot Tactics on Steam and Itch.io