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The most peaceful game of Civ… ever.

Confession: I love playing Civilization on easier settings.

Not because I can’t play, but more because I enjoy the playstyle the easier settings offer me. That initial exploration process where your foot soldiers painstakingly map the entire body of land you’ve laid claim to is one of my favorite parts of the game, second only to getting the first trireme unit and setting sail in the shallows. Sure, establishing trade routes, raising taxes, and training armies can be fun I guess, but that exploration process and city-building is what I truly enjoy.

If only such a game existed that offered such a playstyle at its core while still keeping it fresh — something that provided soothing exploration with engaging challenges that didn’t involve war or even other civilizations. A peaceful city builder where I didn’t have to worry about an AI undoing all my hard work yet still maintained the structure many sandbox games lack. Does a game like that exist?

Turns out, it does: Before We Leave.

Currently in development by Balancing Monkey Games, Before We Leave is “a non-violent city building game set on multiple planets in your own cozy corner of the universe.” In beta at the moment, it will release on the Epic Games Store once finished.

The premise of Before We Leave is simple — build a city. Make sure your peeps are happy, with access to water and food. Ensure they have jobs, and take care of the environment so that it doesn’t become polluted. Foster a community, but don’t overpopulate your small island. Explore every nook and cranny as you research new technologies and gather resources from the land. And, when the time has come, leave the island for a new land — or even a new planet.

The controls in Before We Leave are really straightforward, as it’s mostly mouse to interact with items and WASD to move the camera. There’s a lot to learn at first, so be sure to start up a game with the tutorial enabled to understand resource trees and which buildings go where. After that, a new game beckons, and your very own island awaits.

Setting up a village is relatively easy if you follow the tutorial; build three houses, three potato fields, and one well. Get a lumber mill going, then a library. Research elevator technology, then get up to the rocky plateau to gather rock and iron. Start exploring the island to unlock technologies, all while building more houses, fields, and wells as you go. Once you get up to 35 peeps, you’ll be on your way to fixing up the broken ship, which you can then use to sail to another island and start all over again.

Before We Leave features some beautifully done graphics with a rather simple elegance to them. I was initially drawn in by the use of the hexagonal tiles — something that was horribly implemented in Civilization that seems to have done really well here — and the pleasant, Earthy tones. Upon playing, however, it became immediately clear just how much detail is lovingly added into these worlds. The sun rises and sets, the shadows dancing upon the terrain in nature’s rhythm. Trees sway in the wind, grass grows, and smoke billows from homes. It’s all really idyllic, and I enjoyed how much the world itself was alive — a character all on its own.

The music in Before We Leave changes depending on the speed setting, but the transitions between the relaxing tracks are hardly noticeable, and it all meshes well with the lives of your peeps down below. Occasionally, you’ll see music notes appear over the homes of happy peeps with a quaint, toe-tapping tune to match. I looked forward to those moments, a small reward for my hard work, glad they were reaping the benefits of this tiny community.

The pacing of Before We Leave is probably what surprised me the most — it took me quite some time to fix up the broken ship, but once I did, I was finally able to explore the world. Instead of unlocking the wooden ship fairly early and exhausting that rush of dopamine at the beginning a la Civilization, I received the ship only after building out my island, and that took careful planning and a lot of patience. It felt like I had really earned the ability to explore other islands, so I took my sweet time choosing a second home for my peeps, enjoying every second of sailing the seven seas.

At first, Before We Leave can seem like other city builders; you’ll get notifications that your peeps are hungry or thirsty and can’t complete construction projects. Constantly afraid I was going to be penalized, I would rush to build more crops and wells, failing to plan for long-term growth. As time went on, however, it became really apparent that nothing bad was going to truly happen. Peeps thirsty? They’ll sort it out. No more wood? Give it time, they’ll replenish their stores. People unhappy due to overcrowding? Just try to do better on the next island. It was nice that a city builder aiming for peace did so in multiple ways — not just without war, but without urgency, either. Just do your best, your own way, your own pace. No rush, no consequences, no worries. Definitely my cup of tea.

I didn’t think I was going to play Before We Leave for as long as I did — the hours just seemed to slip away as I built up my worlds into thriving communities. Once I got the ship, those seas were destined to be charted by me. And don’t even get me started on the rocket, enabling me to lather, rinse, repeat on completely new worlds, building new homes for humanity. Who knew that a game this chill could be so… thrilling? I am so in love with everything Before We Leave has to offer, and I cannot wait for it to launch on the Epic Games Store!

Heather Johnson Yu
Born at a very young age; self-made thousandaire. Recommended by 4 out of 5 people that recommend things. Covered in cat hair. Probably the best sleeper in the world. Still haven't completed the civil war quest in Skyrim but I'm kind of okay with that. Too rad to be sad.

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