This game could use a few more Any keys.
In a sea of population simulation and city simulation games, Gaslamp Games clearly intended to wedge their product in between the two. With some added quirks, Clockwork Empires, available now on Steam for Early Access, let’s you micromanage your imperialism. Starting in a randomized space, your colony of 17 pilgrims begins with a bunch of supplies and people stranded out in nature. Unlike SimCity or Civilization, where things just kind of happen with each action you take, this game has a slower pace. Although each of your pilgrims have unique personalities and work groups, they will do basically nothing if you don’t tell them to.
As it is right now, the game has no tutorial or official manual for the full game. Instead, Gaslamp has posted a quickstart guide, different from the one available to “Earlier Access” previewers such as myself. Assuming this was a standard simulation game, I eschewed reading through that and started a new game. After a long, quizzical stare, I just started clicking on things until the game presented me with an option to forage. Yes, do that. Aside from the resources you landed with, they exist mainly in the surrounding environment, so you’ll need to assign villagers to cut down trees, pick berries, mine minerals, and hunt animals. Despite the individuality present, citizens handle tasks in predetermined teams, which you can edit and specialize. You can’t click on a person and move him or her to a job.
Then there are the fish people. This game purports to have large, Lovecraftian deities to battle or praise, but for now, there are just fish people who bother your villagers, particularly if they get close to the water. Your village starts with a handful of militia ready to tackle these brutes a few at a time; they’ll either respond by proximity, or you can dispatch them to an area. I found these creatures odd but entertaining, though I admit a part of me was disappointed that I couldn’t butcher them for food once dead. Of course, that may be a later feature.
Clockwork Empires does let you place specific buildings and zones of various purposes. It’s fair to assume these people would like to sleep on "not-ground" at some point, so you can build a large home with cots. Each building and items within it cost commodities, so sometimes you must build other buildings to accommodate. For example, cots cost planks, of which you only begin with three, so you’ll need to build a carpentry building with a workbench to make planks. Unlike the popular Maxis games, assigning a task or even deciding to build does not result in instant gratification. It’s unclear if this is by design, but there were times when a mostly unoccupied population just was not chopping trees or building that workbench I needed.
That kind of thing could become frustrating over a long period of time, yet the game’s Early Access seams are showing too much to spend too long with it. First and foremost, you can’t save your progress. I thought maybe I was nuts, missing a menu command somewhere—nope. The afternoon that the game “launched,” which was after I started it, the developers addressed this seemingly obvious exclusion as being a work-in-progress. Problem #2 manifested as a game-crashing bug, which occurred when I tried to lay down cots for my people to sleep on.
It’s apparent that Clockwork Empires has charm and style to reel players in, but I suggest approaching this title with caution. We’re busy folks who have things to do, and a simulation game without a save function is like a first-person shooter without the ability to reload. Although you’ll be entertained for a brief while, it’s not currently respectful of your time. That could change real soon, and we’ll report back on it when there’s more to do and see. Keep it on your radar for now.