The Fertile Crescent, or TFC for short, is made by two Norwegians currently living in Queensland. It’s been hanging around on itch.io for a while, with multiplayer servers in the US, South Korea, South America, Australia and Europe, but after securing a publishing deal the game will get a proper early access release on Steam in either Q1 or Q2 next year.
The lo-fi pixel art style, apart from looking great, has plenty of obvious parallels with Age of Empires. You’re dealing with a Bronze Age-era civilisation that slowly advances as you amass knowledge points throughout the course of the game. Mechanically, it draws a ton from that ’90s era of strategy. You’re placing farms to support your growing army, building more villagers and balancing how many you need on food versus metal and wood, scouring the map and evaluating which upgrades you need to counter your opponent, and upgrading your soldiers with copper and bronze when the time comes.
Even the main menu puts a smile on my face. It reminds me of games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and some of those classic simulators:
What I love here is the zoom distance. It just really makes this era of strategy game — or at least what the Queensland devs are going for — really sing, especially in later stages when walls, farms, houses and resources start to pile up:
Something neat, too, is that your town centre automatically builds villagers. All you have to do is decide whether to pause production, and there’s a mechanic where villager training speed is improved if you have a surplus of food. Excess food also improves how fast you gain knowledge, too, simplifying some of the pain points for newer players that might jump into a StarCraft or an Age of Empires.
You can see some gameplay below through the developer’s official YouTube channel. That same, soft Nordic voice is also what you’ll hear when you play the official tutorial, which is available as part of an early build downloadable on itch.
The developer says TFC will get an “upcoming enchanted edition” when it hits early access next year. The game will have a singleplayer mode as well, and I imagine there’ll be more tutorials, another UI pass, and other features to support the multiplayer side of things.
You can keep track of proceedings, and support a local developer, by adding TFC to your Steam wishlist here. And if you want to dabble in a bit of AOE-style multiplayer before AOE 4 drops — without, you know, actually firing up the existing AOE games and getting romped by the people who have been playing that for 20 years — there’s Linux, PC and Mac builds on the itch.io page.