The great thing about Steam Next Fest is there are literally hundreds of free demos to play. The downside comes when you find one that you want to keep on playing long after the bite-sized demo is done.
That's where I'm at with Fabledom, a charming and laid-back city builder with storybook looks and loads of charm. In a medieval-inspired fantasy world, become the founder of a tiny little town, then put your cute little peasants to work chopping down trees, mining stone, farming vegetables, and building homes. Your goal as ruler isn't just to grow and oversee a bustling little village but contact other kingdoms out in the world, establish diplomacy and trade with them, and eventually find yourself a prince or princess to share your castle with.
And happily, the demo has been extended for two more weeks following Next Fest. There's still plenty of time to play with it.
One thing that immediately grabbed me in the demo is the way houses are built. As in most city builders, you plop down a square for the house and one of your workers will come along and hammer away until it's built. But you also designate a dynamic little plot of land around each house, and your citizens will add little structures in their yards. Maybe they'll build a chicken coop or a dog house, or plant a tree that will bear fruit, or maybe a couple of clotheslines for drying their laundry will appear behind their homes. It's nice because the random nature of what citizens do with their yards means even in a neat row of houses, each will wind up looking a little different.
As your town grows you'll earn gold by completing objectives and collecting taxes, and new buildings will unlock. I built a granary to store food, an inn to attract visitors, and a messenger building where I can employ one of my citizens to take greetings to other kingdoms on the overworld map to establish diplomacy and trade.
Naturally there are monsters in fairy tales, so you'll eventually want to attract a hero to your little town, and as you expand your territory you'll find ruins for your hero to explore, enemies to contend with (a large rock troll is shown in one screenshot), and an army to lead as you clash with other less-friendly factions. Not all of this is available in the demo, but based on Fabledom's vibes I suspect that even dealing with giants and witches won't be particularly stressful.
The demo isn't all that long, which is a shame because I'm digging it pretty hard. Steam Next Fest lasts until Feb 13, so there's still a few days to check out the Fabledom demo if you haven't yet. And if you do miss it, not to worry: the early access release is planned for the first quarter of this year.