Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
Northgard is the only RTS I routinely play. It’s extremely pleasant to look at, it’s easy to understand what’s going on at all times, and it finds ways to introduce complexity and depth without resorting to large building and technology pools. It’s as delightfully enjoyable to return to after a while away as it is challenging to avoid starvation and defeat.
Northgard’s greatest strength is the limitations it imposes upon the player, preventing you from ever reaching that point where you feel you have nothing left to accomplish because not a solitary tile on the map is left untouched. Each map is divided into different territories, and each territory can only hold a small number of buildings, forcing you to make regular choices between food production, defensive infrastructure, happiness, housing, and more. You can assign villagers to a building to change their role from gatherers to hunters or warriors or healers or woodcutters, but you can only assign a maximum of two or three villagers to a building. Northgard does quite a lot to resist the singleminded approach of many macro-strategies in similar games, forcing you to consider the whole of your tribe at all times.
Technically, Northgard is a real-time strategy game, and so perhaps I’d be better served comparing it with games like Age Of Empires, or even Warcraft. But in both practice and spirit, it’s a colony-building simulation, and so my immediate comparisons are instead with games like Banished and Frostpunk, despite the fact that in Northgard you must also contend with other tribes. All three games charge you with surviving in a very unforgiving land, but Northgard always stops just short of feeling bleak. It’s a delicate game of balancing resources and needs, but the slow pace and clean design always gives you enough time and space for relaxation between each weighty choice.
It’s that slow pace that also allows the game to sidestep the pressure of playing a regular RTS. Maybe it’s just that I’m not very good at the game, and so I don’t yet have a good grasp of how close or far I might be from winning; but I never feel any stress when I see that things aren’t going my way in Northgard. I reckon that would probably appeal to a lot of people who were initially dissuaded from this remarkable game because of that little “RTS” tag.