Testing the kindness of strangers in Grimmwood, a 'social survival game' now in free open beta

I'm a pretty bad neighbor in Grimmwood. I help myself to food and weapons from the communal storage shed in town without asking. I silently explore for hours without contributing to the town's defenses. I ignore the global chat almost completely. I'm like the guy who doesn't kick in a few bucks to pay for the pizza but then helps himself to a couple slices when it arrives.

But something changes all that. Something softens my heart. Something makes me want to reach out and connect with the other members of the community. And that something is me getting in big trouble and having to beg for help.

Grimmwood, now in free open beta, is a 'social survival game'. Players, randomly grouped together, inhabit a town on a procedurally generated map. Every night at midnight monsters attack the town, and every night their attacks get more and more deadly. That gives everyone all day to explore, gather resources, craft weapons and tools, and fortify the town's defenses in hopes of surviving the night to see another day.

There are challenges to overcome, like the fact that you're playing with a randomized character and grouped with random strangers on a random server, that you have to keep yourself fed and hydrated and healthy, and that nearly everything in the game comes down to managing your small pool of stamina points. It's the last of these that prove to be my undoing.

To begin playing, I roll up a character, and since I'm a writer and am constantly overflowing with creative ideas, I name her Character. This being a game about surviving within a community, I immediately make contact with the others.

With that intense bout of roleplaying out of the way, I proceed to ignore everyone and explore. The map is laid out around the town in hexes: blank at first until you begin discovering their features and secrets. If your character has good perception you can scout a hex before you enter it, letting you know if there are monsters lurking on it, but Character has poor vision so I need to enter a hex and walk around to search it.

Hexes can have features like ponds (for fishing or drinking), woods (for gathering mushrooms or lumber), cabins and campsites, hunting grounds, sometimes even dead bodies or other containers where you can find supplies. And yeah, sometimes monsters, which you can engage in dice-roll combat with. For most of my time with Grimmwood, this is what I do: explore the map, returning to town only if I need some food (which I take from the community storage area) or to craft weapons (with supplies other people have gathered).

Nearly every action you take uses stamina points. If you want to gather wood, search an area, engage in combat, set up camp, or just travel around the map, it will cost you stamina. If you run out, you'll need to replenish your stamina points either by eating, drinking a potion, or resting.

As midnight draws near, I realize I'm far, far from the safety of the town walls that everyone else has been busy reinforcing all day while I was picking mushrooms and drinking from ponds. If you're not inside the town when the midnight attack begins, you die automatically, so I begin heading back. I've gathered so much loot it's costing me loads of stamina just to move between hexes, and there's a limit to how much food you can eat—you reach a point where you just can't cram anything else into your stomach before you begin to get sick.

That's my situation when I run out of stamina. I'm close to town, but just too exhausted to move any closer. I try to make camp and rest, but I don't even have enough stamina points to make a campsite. I rest where I am, but a full minute of resting only restore a single point. I figure I probably need about 30 or 40 points to make it back to the city, so I just stand there waiting until I come up with a new plan: beg for help.

Yes, I neglected the needs of my fellow townsfolk. Yes, I waited until four minutes to midnight before asking them to mount a rescue mission. Yes, I'm a bad, bad Character.

Thing is, the other players are extremely cool. I tell them I'm out of stamina and stuck a few hexes away from town. Braving death, one of the other players races out to my location and drops a big hunk of cooked food at my feet. I have, of course, neglected to tell anyone that I'd already eaten so much (of the food they'd gathered and cooked and stored in town earlier) that I'm overstuffed and can't restore my stamina that way. What I really need is a stamina restoration potion.

With only two minutes left, someone in town contributes a stamina potion into the communal storage area, and the others try to figure out who can bring it out to me in the woods. It's at that point I finally discover the only decent bone in my body, and tell them not to risk it.

It was an incredibly kind effort to save a selfish bastard like me, and it honestly made me want to play a more active and helpful role in the community. Unfortunately, Grimmwood is a roguelike, so when Character died moments later from the monster attack, not only was she gone from the game but from the server. When I restarted, I was in a different version of the world, unable to reconnect with the people who had so generously tried to save me.

I'd really recommend trying Grimmwood: it's free in beta at the moment (and I was told it will remain in free beta 'for a while'), but it will eventually be game you have to buy, so this is a great opportunity to check it out. You can find it on Steam. And if you see anyone named DzR, Blane, Kitsune, or Edge, tell them I said thanks for trying.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.