You can’t throw a stone without hitting a new city builder these days. They come in all flavours, sizes, scopes, and genres. How do you stand out? Is it by adding novel mechanics that go well with the classic setup? Or by refining and improving what we already know? Fabledom seems to think the answer is both.
Fabledom is a very cute game. It opens with a fairytale storybook introduction, complete with buttery-voiced narration and the option to choose whether you are a ‘prince’ or a ‘princess’. The fairytale theming is light and unintrusive, but ever-present – the pigs have wings, your faceless mentor is some sort of wizard who makes raunchy jokes, and the separate progression levels are termed ‘Chapters’ rather than the more standard ‘eras’.
Complementing this vibe is the art style, which is reminiscent of claymation and the quirkier games from the ‘00s. There are no straight lines, the colours are bright and cheerful, and the villagers are all squat caricatures. It’s immediately charming and you can make some enchanting settlements, especially if you dabble in decorations.
Gameplay is largely what you’d expect from a city builder, with plenty of recognisable elements. You must build houses for your villagers, supply buildings with water from wells, and gather resources to advance your technology levels. As the prince or princess, you get to manage employment – you must assign jobs manually, changing up the workforce according to the needs of the village at the time. It’s a nice depth of strategy, though it would be nice if you could get alerted to unmanned buildings. Judging by the UI, employment management is a lot more important later in the game, with different types of villagers refusing to do certain jobs – you won’t get nobles in the fields, for example. The early stages of the game are terribly easy, so I’m intrigued to see how the later years turn the pressure up and make the employment management tools worth using.
A particularly great touch is that houses are customisable. Every house must come with a few tiles of garden, inside which you place some extra items that improve happiness or let the villagers feed themselves instead of taking food from the communal storage. Some other buildings let you add some extra parts to improve functionality or alter their blueprint shape, but none so much as the basic house. This adds a great amount of visual variety to towns that other city builders can lack, and is great at making you feel engaged with the town’s growth.
After getting set up with your village and employing some messengers, you can start interacting with neighbouring realms. While it looks like spies and soldiers will play a role in the full game, the demo is pretty blunt about its focus on the romantic side of foreign affairs. Fabledom lets you choose your sexuality at the beginning of the game, asking you whether you’re looking for a prince, a princess, or either to court. The demo has only a single option, a princess, to choose from, but it’s nice that the full game will respect your preferences. Your choice of partner will influence the rewards you get for courting them, including a pretty powerful boon for falling in love. The princess in the demo, for example, would double your crop yields if you chose her. This adds another strategic layer to courting that I’m not sure I’d approve of in real life, but I’m all for it in a game like this.
Fabledom is shaping up to be a very solid addition to the city builder genre. It has a great presentation, the diplomatic layer of the game is intriguing, and the early gameplay is engaging. The demo lasts less than an hour and it’s a good taster session, but the full game will have to add some significant challenges to keep things interesting in the long run. For now, I’m keen to see where this story goes.
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