Call me a pessimist, but after instructing my gnomes to build a small house and craft a couple bedrolls, I have them dig their own graves out back. This is my second game of Founder's Fortune, a fantasy colony management sim now in Early Access, and my first game ended quickly and shockingly with the mass extinction of my gnomes after an extended slapfight with some neighboring goblins.
So, the grave digging.
I promise I'm going to try my best to grow this little homestead into a real village with farms and workshops and crowds of happy little gnomes, but I'm also gonna be prepared for the worst. That's what good fantasy managers do.
You begin Founder's Fortune with some limited supplies and just two gnomes. (By the way, I'm only calling them gnomes because they're wearing suspenders and colorful pointed hats. They don't look like D&D gnomes, more like garden gnomes.) You can assign them job like building, farming, and chopping down trees (technically kicking down trees until they've amassed enough resources to build an axe). In between they'll take breaks to sleep and eat and constantly wallow in utter misery. My gnomes, despite my best efforts, are incredibly unhappy. Maybe their feet are sore.
Each randomly generated gnome colonist has a few attributes. I have a gnome with a severe limp and insomnia: I can tell he's gonna be a real all-star. My other gnome—and I'm not being mean, this is how the game describes him—is dumb. He's a dumb gnome. This means he can't ever gain experience by performing his job, which is to kick crystals all day (crystals are used to research new technology). My dumb gnome is also allergic to apples, which is a worry since that's literally the only thing we have to eat.
Do you see now why I had them immediately dig their graves?
I need more gnomes because having these two dipshits kick trees and crystals all day doesn't leave much time to research new tech like farming and weaponry, or do any real construction, or have time for activities that might make them happier. The real issue, I've found, is not keeping my gnomes busy but keeping them in a good mood. No new gnomes will join your colony unless every current gnome is content. And none of my gnomes are content.
Gnomes have wishes, see. They can be simple—my dumb gnome would like a cabinet in the house, but once I have the cabinet built he wishes for a chair, and when the chair is built his new wish is to sit in the chair, and once he's done that he immediately wishes for something else, like a table or potted plant. It's an unending series of requests that barely bump up their morale and are immediately replaced with something else. I can't keep up with the wishes and still get the colony growing.
Both of my gnomes also have the wish to straight-up kill a goblin, which I find mildly troubling. The goblins are clearly the natives of this land I'm building houses and kicking down trees on. While murdering goblins might very well be necessary to the success of my gnome colony, I'm still a little disgusted that my two dorks are so keen on imperialist bloodshed.
When a goblin finally wanders over with hostile intentions, I put my gnomes into combat mode and they go absolutely ham, slapping and hacking at the goblin with the one axe we own. And sure, the goblin attacked first, but it's a bit unsettling to see their gnome wishes being fulfilled by battering a primitive humanoid into unconsciousness.
I know from my first game that the goblin will eventually wake up, so I have my gnomes kill and bury him in one of the spare graves. It's a grim day at the gnomestead.
Eventually I please both my gnomes enough to attract a third to join the colony. After having her dig her own grave behind the house, I set her up as a farmer. She gathers food, plants crops, and buys a few supplies from a trader who arrives in a little boat. I notice that there's several options to interact with the trader, and those choices include "fight" and "kill."
Jeez! As cute as this game is, it's also pretty bloodthirsty. I decide to hug the trader to offset some of the violence, but before I can he goes to sleep on the ground.
Even with a third gnome, progress in Founder's Fortune is slow-going. As my gnomes work they gain XP and level up, which lets you boost their stats or remove unwanted attributes (I can even cure my gnome of his dumbness, eventually). But my new gnome has her wish list, too, for furniture and relaxation time and conversations with other gnomes, which cuts into work time. I eventually manage to get another room built and add more crafting tables, cabinets, racks for tools and weapons, and a few other amenities. But if feels like it's taking ages to progress much or become happy enough to attract a fourth colonist, and every so often a new goblin walks over and stirs up more violence.
Eventually, I opt for all-out war. I send my gnomes out to destroy the goblin village, first pummeling the goblins to the ground, then murdering their unconscious bodies, then destroying all of the buildings that spawn them.
This isn't how I wanted my fantasy gnome village to grow, through brutal slap-based genocide of indigenous goblins. I'd much rather trade with them, and frankly, their goblin huts look much nicer than the crappy wooden boxes I've built to house my collection of tree-kickers. In fact, I wouldn't mind playing as the goblins themselves—building huts, crafting masks, and repelling hordes of gnomish invaders. Goblins have wishes, too, after all.
I mostly had a fun time with Founder's Fortune, though—progress does feel a bit slow, even with the clock sped up, but the construction system is well-designed and the sim has a lot of charm. If you like colony management games, it's one to keep an eye on in Early Access.