The perfect Medieval city-builder doesn’t exi-
Quick, you don’t have much time left before the Summer Steam Sale ends — grab Foundation while you can, post haste!
…why are you still here? Go! Go get Foundation!
Ugh, fiiiiiiiiiiiiine. I’ll write an entire article discussing why Foundation has absolutely blown me away — despite its alpha state — and why this little Medieval city-builder is genre changing.
Currently being developed and self-published by Polymorph Games, Foundation touts itself as “a grid-less, sprawling medieval city building simulation with a heavy focus on organic development, monument construction and resource management.” Having launched on Steam Early Access back in February 2019, it’s interesting to think the game is still in Alpha over a year later, but after loading the first scenario, it’s pretty clear that the team and a whole slew of volunteers have showered Foundation with love and attention. Even in Alpha, Foundation is entirely playable and incredibly enjoyable.
Foundation’s premise is something anyone who romances the Medieval period will be excited about — players take control of a lord who has just been given a land grant by the king. Of course, with the land grant comes some expectations, such as building out a sprawling, self-sustaining settlement. Can you manage your production chains to increase your village’s desirability, promote your serfs to citizens, make tantalizing trade agreements to boost your economy, and answer the king’s call when he needs an army or other aid? The landscape is yours to mold.
Controls in Foundation are extremely straightforward — if you’ve played even one city-builder, you already know what to do. The UI is its own triumph, as managing all these moving parts was made seamless with easy-to-grasp menu-based gamplay. Although there were times when I had trouble, it was never something I couldn’t figure out on my own or with the help of the “?” button down in the left-hand corner. Any time I ran into a situation where I was stumped, I could find all the info I needed in-game, which is the mark of a great gamedev.
There are a fair number of stand-outs in Foundation when it comes to design, one in particular being the zoning feature. When your settlers first arrive, the tutorial prompts you to build things like lumber camps and stonecutter’s huts, but the villagers won’t actually be able to do anything until you specify land that can be used for resources. By painting out areas, you can let your villagers know they’ll need to clear trees in certain spots and build homes in others while keeping off the grass entirely in forbidden areas. Later on, you’ll be able to mark hunting and reforestation grounds as well. As time went on, I found myself asking the woodcutters to keep a few trees here and there or leave the trees around churches alone, and I found this level of control to add a unique layer to the genre that I hadn’t seen before.
Speaking of zoning — in Foundation, once the zones are set, your villagers will literally go to town. While it’s up to you to place key structures like granaries and bakeries, your villagers will pound the ground until a path appears and build houses in the most desirable areas, preferring to be closer to churches and markets. Want to encourage growth in a particular area? Hit ’em with a sheep statue. Settlers LOVE sheep statues.
As time goes on, you’ll be able to unlock more territories in exchange for gold, which means more growth, more settlers, more… everything. I particularly loved the freedom of being able to design my own monastery, tavern, manor, keep, and church. Although the pieces initially feel limiting, there’s a lot you can do, the proof being the absolute architects in the Steam community hub who have built magnificent structures despite my feeling like I’m on m’lord’s first lego kit. With that being said, it’s still an enormous amount of fun while building these looming facilities, and I organically began imagining all that would take place within their walls.
Perhaps the most ingenious mechanic in Foundation is that of forestation. So many city-builders provide an infinite resource locale to get around building out renewable resources, but Foundation did something I am not sure I’ve seen before, which is forcing the player to deposit resources back into the land. At first I ignored the forester’s huts, but after realizing I was going to run out of hugely precious wood very soon, I saw their importance. By having woodcutters clear out large swathes of land with foresters following close behind to replenish what they’ve taken, Foundation demands players take an active approach to creating a renewable resource tree, which ultimately cultivated a true self-sustaining population.
Another favorite of mine is the aesthetics; sure, the villagers are kind of goofy-looking, but the houses and buildings are really pleasing to the eye. Coupled with straight-up Medieval lullaby music, Foundation becomes an exercise in relaxation. It was all too easy to find myself mesmerized by the farmers harvesting their wheat, the foresters regrowing trees, or the fishermen out in their boats quietly waiting for a nibble. Just like Civilization with the “one more turn” syndrome, I found myself completely addicted to Foundation, unable to pry myself away from my growing village.
As mentioned previously, Foundation is still in Alpha, and although it’s definitely got the core features down, there are a few things that stick out as still needing solutions. After your village hits a population of 70, incoming villagers stop having names like “Helene” or “Phillip” and instead are called “Female #1157” and “Male 398.” Often villagers refuse to build in residential areas despite high desirability and plenty of room, and the lack of random events make for a slightly boring — albeit peaceful — experience. At the end of the day, the pros heavily outweigh the cons, and I’m sure the developers will fix the known issues as time goes on.
Be sure to check out Foundation on Steam Early Access as soon as possible!