My tavern, the 100 & 0, is old and busted. I only just inherited it, which means I only have a few tables, I haven't expanded my storehouses or wineries, and my reputation amounts to a few vaguely positive whispers. I've got chicken wings on the menu though, so that's something. And I'm confident that one day my tavern will be known far and wide, and so will the adventurers crowding my tables and barking orders at me. Some of them, anyway. Some of them will surely die.
Epic Tavern is a management sim about running a medieval tavern and quietly saving the world. I only recently had the opportunity to play it, but it's been on Steam Early Access since last fall. It feels like an Early Access game—some of the most interesting-sounding features are missing and the UI is a bit of a mess—but it's still a fascinating reverse-RPG. As the master of the tavern, it falls to you to raise the next generation of heroes one swig of mead at a time. You are both mother hen and the philanthropic puppet master pulling the strings of the world's workaday saviors.
Your progress is measured in days, and days are split into two parts. You start each day by overseeing your tavern, which involves keeping up your stock of food and booze, serving said food and booze, cozying up to adventurers to inquire about new quests, and on occasion, hiring an adventurer to join your party and complete quests for you. Your party members always visit your tavern, but you'll also find regular patrons outside your party, which can lead to some cool stories.
I start my first day by setting up a menu. I've got three slots for food and three for booze. I've also only got three options for each, so I just chuck it all in there. Whatever: it's what's for dinner. I open my tavern and a handful of adventurers pop in. The standouts are an orc mage and a dwarf paladin, who are both combat-focused adventurers. Most of my other patrons are better suited to situations requiring intellect and dexterity, but right now I just need people who won't cost me a fortune and who can also locate the pointy end of a sword.
I greet them both and they order up: the orc wants some bread, and to the surprise of no one, the dwarf wants a pint of mead. Once they've had their fill, they start to warm up to me, and soon enough they're asking for work. My party can hold two members at this point so I hire them both on the spot. (In the prologue, I had four party members, so it's possible you can hire even more adventurers down the line.)
Before I close out the day, my new favorite paladin orders another pint, which I happily serve up. The more beer he buys, the more money I can spend on renovations, and the less likely he is to notice that I would send him to die if it meant getting upholstered stools in here. And it doesn't stop there: after seeing the dwarf happily down his mead, another patron gets a hankering for some wine, kicking off a 'drink chain' where the goal is to serve as many customers as possible as quickly as possible, with each additional customer ratcheting up the tips.
By the time the dust settles on the daisy chain of orders, I've got enough money to upgrade my interior, but before I can, an exclamation mark over another adventurer catches my eye. This dude is tucked away in the corner and I've barely spoken to him, but it seems my chicken wings loosened his tongue. He tells me there are some rats in need of killing in a nearby basement. I jump at the chance, and voila, I've got my first quest. Killing rats: every real adventurer's origin story. My orc mage says as much: "It's kind of exciting to be part of something so predictable."
This leads me to the second half of the day, which is kind of like Oregon Trail by way of Dungeons & Dragons. You switch from the top-down view of your tavern to a map which shows your party's progress. Especially on longer journeys, your adventurers frequently make pit stops to chat it up or to fight some dudes, which is where you come in, telling them what stance to assume (aggressive, balanced or cautious) based on whatever gives the highest chance at success.
I like to imagine my character fussing over them like a new parent. Jimmy, did you remember to sharpen your sword? Well, go do it then! And Hilda, I told you, no fire magic. Stay in the back row and support Jimmy. No buts! You can tank once you gain a few levels. Jimmy, what are you still standing around for? Your sword's as dull as you are! Don't make me turn this party around!
Anyway, we failed to kill the rats because I forgot to give my adventurers the weapons I earned in the prologue, but we're not going to speak about that. I succeeded on the next day, thank you very much, and the day after that, the same little birdy told me that the basement is now filled with zombie rats.
"Who would reanimate a bunch of rats?" Hilda wonders aloud (my orc mage is called Hilda now, don't question it). She's got all the brains, that one. But I'm not turning down free experience, so we head back out and kill the zombie rats deader than dead, which unlocks a winery upgrade for my tavern, which comes with buff-giving booze. Oh, I see. The zombie rat-infested basement was, in fact, my basement. Let's not mention this to my patrons.