Steam Games Festival 2021: Timberborn hands-on preview

If you've ever played Anno and wished it had more beaver action, do we have the game for you!


Ultimately, we’re all just trying to survive. We’re born, taught the ways of the world, and then sent out to secure food, water, shelter, and emotional fulfillment. In this way, we are exactly like beavers, except we don’t focus as hard on building dams. If you’ve ever wondered what the struggle is like for beavers, the development team at Mechanistry is aiming to educate you with its new game. Timberborn is a real-time strategy-management sim packed to the brim with all the beaver you can handle. 

Keeping your beavers wet

Your beavering business starts out as an unsophisticated operation that will grow in time.

Timberborn borrows heavily from the management-builder sims that have come before it. It has a feel similar to Caesar III or the Anno series, though it replaces the humans with beavers. Players are given total control over a pack of beavers that must collect logs, food, and water in order to survive. Timberhorn places a heavy focus on the differences between wet and dry seasons. Ideally, you want to have your beavers working at full-strength to prepare their settlement for dry seasons of various lengths. 

When the rivers that carry water run through the maps, the adjacent terrain takes on a lush green hue, allowing bushes, trees, crops, and more to flourish. The riverbed will eventually run dry, requiring the beavers to tough it out with only the water they stockpiled during the wet season. The beavers can be quite crafty, though, capable of building dams and levees to control water flow to suit their settlement's current and future demands.

Dams and levee erection is critical to ensuring your beavers can survive an extended dry season. 

Sessions start out with a limited number of beaver-folk and you can place the most basic buildings. Each structure requires a builder beaver to erect and most require a fixed number of raw materials to complete construction. Once built, most structures will also require at least one beaver of legal working age to operate. Housing and social structures are also important to advancing your beaver colony. Once the basic needs of food and water are satisfied, your beavers will yearn for adequate housing. If you manage to get them fat and happy, they will start squeezing out baby beavers.

There are multiple buildings and structures that are locked from the start and require science points to produce. A science building must be erected and staffed with a nerd beaver. These nerd beavers will accrue science points during normal working hours and this system effectively functions as the tech tree. Some operations require power and your beaver base will need a water mill. A series of connected rods and gears will need to be installed through the settlement to deliver juice to structures that need it.

It all sounds rather simple in practice, but during my time with the Timberborn demo on Steam, I produced more dead beavers than quality settlements. As with most games of this type, failure is a wonderful teaching tool, and each new settlement I lead progressed farther than before. There is still lots of blood on my hands, though. I’d guesstimate there could be upwards of 175 dead beavers in my shallow grave of shame. Each beaver having its own name, wants, and needs certainly doesn’t help me disassociate from the regret I feel.

Timberborn is expected to launch in Steam Early Access in the first half of 2021. You can try out the demo now as part of the Steam Game Festival.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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