The space strategy games I've played over the last few years have made me want something like Aven Colony. Beyond Earth was an OK Civ spinoff, but it's not a game that captures the fragility of space existence. Offworld Trading Company is a brilliant take on RTS, but winning by buying out my opponents wasn't quite the flavor of utopian, Roddenberryian take on space exploration I wanted.
Aven Colony is a builder. It's SimCity or Cities: Skylines with a greater focus on survival and expansion rather than optimization and elegant planning. As governor of what's initially a series of interconnected domes, it's your job to nurture an alien foothold into mankind's first thriving, extraterrestrial colony.
It's a futuristic setting, but you're still managing many of the same resources: water, power, and food alongside other ratings like happiness, crime, and air quality. If anything, that's one of my immediate criticisms of Aven: you're on an alien world, but plenty feels familiar. As the game moves from beta to release in early 2017, I'd love to see it go even further to embrace its offworld setting.
Unlike contemporary builders, though, you're not earning space bucks or another currency. You pull metal out of the ground, process it, and spend the resulting 'nanites' on new buildings and upgrades. With no budget or taxes to manage, I liked that I felt focused on my own goals, like farming lots of wheat so I could use my mill to create happiness-producing pasta and bread for my colonists.
And although Aven doesn't seem like a harsh city builder like Banished, it does ask you to fend off disasters (like lightning strikes that destroy buildings, tornadoes, or sand worms) and keep everyone alive. I spent the first hour of my 'skirmish' run stabilizing my colony as it grew, balancing mineral and power output with the need to grow more melons and broccoli (my chosen crops) and accommodate more settlers. If I hadn't triggered food rationing I would've run out of food during the first winter, a seasonal event that cuts food output (unless you've built greenhouses) and solar production. In moments like this I wished there was a way to manually reassign workers to structures in order to boost their output, but I'm also unsure if I want that level of micromanagement in a game that's otherwise pretty chill.
Though Aven Colony is incomplete, Austin, TX developer Mothership Entertainment has a few fundamental things to work on. I like the near-future look of most of the structures, but most of them don't animate enough to give me the feeling of my colony being a buzzing, elegant ant farm, something that games like SimCity and Anno nail.
Aven's information visualization also needs work. When I drop a park beside my apartment complexes, it generates 20 "units of entertainment," but I don't know whether that's over a specific radius or how that effect gets distributed. Likewise, air quality is visible per tile, but Aven doesn't give me a concrete sense of how much more pollution my power plant generates compared to my copper mine, for example.
Even with these issues, there are pleasant touches that encourage me to put more time into Aven. Early game, I'd watch the immigration center each time a handful of new colonists hit the landing pad, anticipating their absorption of empty job slots in my mines, air purifiers, and farms. In one of the campaign missions, I enjoyed figuring out how to feed my frozen, barren colony purely by trading gold for food. It felt like a big achievement when I eventually stretched across the map into one of the only fertile areas, creating a distant, 'rural' settlement focused on farming with its own neighboring residences.
Aven needs more time in the oven, and would benefit from more curveballs, surprises, and alien weirdness to break up its pleasant but somewhat unchallenging building. Still, its optimistic treatment of space exploration is one of the most appealing I've found. You can buy into the beta for $25 through Itch.io.