Imagine waking up on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. Your first impulse might be to escape, maybe by grabbing some wood, crafting a boat, and sailing away. But if you're playing Havendock, escape is for the short-sighted. So you're stuck on a tiny island—why not simply build a booming town over the water and just live there?
At first, the demo for colony builder Havendock feels a bit like survival game Raft: I'm standing on a few tiny squares of wood with water all around me, and I need to grab floating leaves, wooden planks, and fish from the ocean to use for resources. Unlike Raft, though, my base isn't moving through the water but anchored to the tiny sandy island I woke up on. And unlike most colony sims, I'm running around as a character as opposed to a god-like being peering down from the sky.
Soon I'm able to build more sections of dock to stretch out over the waves, and the space quickly becomes filled with crafting stations and equipment. I set up a water pump to draw seawater up to the dock and a purifier to make it drinkable. I build birdhouses to attract feathered visitors who will give me seeds for farming plots, and I feed them raw fish in return. (Don't tell those friendly birds this, but I also built a steel trap to catch different birds to harvest for feathers and bones.)
I burn wood for charcoal to power grills and cooking stations, and a research table lets me open up new avenues of technology like smelting. Every scrap of spare wood lets me extend my dock further to make more room and try to build my way over to other tiny islands and structures in the distance. I see one little shack across the water that has chickens. I must have those chickens. In the other direction, I see a lighthouse. I will build my way there, too. On another island, a large penguin is just chilling out. I need to know why. These glimpses of other locations at sea are enough to keep me collecting and building at a fever pitch.
It's not long before a curious survivor sails over to my growing town on a tiny raft. This little NPC is interested in joining my colony, provided I build him a house first. I don't even have a house myself yet, but I research the new building and add it to the dock while he waits. I'm a little annoyed he doesn't even help me build his own house, so once he's settled I assign him to the worst job in town: pumping up seawater and purifying it. That's one of the nice things about Havendock: I can make settlers do all the chores I don't want to do myself.
Pretty soon I've got five settlers living on my sprawling dock and I'm making them do all the stuff I'm not interested in. One guy is building up my steel and glass resources, first by scuba diving to the seafloor to gather ore and sand, and then feeding it into my forge and hammering it into shape. I've got another settler on seed duty so I can have my little farms growing fresh food without my needing to supervise them. I've assigned someone else to cook meals for everyone, and another carrying stuff around and stacking it in storage. It's a pretty good system: I can run around collecting all the resources floating by and building docks and bridges without getting swamped with other chores.
It's not all smooth sailing: a few of my settlers have injured themselves in the course of the workday, and I was struck by lightning, right in the damn head, during a rainstorm. Herbs and medicine suddenly become an important research goal because almost everyone is limping around, unhappy, which is slowing everything down. And much as I appreciate my little helpers, they're not too bright. When I finally craft some medicine, I put it in storage for them, but they won't actually use it even though I can see one of them carrying the bottle around. Turns out, the meds are for me, and what my colonists really need to recuperate are feather-filled mattresses. So far my bird traps have only produced a single feather. The limping is going to continue for a while until I sort that out.
There's some enjoyable silliness in Havendock. When I need raw meat I don't raise livestock and butcher them, I grow burgers in my garden. Complete hamburgers! With buns and cheese and everything, growing right out of the soil like they're Ooblets. It doesn't make sense, but it's pretty darn cute. And the game is oozing with charm, from the busy little people to the giant goldfish jumping out of the sea to all the chunky little crafting stations peppered around my growing dock-town.
Despite my injured crew, my little ocean-top village is making quite a name for itself. After building a bridge over to a lighthouse and then repairing the broken structure I was able to signal a trader, who chugged over in a boat and now routinely swings by offering to swap goods with me. Unfortunately they haven't shown up with feathers yet, which would be useful for my mattress shortage, but I can improve the lighthouse to attract more vendors in the future.
There's also a lot I haven't seen yet: the full game will include underwater systems for pumping oil and generating electricity, rowboats and submarines for exploring areas beyond the town, and according to one NPC I talked to I'll be able to research flight. I'm really enjoying the colony builder so far, and I'm especially impressed that it's the work of solo-developer Yeo Ying Zhi (aka YYZ).
Havendock is due to launch into Early Access in Q2 of 2023, but in the meantime there's a free demo that will absolutely hook you. If you enjoy it (you will), you might also be able to join a closed beta. And if you're looking for more colony management sims, check out the ones on sale at Steam Base Builder Fest.