I’ve never owned an ant-farm, but after playing a few hours of Foundation, a new grid-less, medieval city-builder from Polymorph Games, I can see why people might enjoy them. There is something satisfying about laying the groundwork for a society and seeing it slowly take shape and evolve before your eyes. Having dabbled in other city-builders like SimCity 4, Cities: Skylines and Banished, I was eager to get my hands on the Early Access Steam version of Foundation to see how it compared.
A new game in Foundation begins with selecting your map and including any mods you would like to play with. Currently, there are five different map types to choose from: Hills, Coastal, Fluvial, Mountain and Valley. There are also numerous mods available, including some of which give you new buildings to try. Polymorph’s early embrace of the community creations is extremely encouraging for the long-term development of this game.
Once you’ve started a new game, you are soon greeted by the warm, smooth graphics of Foundation. Even though the game is still in development, I was impressed with Foundation’s lively look and feel. It was rewarding to see my villagers moving around the town accomplishing their various tasks, gathering their goods and even attending church. Not only that, many of the buildings are animated as well. For instance, the windmill where you turn wheat into flour spins as your millers produce their next batch, and the warehouse where you stock your resources actually fills ups with crates or logs. These charming visual touches are paired with corresponding sounds when you zoom-in to view your town up-close. This attention to detail really brings your town to life and helps you feel like you are building a living, breathing society. With that said, I do wish the game allowed you to zoom-out more. I would love to see how my town is nestled in the countryside around it. I also wish I could use my mouse to grab and move around, rather than having to use WASD controls or push my mouse to the edge of the screen. This may sound nit-picky, but in a game where you spend much of your time looking at the game world, it’s helpful to be able to navigate it the way you want.
Foundation’s core gameplay focuses on extracting resources like berries, wood, stone or iron ore to create production chains. In time, these chains generate more complex goods and items to meet the needs of your villagers and trade with other cities. You can also generate “splendor” by constructing or improving buildings like markets, keeps or churches. As your “splendor” increases, new buildings or bonuses are unlocked for you to play with. Although I struggled to generate splendor due to my hyper-focus on production chains, I appreciated Foundation’s ability to feed me new challenges as I began to master the old ones. Moreover, I also enjoyed the organic nature of Foundation’s city development. Although you’re able to paint certain zones of the map for your villagers to reside in or extract resources from, your city’s exact look and feel is going to vary depending on what your villagers decide to do. Thankfully, the villagers’ AI seems fairly adept at picking out good places to live and accomplishing the various tasks they need to. However, if things don’t look quite right or are not working out the way you had hoped, you’re able to remove any building you want.
In the end, as you delve more into Foundation, you will realize that creativity, not survival, is the game’s heartbeat. Even though food production can be affected by bad weather and villagers may leave due to unhappiness, there is not much that can go seriously wrong in the game. In fact, compared to some city builders where things feel like they may fall apart at any moment, Foundation is refreshingly chill. It was relaxing being able to set-up my next production chain without having to worry about my city starving. With that being said, I wish there were more ways to shake up the ant-farm. For instance, more interesting quests or natural effects such as floods or fire would bring more dynamism to your city’s development. Fluctuating trade prices would also make the micro-managing of resources more interesting. These are just a couple of ways Foundation could spice up its already savory city-management stew.
On the whole, Foundation is a beautiful medieval city-builder with lots of potential. I appreciate the developer’s commitment to making their game a success. Their current development roadmap already addresses a number of issues I have with the game while at the same time sharpening the gameplay even further. Horrible pun aside, I think the foundation for an enjoyable, relaxing city-builder is being laid before our very eyes. Like with any good ant-farm, it should be fun to see how Foundation develops in the future.