Clockwork Empires--the new, Victorian-era colony-builder from Dungeons of Dredmor developer Gaslamp Games--looks innocuous enough. Upon starting the game, your idyllic countryside settlement is populated with plenty of food, supplies, and happy inhabitants to build a flourishing town. The game is easy to get into, with little focus on micro-management; simply designate which buildings you want built, and laborers with pre-defined roles will automatically get to work. But pay close attention to your plucky settlers, and you’ll start to notice some unsettling things. Whispers of a sinister cult, memories of vicious fishpeople massacres--your cult is basically inches away from a Lovecraftian nightmare.
I recently had the chance to play Clockwork Empires, picking up hints at all the horrific ways my settlement could fail. One settler, a poet, had wandered too far out into the forest and discovered a fishperson, who then followed her back into town and took several lives before being slain by an impromptu militia. But your town's infrastructure can run away from you in less mystical ways as well. Fail to keep a sharp eye on your food production, and your townsfolk will quickly resort to cannibalism.
Clockwork Empires, like any good city-builder, gives you tools with which to stave off your society’s nightmarish decline. But its hook is in encouraging those failures--and making them as spectacular (and ghastly) as possible. Whether it be the otherworldly horrors, cannibalism, or your own guiding hand encouraging mass opium production in lieu of food, Clockwork Empires' biggest draw is all the ways it enables glorious, terrifying failure.
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