I don’t know if city builders are technically considered comfy games, but they always have been for me. Designing little towns and amusement parks, drawing the roads between the buildings, and micromanaging the price of souvenirs is always a nice change of pace from the shooters and action games that dominate triple-A. Even when an unruly T-Rex gets loose and threatens to munch on my customers in Jurassic World Evolution 2, I never really feel the pressure. Roots of Yggrasil – a roguelike, turn-based city builder that has a demo in Steam Next Fest – is the first sim game of its kind that’s ever made me feel frantic. It turns out dinosaur attractions are a walk in the park, but rebuilding civilization at the end of the world? That really gets my pulse pounding.
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The key to Roots of Yggrasil’s tension is its roguelike wrapping. Each run in this post-Ragnarok world starts on a floating island in an undeveloped realm that’s connected to the world tree, and your goal is to collect seedlings and regrow the tree in order to reconnect with your viking clan scattered across the cosmos. Every map has one or more seedlings you can collect, each with their own condition. Some require you to build your population to a certain size, others require more specific conditions like constructing certain types of buildings in close proximity to it, but all of them are optional win conditions, and you need to collect one before you can escape the realm. You only have so many turns to collect the seedling, and to make things harder, some seedlings start out of reach and can only be obtained once you expand the size of your floating island.
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The turn limit can be strict, forcing you to make difficult decisions and play carefully right from the beginning. The more time you have left in the day when you collect the seedling, the more realms you can explore before time runs out. If you fail to collect your seedlings before nightfall, you’ll be faced with a spreading plague of Ginnungagap that consumes your settlement. When it arrives, you’ll incur a time limit on your turns. Fail to take your turns fast enough, and the Ginnungagap will spread anyway. The time limit breaks the turn-based nature of Roots of Yggrasil and adds a frantic energy to an already dire situation – and it’s how every single run eventually ends. A spreading plague that inevitably consumes all of your hard work might sound like a bummer, but learning how to plan around it and eventually outrun it is incredibly satisfying.
As far as strategy sims go, the gameplay loop here is pretty straightforward. You need to increase your population by building houses, then increase resources like Supplies, Might, and Eitr to facilitate new construction, expand the available land, and unlock upgrades. Two factors complicate that process. Other than basic housing to increase your population, construction is determined by a random draft. When you reach population milestones, you get to select a new building from your pool. The current state of your settlement and the available natural resources, like iron deposits or natural wonders, determine which buildings are best, but you also have to weigh these choices against your ultimate goal of procuring seedlings. One option might give you early opportunities to expand the land, but it also could mean not having the type of building you need later on.
The other complicating factor is use of space. Your land is limited and each building takes up a lot of the available space. Except for housing, buildings need to be constructed near other, specific buildings. You can only build an equipment post if it's within proximity to three houses, for example. This makes planning your layout difficult, especially when you don’t know which buildings you’ll have access to, or what shape the undiscovered parts of the island around you will take. I’ve often found myself over committing to a cluster of housing, only to discover there isn’t enough room to put the next building I need nearby. Managing spaces becomes especially stressful when the Ginnungagap begins to encroach. Every inch of the realm is potentially valuable real estate, and placing buildings a millimeter out of line can cause big issues later on.
If you’ve played turn-based city sims like Terraformers or Farlanders, or even 4X games like Civilization, there’s a lot of familiar ideas in Roots of Yggrasil. But restructuring a city builder as a roguelike adds a significant challenge to the otherwise low-key genre. Check out the Steam demo for Roots of Yggdrasil before Steam Next Fest ends on February 13.