Keep the Peeps happy

Image: supplied
Image: supplied

From: Balancing Monkey Games
For: PC
Rating: ★★★


Management games are a dime a dozen these days. From managing large scale, in-depth and expansive civilisations (Civilization series), to more niche subjects such as prisons, hospitals and amusement parks (Prison Architect, Two Point Hospital, Rollercoaster Tycoon series), management games are a well entrenched genre.

Before We Leave, from Dunedin’s own Balancing Monkey Games, leans more on the larger scale side of this, but also attempts to make it more accessible for newcomers. To that end, I believe they succeeded.

Before We Leave starts with the last vestiges of humanity appearing out of a shelter having survived some unknown galactic event. You have to gather all the necessary materials to restart life, and use the remnants of the old world to research technologies for the new one to thrive.

However, there is only so much technology to use on one island, so eventually, you branch out to other islands and then eventually other planets to begin the human race anew.

Image: supplied
Image: supplied
Each island on a planet has a different climate. The desert island doesn’t have much space to grow food, the rainforest gives a boost to production, etc. Despite the variety, no one planet has everything. In a lot of cases, an island won’t have the necessary resources to properly begin a settlement. This is where Shipping Routes come in. Ports and Space Ports allow you to set up these routes to exchange items between islands and planets.

The main draw of Before We Leave is the removal of combat mechanics commonly seen in management games. In their place, we have what is more akin to minor annoyances on a few islands, which you deal with nonviolently. There are gremlins that will take away your resources, minotaurs that will disrupt your villagers (called Peeps), cryptic Sphinxes that require riddles answered, and giant space whales that will devour planets unless you can sate their hunger. Yes, the giant space whales that devour planets are a ‘‘minor annoyance’’.

You don’t control the Peeps directly. You can influence their decisions through a simple priority system. The Peeps are pretty good at sustaining themselves, leaving you more time to start colonies on other islands and, despite a few issues, it works really well.

One of the things that makes it easier than other games is that there isn’t a fail condition. Your Peeps can’t die if you neglect their needs - only lose happiness, which affects the speed at which they complete tasks.

Everything seems to affect happiness in some way. Most buildings come with a gloom effect, which reduces happiness. Many buildings have a pollution effect, which reduces happiness and gets worse if you don’t deal with it. Having too many Peeps affects happiness. Having the Peeps do hard work reduces happiness... you get the idea.

To counteract the happiness drop, you can give your Peeps better food to eat, better clothes to wear, and decorate your settlements. However, this eventually became unbearable as all of my Peeps slowed to a crawl or simply refused to work if I didn’t spend a lot of time building ways to make them happy.

And remember, not every planet or island has what you need. You have to ship in items to keep your Peeps happy so they’ll make something for another planet... it was about this point it started feeling like I was simply spinning my wheels.

Despite that, the game is charming. The graphics, while simple, are clear and easy to distinguish. Each building has unique sound effects and your Peeps add a sense of life and presence to the game.

Before We Leave is a game I can recommend for newcomers to the management genre: it’s simple, accessible, with a dash of cosmic horror, and is just an all-around nice game to relax with as long as you’re not trying to micro-manage everything. The constant need to keep your Peeps happy is a big detractor, but if you can deal with that, then you’ll find a lot to like.

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