A delightfully-detailed, Discworld-inspired inn manager with absurd furniture customisation stashed in the larder: Tavern Keeper enters early access this year

Game Dev Tycoon was a bit of a phenomenon back in the day. Released in 2012, Greenheart Games' first major title quickly achieved viral success due, in part, to being a neat little management game about the industry itself—making it a popular choice for YouTubers and streamers. 

Over a decade later, the studio's ready to put its next game out into the wild: Tavern Keeper, a game about, well, keeping taverns.

I had the chance to sit down with Patrick Klug, director and manager of Greenheart Games, and had an early peek into the game itself. At a glance, Tavern Keeper looks like a cosy little inn management game—and it is—but the more time I spent looking at it, the more little elements of craft revealed themselves to me. 

In Tavern Keeper, you're given run-down inns to manage as you progress through a small handful of key locations. Think Two Point Hospital, but you're running a bar full of unruly patrons rather than a medical nightmare. To progress, you'll need to accrue stars by fulfilling various objectives—hiring staff, designating and decorating rooms, and making sure your guests are happy with their ales and sundry.

Your first fix'er upper is in a little muddy swamp called Riverbottom, and I'm immediately charmed when a lovingly-animated ogre paddles down the river to sell you casks of ale. The game's clearly flooded with little touches like this—and while I think the cinematic trailer Greenheart Games showed back in Gamescom 2023 is cute, it doesn't quite sell how nice everything looks in practice. Everything's got this OSRS style low-poly look to it that's like liquid nostalgia.

I was shown a hiring list as Klug made his first step towards building up his tavern—and there's a lot of character injected into these funny little guys already. Your staff come with various traits and aptitude in different skills, as well as complicated histories: Consider Bron, who was let go from his past two taverns for "making patrons disappear" and "booby-trapping the tavern", or Gavin, who hates riddles. Me too, Gavin. 

It's all very Discworld in nature, which is something Klug emphasises as a key inspiration: "I think it's much more towards Discworld than Lord of the Rings. Our stories are not really about heroes and adventurers, it's more like this anachronistic, quite modern kind of thing with a bit of heart and humour."

As you continue to refit and rehome your inn, you'll also be presented with "stories", little choose-your-own adventure vignettes that can do everything from providing brief mechanical bonuses to giving you unique staff, such as a skeleton who got tired of guarding a dungeon and wants to pursue his dreams.

"There isn't really a story where you 'fail'," Klug explains: "If you make stories too mechanical, then you get players not actually caring about the story—they care about the outcome, so they click through and get to what they want, like, 'I want plus two food'." If you've ever played Wildermyth (which I highly recommend), Tavern Keeper's stories appear to work very similarly.

The more Klug plays, the more I get a sense for the level of detail at play—later in the game, players can toy with not only drinks, but food recipes too. Cut to a bespoke, fully-animated and rendered section of the menu where he hucks some swamp rats into a bowl with water, each ingredient having its own varying trait Potionomics-style. Neat, I think so far. This all looks like it's had a lot of care gone into it.

Klug then selects a cabinet, goes into "detail mode", and nonchalantly reveals to me that it comprises 114 pieces he can grab, scale and rotate at will. Excuse me?

(Image credit: Greenheart Games)

Tavern Keeper buries the lede a lot with its furniture customisation, which is about as granular as you can get. Players can create their own pieces for their tavern by clipping, rotating, and scaling various assets to their heart's content. The same kind of ingenuity that can be found in MMO housing communities is also explicitly possible here. 

Players can save templates they create in design mode (or grab a share code to allow other players to use them) and bring them into their next tavern. There's even a debug-style grid map with every single asset loaded in that's available to players, giving them carte blanche to tinker with infinite money.

Tavern Keeper will be heading into early access late this year—though Klug and his team plan to release a demo before then. I'm personally very impressed already by what Greenheart Games had to show off, and I hope that the full game will stand up to scrutiny once the general public gets their hands on it, especially since it's been in the oven for so long. 

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.