The city-building genre is absolutely having a moment right now, whether at the big end of the market (Cities Skylines 2) or, more popularly, the smaller end (just look at Steam’s sales charts on any day of the week). Sliding effortlessly into this latter category is Terrascape, one of my favourite examples of the genre in years.
Terrascape is a game set on a hex-based world, where you’re asked to place medieval-era buildings on the most optimal piece of land possible. For buildings that harvest resources, like woodcutters or hunter’s lodges, that means getting them as close to as many trees or wild animals as possible, and for more advanced structures that means placing them next to other buildings. The more optimal your position, based on the number of resources and adjacent structures, the bigger the score you get.
You don’t just get to build anything though, this is a very board game-like experience where you have to choose from decks based on major categories (fishing, village, farming, etc) and then are given a hand of cards, each card able to be played to drop a building on the map. Beginning with just a handful, over the course of a game you’ll unlock more cards for a deck, then more decks with new buildings.
If this is starting to sound familiar, that’s because it is. Dorfromantik did a lot of this. As did Islanders. I loved both of those games, and I love Terrascape for the same reasons, because it takes the essence of a city-builder, breaks it down into the simplest means of implementing it possible, then makes the whole thing incredibly relaxing.
There are objectives, whether you’re playing the game’s specific challenge maps (which gives you city-building optimisation puzzles to complete) or its more enjoyable sandbox mode (which just lets you loose and gives you bonus objectives to score points on), but they never feel rushed. It’s beautiful to look at, there are no time limits and the whole thing is just incredibly chill to be around, as you drop a little farm here, and oh look, a town square there, isn’t that lovely.
The way each hex’s art bleeds into the next, and the little pop every time you place a building makes the whole experience hugely satisfying. I’ve spent the last week firing this up whenever I’ve had some downtime and, rather than trying to complete any goals or objectives, have just scrolled around the map painting a town into being, like a 14th-century Bob Ross. Bobbe Rosse.
If spending your entire time in a zen-like state doesn’t appeal, though, you can still game this thing if you want (and will need to to complete some of the tougher/bigger maps). The game’s scoring system stacks, rather than remaining consistent, so if you drop a hunter’s lodge early on and score a ton of points from the nearby wildlife, you don’t lose those points if you later build a medieval village on top of it all. This makes every map a fascinating exercise in forward-planning, as you start out thinking about trees and fish and deer, before advancing through the decks and having to shift gear and start thinking about large manor houses and taverns instead.
Terrascape is still in early access on Steam, and is available now.