Survival games like Clanfolk are very deceptive. Despite the simple graphics, soothing music, and straightforward, almost rote gameplay, beneath that all you have a wildly difficult, hardcore experience that pounds your very soul with crushing defeat. I guess the charm of that though is how easy it is to shrug off the loss, pick yourself back up, and try again.
That is the magic of survival games after all, and Clanfolk, the latest from MinMax Games, is a survival colony simulation game that stretches heavy into that territory. It is also quite possibly one of the most deceptively challenging games I have played in a long time.
Clanfolk is a simple premise; form a colony eking out an existence in the Scottish highlands, and see if you can survive long enough to thrive. It has actually been compared to another colony survival game, Rimworld, which is a pretty solid comparison as they share some of the same DNA in terms of visual style and premise. There are some differences though.
For one, while Clanfolk does make use of a similar graphics style, it is a bit more elegant than Rimworld with its visual design. It is certainly more consistent; the color palette is rich with browns, greens, and yellows that fit the more medieval, rustic aesthetic that Clanfolk is trying to capture. There is also less visual clashing, everything is more uniform and any oddball colors, like purple and red, are used as either tools or visual cues for the player more than anything else.
One thing I really like about Clanfolk is how visual the interface really is. Every button, every function you can do, has an icon attached to it. A hand gathering on the map tells you someone is going to pick berries. A droplet of water lets you know some crops are going to be watered today. Actions can also be given priority based on the skills of your individual clan members, who have widely variable traits and attributes that affect their performance.
Setting up your clan mates becomes relatively simple then as you choose what skills and actions to prioritize. So making one member really good at hunting, for example, will have it be the one to go out and hunt for rabbits when you prompt its command. You can even auto-set crafting, so do you need a steady supply of twine for your home? Setting that, along with prioritizing the crafting skill, will see clan members constantly make stacks of a resource provided they have the means to create it.
When you combine this all with the game's A.I. system, you basically have a visual coding language where you can prioritize and set your clan members with ease, while you sit back and manage things from afar. In a weird way, this makes Clanfolk very accessible and limits the need to micromanage everything. This can be a double-edged sword, however, especially when you linger too long on certain tasks that can set you back from long-term survival.
Make no mistake, Clanfolk will challenge you constantly. It is the type of game you need to play multiple times to just get out of the starting gate. Much of it comes from how everything you farm, craft, and stockpile is pretty much needed for general survival. Players need to turn their clan into a well-oiled machine, planning far ahead to survive the winter while simultaneously dealing with any unforeseen problems.
The biggest ones being the randomness of fire and rain, for example. Rain actually rots away food left out in the open, and can cause havoc on items and livestock if they aren't brought indoors. Fire is much worse since the majority of your craftables, consumables, and stockpiles are highly flammable. You can create controlled fires to help grow crops, but that runs a risk of it going out of control.
What makes them so dangerous is not how they can devastate your homestead, but how they use up tons of resources. You either lose them due to destruction, or you lose them combating the effects, both of which are major problems for long-term survival. Fires, for example, will require water jugs to douse as quickly as possible. Water jugs, however, are a crucial resource to survive the game's devastating winter season. A fire during the winter is perhaps the most damaging of all, as now you may run the risk of losing both your shelter and resources across multiple fronts.
These are just some of the challenges you will face in Clanfolk. There is a lot of emphasis on keeping your clan alive though too. You need to attract travelers, workers, merchants, and others to join your clan, convince adults to get married, and re-populate as time goes on. The idea of creating a lineage for your clan, while maintaining long-term survival, is a difficult balancing act that will take some trial and error to get right, and this all culminates into the toughest part of the game being the winter season.
Winter in Clanfolk is where you will either know you did well enough to survive, or you will die horribly. There is very little wiggle room in between; even the default settings only net you a 50% chance of survival in a given playthrough. Winter locks down almost all of your resources, so you need to rely heavily on stockpiles to get through the season. This is why fires, rain, and other unforeseen issues can be a major problem for players if they don't plan ahead carefully. Clanfolk, despite how simple it looks, is unforgiving if you make too many mistakes.
Thankfully Clanfolk also has another pretty solid mechanic, the idea tree. Instead of a standard craft tree, where you need to create items in a fairly linear fashion to unlock everything, the idea tree instead unlocks ideas in bulk as your clan develops the land. Gathering enough stones and branches, for example, unlocks the idea to create stone tools and a workspace to actually construct them.
While there is still linear progression, you are able to unlock multiple ideas at once, giving you plenty of options to build up your homestead. Gathering enough stones, straw and branches can not only give you access to tools, but also storage containers for stockpiles, house walls, and even more specific things, like an eel trap to catch some food. Ideas can also be actions, like putting out fires and gathering certain resources. With over 30 tiers of ideas and a decent number of craftable resources, Clanfolk has a lot of mechanics working under the hood to make the game engaging.
Despite still being in early access, there is already a lot of depth in the mechanics of Clanfolk. It is quite easy to get lost in an hour or two, guiding your clan to prominence, which is a testament to how Clanfolk holds your attention. The simplicity of its mechanics combined with the pleasing aesthetics and sound design make it a very welcoming game, one where you will face your death by a thousand cuts if you're not careful.
There is some appeal for that rinse and repeat gameplay to be sure, but it is certainly not for everyone. For me though, the potential Clanfolk has is incredibly impressive, and I do look forward to the changes and additions that MinMax adds to the experience while Clanfolk stays in early access. The question now is what other challenges await in Clanfolk? I guess we will see what happens.
TechRaptor Previewed Clanfolk on Steam with a code provided by the developers. The game is currently available in Early Access.