We've had management sims covering everything from hospitals to aquariums, so it was inevitable that pubs would eventually get their turn. Enter Crossroads Inn, a tavern management sim in which you're tasked with building and running ye olde village inn—setting up furnishings, ordering drinks and food and ultimately using people's innate desire to not be sober as a way to carve out a living in this cold and inhospitable world.
As a former barman, and PC Gamer's foremost expert on the subject of virtual pubs, I took it upon myself to assess how accurate a job Crossroads Inn does of portraying the noble profession.
You are probably the son of the king
I wasn't fully prepared for Crossroad Inn's campaign intro, which is all about political intrigue rather than the day-to-day reality of running a mid-tier boozer—cleaning sick out of a toilet or stopping an argument about who's richer, Slash from Guns 'n' Roses or MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, from turning into an actual fistfight because drunk people are the worst.
It turns out the king has died—likely murdered—and has left no heirs, causing political instability throughout the land. It's heavily implied from the opening that your character—ostensibly a countryside rube who spends his days running an inn with his uncle—is secretly the son of the king.
Also, just in case the implication proves too subtle for some, there's also this title card:
And look, I'm in no position to criticise the authenticity of this. I live in a literal kingdom; a place where people in tights have to perform rituals in order for a government to happen. It is entirely possible—perhaps even likely—that someone, somewhere once ran a pub while also secretly being the spawn of a monarch. Nonetheless, I can only reasonably judge this on my own experience, and I am not the son of a king. I am the son of a former landlord, who in his spare time was the drummer for a covers band that toured the Warwickshire pub circuit.
Accuracy rating: Low, probably
Some jerk has a monopoly on wine
The first mission is all about setting up your business while preparing for an upcoming wedding reception. The first step is to buy some booze. On this, Crossroads Inn is right on the mark: a pub without alcohol is just a village hall, and nobody wants to be in one of those. Problem: following the king's murder, a local duke has taken a stranglehold on the wine business, forcing you to buy his wine at unreasonable rates.
This is somewhat reminiscent of how breweries operate—buying pubs and then forcing the landlords (who are just renting the lease) to buy from them at inflated prices. Here, though, the sense of being targeted by unfair market practices is centred on a single punchable face rather than all of capitalism. Which, I feel, is an improvement.
Accuracy: Yeah, pretty much
It often crashes to desktop, forcing you to restart the day
I mean, no, this isn't accurate in the literal sense. As a metaphorical representation of the repetition inherent in the job—the same locals drinking the same beer and having the same conversations about how it's ridiculous that the council denied planning permission for a new conservatory when Terry from down the road is allowed to build a second garage—it's pretty much on the money.
Accuracy rating: Time is a flat circle
You start smuggling wine under the duke's stupid nose
Rather than pay the duke's prices, you conspire with a local outlaw to smuggle and distribute wine. This is as simple as clicking on the nearby bandit camp and buying a few barrels off a big menu of presumably illicit goods that also includes water and plates for some reason.
Alas! The duke spends his days walking up and down the road to your pub. Every time he passes, you're forced to pass a speech check to persuade him that you're not selling the wine that you're obviously selling. Succeed, and he walks on by. Fail, and a small army of goons will run in and confiscate as much as they can carry.
I have no first-hand experience of smuggling goods through pubs, but I did once visit a pub in Salford where some lads in tracksuits brought in coolers full of meat that had clearly fallen off the back of a lorry (translation for non-British readers: been stolen), and everyone in the pub calmly bought some in a way that suggested this was a normal and regular occurrence. Basically: there are a lot of pubs and not enough dukes to police them all.
Accuracy rating: We left pretty quickly after that because it was increasingly obvious that we—students at the time—were not welcome with our haircuts and our accents and our working knowledge of Kant's categorical imperative
The literal second that anyone sits down they start yelling at you for service, regardless of how busy things are
This rings true. And look, I get it, you're in a rush to get to Keswick to visit one of the many hundreds of hiking shops or whatever it is tourists actually do when they reach Keswick. But here's the thing: you are just one of many customers and you all want to go to Keswick and there's nothing inherently special about that so just wait your turn.
My handful of staff do their best to keep up with the demand, but they're very bad at multitasking and insist on taking and fulfilling each individual order rather than doing a table at a time.
Accuracy rating: Keswick is actually pretty nice
You're asked to buy decorations that will suit your guests' tastes
It's the day of the wedding. I have smuggled so much wine that the duke is financially ruined. I have managed to decipher enough of the clunky interface to create a kitchen that serves a selection of meals based around the theme of sausage. But before we can invite the guests, I'm told to decorate in accordance with their tastes. The outlaws from the groom's side will want weapons hung from the walls. The peasants from the bride's side prefer flowers and agricultural equipment.
This is wild to me: you can't keep adjusting your decor based on the tastes of people who are about to arrive. At least not without a complicated setup involving a team of interior decorators and an FBI profiler with either a drone or a very good pair of binoculars. No village pub has that kind of available income.
Accuracy rating: My dad filled his pub with pictures of Mini Coopers. Live your truth
The recently impoverished duke burns down your tavern, forcing you to build a new one after taking out some heavy loans from the bank, but it's OK because your uncle renegotiates a partial refund of the land you bought thus letting you pay off your mounting debts
Er… I wasn't prepared for any of this.
Accuracy rating: Um...
Nobody will do the washing up
You don't have to tell me that the mugs are dirty, game. I can clearly see that there is no wine being served. But here's my big question: what do you expect me to do about it? I have provided a bucket in which to wash the mugs. I have supplied water—first delivered from a nearby town, and now from the well I've just built. I have done my best with the obtuse UI to tell staff that cleaning generally and washing up specifically is a priority. And yet there the bucket stands, complaining it's out of water. And there the staff mill around, doing everything except the washing up.
...OK, I've just checked the Steam forum and someone was having the same problem. Turns out the answer was to install a separate barrel for water storage, despite the fact the well is right there. This nonetheless speaks to a larger issue that the interface is so badly designed that it's hard to tell whether you're experiencing a bug or just a key element in the production process. Also the game is now crashing a lot, usually when I try to load it up, so there are definitely some problems.
Accuracy rating: In real life you can just tell a member of staff to do the washing up without having to search through nonsensical menus
Overall then, I've got some mild concerns about Crossroads Inn's accuracy vis-a-vis managing an actual pub. Unfortunately, though, I've mostly got a lot of concerns about Crossroads Inn in general. I'd initially assumed I was playing an Early Access release, but no—this is apparently the full thing. As good as the concept is, the execution is disappointingly unpolished, unintuitive and at times just broken.