Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Lords & Villeins by developer Honestly Games is a peaceful colony builder in a top-down, grid-aligned graphics style reminiscent of Rimworld and other Dwarf Fortress descendents. The game places the player into the role of a medieval lord granted a charter to found a new settlement, with yearly taxes in goods and money from the King suggesting that there is a world beyond the borders of the map. Game developer Honestly Games describes the game as “…a lighthearted city-building strategy simulation of a medieval society where you shape the dynasty of the ruling family. In this game, you’re not drowned in managing every detail of your villager’s daily life; instead, staying true to your role, you focus on the big picture and deal with whole families and their descendants.”
Settlement layout in Lords & Villeins is done by zoning sections of the map for particular uses, and then assigning each zone to a particular villager family. Each family has a particular skill set, and you need to match these in order for production to occur. Assigning a family of farmers to the blacksmith shop, for example, will yield you neither crops nor tools. In true medieval style, the player can also set the terms under which the villager is allowed to use the zone: a seasonal rent of money, a percentage of their production as a tax, free usage of the area, or even being paid by the player to live/work there in exchange for 100 percent of their production output.
At this level, the developer’s description of the game as “not drowned in managing every detail” certainly works. Unfortunately, that ideal breaks down when you realize that your villagers will not develop these zones themselves – you must designate where every wall, bed, storage chest and piece of production equipment goes, as well as having control over what the production priority of the villagers is. For farmers this extends to telling them what crops to plant in what ratio, how many of each kind of animal to keep and which secondary products you want them to prioritize producing. At that point, you start to wonder how many other levels of detail the developers thought they were saving you from! (The answer, unfortunately, is ‘enough to micromanage your way around other issues’, which I’ll touch on below.)
As a colony sim game, Lords & Villeins has the sort of multi-tier economic system that you would expect from this genre. Farmers plant and harvest wheat, then thresh it to make grain, which is sold to a Miller to grind into Flour, which is sold to a Baker to make bread, which is sold to everyone in the populace who all need food. Two problems currently hamstring the economic system in the game, both likely attributable to the early-Early Access state of development and hopefully solved as other features in the game’s roadmap (link) are implemented:
- Some chains result in products for which there is minimal/no ongoing natural demand. Masons, for example, produce stone products that are used during construction but never beyond that. This results in your Masoning family (or families) running out of money for food since nobody is buying their products, and they will starve and die without constant intervention by the player. This looks like it may be solved during the developer’s planned “EA Update #1” which will introduce deterioration of structures and equipment, but we will have to wait and see.
- The game randomly chooses which families will ask to move into the settlement, which can make it extremely hard to complete production chains. Accepting a family of Bakers who showed up before you got a family of Millers will leave you having to constantly intervene to keep the Bakers alive, as they don’t have anyone to produce the Flour they need to make their end product for sale. Similarly, having a Tanner family in town before you get a Leatherworker will leave the Tanners with piles of leather that nobody wants to buy. This is somewhat mitigated through a “King’s favour” system that lets you request from a slate of three families, but the player cannot access this until near the end of the settlement’s second year – a long time to be babysitting families that keep running out of food and money.
One other issue keeps me from playing Lords & Villeins for long periods, and has consistently hit several settlement attempts after 2-3 hours of play time – some villagers seem to forget how to cook/eat. Families with food ingredients, firewood, access to fresh water and all the tools they need to cook simply…don’t eat. My most recent playthrough before writing this was stymied when two out of three members of a farming family simply opted to starve to death next to a full larder, and another 18 villagers were showing impending starvation messages for similar reasons. With no way to prioritize the tasks a villager does, or to directly command them to perform an action, this situation can rapidly change a growing settlement into a virtual graveyard of emaciated grey pixel-bodies next to colorful stacks of food items.
Leaving aside the issues detailed above, Lords & Villeins still delivers a solid basis on which a stellar game could take shape as it moves through Early Access. A consistent graphical style and easy to understand basic concepts makes it a pleasant experience as you learn the game through the already-present tutorial level, and a variety of biome maps coupled with the randomized arrival of family types gives decent replayability to the game. What appears to be a fairly well-defined roadmap gives hope of a smooth progression through the Early Access process, and offers promise of features that will solve (or at least minimize) issues that currently undermine the in-game economy.
My feeling on Lords & Villeins is that while it is a game worth keeping an eye on, players may want to wait until after the first major update promised by the roadmap before putting money on the table to buy it. In the state it was released into Early Access, Lords & Villeins provides several hours of solid entertainment building a peaceful settlement. Long-duration play is currently hindered by an incomplete economic system and hard-to-solve breakdowns of basic systems as the settlement grows, but the game already shows a solid foundation for the developers to build on. A good game for players looking for a casual colony builder. I would currently rate this at a 6.5/10, but with the potential to be a solid 8 or 9 if the developers follow through with their roadmap features as currently presented and do a few passes to squash bugs.
In the state it was released into Early Access, Lords & Villeins provides several hours of solid entertainment building a peaceful settlement. Long-duration play is currently hindered by an incomplete economic system and hard-to-solve breakdowns of basic systems as the settlement grows, but the game already shows a solid foundation for the developers to build on. A good game for players looking for a casual colony builder in its current state, but players seeking a longer commitment should wait until a few more updates have occurred.Score: N/A for previews