In this brutal Lovecraftian survival game, my entire village was wiped out in the time it took you to read this sentence

Tribe members in the stone age
(Image credit: Walking Tree Games)

Things are going great for my ragged little Stone Age tribe. The population is growing, we've got lots of food from hunting, and I'm slowly but surely expanding our camp into new regions to find more resources.

Best of all I'm taking care of my villagers' spiritual needs, and watching them dance around their shaman's hut to lessen their fears and replenish their souls in this dark and uncertain world is a genuinely uplifting moment to witness.

Then one night the big campfire at the center of the village abruptly goes out. Looks like I built too much, too quickly, depleting my wood reserves, and now there's nothing left to burn. No big deal, I can just wait a few seconds for someone to cut down another tree. Right?

Nope. I stare at the screen knowing what's about to happen, because it's already happened to my last four tribes. From the darkened woods, inky black tentacles lash out and yoink my primitive little darlings, one by one, off the screen and into oblivion. Within a few seconds every last one of them—and there were 25 of them—are gone. Game over.

The goal is pretty clearly stated in the title of survival settlement builder The Tribe Must Survive, but so far my tribe can't survive, at least for very long. My current record is just 17 days before I goof something up, my campfire goes out, and everyone is dragged off into the woods but whatever the hell those things are lurking in the darkness.

It's brutal but I kinda like it. I've never seen a Lovecraftian take on the Stone Age, and I've never played a settlement-builder where the end can come so swiftly and surely. In Frostpunk, the generator at the center of your city can fail, but it's not like everyone immediately turns into ice cubes. You can run out of firewood in games like Farthest Frontier or Manor Lords, but the cold won't instakill the entire population before you can direct someone to chop down another tree. 

(Image credit: Walking Tree Games)

But in The Tribe Must Survive, the utter destruction of your people can come in the blink of an eye. By the time you've spotted the problem, it's usually too late to do anything about it. And you can't just take your time and proceed slowly because the starting area isn't exactly abundant with resources. Almost as soon as you begin you need to start expanding outward to find more trees, more rocks, and more game to hunt. And that means pushing further into the darkness by using your meager resources to expand.

Luckily, starting over again after everyone dies isn't that much of a chore. Plop down some lumber camps, a stone pit, a hunter's hall, a few tents, and your new tribe can be back up and running pretty quickly. Besides, failure has its benefits. Each time your tribe perishes from the unseen slithering horrors, your progress is calculated: how many villagers you had, how many resources you gathered, how many days it took before you completely botched things and let them all die horribly. 

(Image credit: Walking Tree Games)

That score is translated into XP, and when you reach a new level you begin with some benefits, such as starting with an abundance of rocks and a modifier to stone gathering time. Your previous colossal failure means your next go will be a bit easier.

At least in theory. There's all sorts of other dangers in the world, like in another session when an eclipse occurred. That meant less daylight and a greater chance of shadow monsters eating someone, but that was just one problem. The eclipse also scared my villagers so badly they wanted to start voluntarily throwing each other into the dark woods to be sacrificed, or at least start chucking our food supply to the monsters in hopes it'd hold them off. Things went downhill pretty quickly after that.

It's the rare game where repeated failure doesn't make me want to play something easier.

Another time a strange vampiric tribe of plant monsters appeared and asked, quite politely, if they could drink our blood. I agreed to their terms because at least they asked first, but it may have been a mistake since it left more than half of my tribe extra sleepy and slowed them down so much that, yes, I once again ran out of wood, the fire went out, and everyone died. Note to self: don't let vampires drink from you.

Maybe I'll eventually get better at this? At least it's the rare game where repeated failure doesn't make me want to play something easier. The combination of being sure I can do better next time, along with my curiosity about what lies deeper into the world, keeps me coming back for another try. The Tribe Must Survive is 20% off on Steam until June 6, if you think you can keep your stone age crew alive for longer than I can. 

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.