There are all sorts of city builders these days: survival, strategy, urban, medieval, sci-fi, fantasy, and even cozy. But all city builders roughly fall into one of two categories: the kind where if you mess up, your citizens move out of your city, and the kind where if you mess up, your citizens die horrible, agonizing deaths.
Or so I thought. While talking with Volker Wertich this week about his upcoming strategy city builder Pioneers of Pagonia, I asked what happens if things go wrong, such as not harvesting enough food for the city's population. Do citizens leave when their needs aren't met, or do they die?
"Neither," Wertich told me. "In our game, you don't have to make your people happy. Instead, your people have to make you happy. That's the general idea."
Wertich was the designer and programmer of strategy city builder The Settlers back in 1993, as well as The Settlers 3 in 1998. Wertich was also involved with Ubisoft Blue Byte's more recent The Settlers: New Allies, but left the studio mid-development in 2020 after "the direction of the game was completely changed to a different vision," he says.
Now Wertich and a team of 20 developers at Envision Entertainment are working on Pioneers of Pagonia, and today gave us our first look at the strategy city builder's gameplay, which you can see below:
Though the trailer is a brief one, a few things stand out: it's an utterly lovely looking game, the details and animations of the buildings and workers are mesmerizing to watch, and gosh—there are a heck of a lot of little citizens walking around.
"In a quite common situation it can happen that you have 500 units on screen," Wertich says, and players will "definitely have multiple thousands of inhabitants in your overall city." The word Wertich uses to describe the city builder is wuselig: German for busy, or hustling and bustling. It sure looks that way to me, and there's good news for anyone who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed: Pioneers of Pagonia will support online co-op, so you'll be able to invite a friend to help you manage everything.
Exploration of the procedurally generated map will uncover different neutral factions who can join you if you help solve their problems—supply them with resources they need, or send a treasure hunter out to find one of their lost artifacts. There are also hostile factions in the world, of course, not just bandits who will raid you but supernatural entities like ghosts and werewolves lurking in the woods, which can be seen at the very end of the gameplay trailer.
You'll need to tackle those threats with appropriate units—soldiers might be able to handle human bandits, but you'll want to train witches and sorcerers in your city to deal with any ghosts you come across.
"For the werewolves, the best unit is an adventurer who uses a silver dagger, " Wertich says. "Because if you send weak soldiers, the werewolves will just bite them, and every soldier bitten will turn into a new werewolf."
And if one soldier becomes a werewolf and bites another soldier… well, things could quickly get out of hand. "So you will at some point, maybe, have an island of werewolves in Pagonia," Wertich says with a smile.
When you're not dealing with werewolves and ghosts, you'll need to manage your resources which can all be tracked visually: citizens chopping trees and carting the logs to the sawmill, the logs being turned into planks or firewood, those planks being delivered to building sites and firewood being used as fuel. Problems in your supply chain will stand out since you'll be able to see stacks of goods piled up if they aren't being transported properly.
So, back to my original question: what happens if you run out of food, if hungry citizens leaving or dying is off the table? Wertich explains that your city's population won't grow, your miners will stop working, and your explorers won't search the map for new locations, bringing your city's expansion to a grinding halt. "But it's not like people will die or leave," Wertich says. Good to know, especially considering my track record when it comes to managing peasants. Pioneers of Pagonia is aiming to launch into early access in late 2023.