Hands On – Kenshi: The Fabulous Bakery Boys

“The Fabulous Bakery Boys look up to their diminutive leader in more ways than one. Not only is Chaplin fierce, cunning, and scrupulously fair, since 14.30 this afternoon he’s been suspended in mid-air 100ft above his base.

Lo-Fi Games’ Kenshi combines RTS base building and research with RPG party recruiting, stat cultivating and wandering. What I’ve seen so far reminds me a bit of Mount & Blade. There are faint echoes of Men of War and The Settlers discernible too. Purchase the £11 alpha and your first day’s play may go something like this…

Day 1
After lizard-scuttling through the admirably concise tutorials and playing enough of a preliminary test session to realise that the life of a post-apocalyptic travelling salesman possibly isn’t for me (The game’s desert world is striking, but, the lack of meaningful flora, fauna, or weather, means it’s fairly sterile at present) I choose to commence my first proper Kenshi campaign using the ‘Freedom Seekers’ start option.

Picking this premise rather than ‘Wanderer’, ‘Survivors’ or ‘Holy Sword’, means Chaplin, the leader I name and sculpt using the half-finished body-morph interface (female character are impossible at present) sets out with six companions. Two of these – Old Soldier and Skins – know how to handle a blade. The others – Carp, Zepp, Pin and Thoke – carry rucksacks lumpy with building materials.

The plan is simple. We wave goodbye to the bright lights and high prices of Black Scratch and walk out into the desert until someone – me, probably – says “Right, this spot looks as good as any. Start digging”. Nearby waterhole, date palms, or ore seams? Unimportant. It seems food and water consumption aren’t modelled, and farms and mines can be built just about anywhere, as long as ‘anywhere’ is a reasonable distance from an existing settlement.

Shadows are beginning to stretch like hot toffee by the time the base building gets underway. In sight of Black Scratch yet partially screened from prying passers-by by a small crag, a reinforced concrete shack takes shape in complete silence. All activities in Kenshi are silent right now. Audio is on the way…

Until it arrives I recommend filling the void with classy Bedouin tunes.

If any of the labourers are wondering why the lowest tier dwelling isn’t a cheap, portable tent, then they keep those thoughts to themselves. As the walls rise, not far away a band of threadbare bandits run into a party of dapper Holy Empire soldiers. Swords flash in the gathering gloom. The sparrows are trounced by the peacocks. If Kenshi had jackals or vultures they’d be eating well tonight.

At 23.30 the shack is complete, and work on a research bench begins.

Day 2
After a night and morning of ceaseless toil, Excalibur Cottage (our shack) now has R&D facilities, a well (essential for agriculture) and a wheatstraw farm. I’d be researching fences, guard towers, and zeribas next if the tech tree’s ‘defences’ tab wasn’t strangely empty. Have I missed something fundamental or is this another half-finished feature? More importantly, is that group of katana-carrying canaries heading towards us from the west, likely to cause trouble?

The impressive Imperial Lords swagger through the base without so much as a “Nice weather we’re having” or a “May I use your latrine?”. It’s the two masked strangers that turn-up a couple of hours later that have murder on their minds.

Identified by a scarlet context-sensitive cursor as ‘sand ninjas’ I can see that one of the approachers is injured. He’s limping and his stats reveal he has a nasty abdominal wound. One and a half professional killers versus three mediocre swordsmen and four farmhands – I’m not sure whether to feel alarmed or alacritous.

Kenshi doesn’t exactly abound with tactical controls. Characters have a toggleable defensive stance, but there appears to be little I can do to shape the coming skirmish except gather my party in one spot and place Chaplin, Old Soldier, and Skins in front. Excalibur Cottage is soon surrounded by darting bodies and swishing blades. Slashed Thoke slumps onto the sand at roughly the same time as the wounded ninja that felled him does the same. The second intruder proves a doughtier adversary. Seeds of panic are beginning to sprout when, without warning the screen fills with helpful yellow uniforms. The Imperial Lords have returned and they plainly detest sand ninjas.

I’m preparing to pull back my enthusiastic amateurs and let the pros deliver the coup de grâce when, from the heart of the melee, Chaplin’s body suddenly soars skyward. Explosion? Spell? Mighty uppercut? Whatever caused the ascent, it’s soon clear that my pint-sized hero isn’t in any hurry to come down. While first aid is administered and bodies are looted, Chaplin floats in the air, deaf to every instruction.

I wonder if they sell ladders in Black Scratch.

Day 3
The rising sun warms the prosaic and the preposterous with equal enthusiasm. Zepp and Thoke – now fully recovered from yesterday’s fracas (Kenshi is unexpectedly merciful where mortality is concerned) are constructing training dummies (it’s clear my labourers need plenty of combat practice) while Skins researches, Old Soldier draws water, and Pins and Carp reap wheatstraw. Above, hovering like a fleshy kestrel, Chaplin the Aviator, Chaplin the Frozen, Chaplin the Utterly Useless.

The plan for today: Old Soldier and one of the backpackers treks to town to sell wheatstraw, and visit taverns in the hope of finding a replacement for Chaplin.

In Black Scratch the first willing warrior wants 5000 creds as a deal sweetener (out of the question). The second will join for a modest 700c and is quite happy to be renamed ‘Fairbanks’ and have his physique pointlessly remodelled. The recruit doesn’t have to wait long for his first taste of action.

Close to Excalibur Cottage, the returning threesome are intercepted by a mob of sorry-looking ruffians. Skins, Zepp, Thoke and Pin, drop invisible tools and rush to assist their comrades.

After five minutes of balletic kendo, Old Soldier and Pins are the only ones left standing. They use the group’s remaining med kits to revive fallen friendlies, then systematically strip boots, trousers, shirts and weapons from the corpses of vanquished foes. As the pair rifle, my thoughts turn to rifles. After audio, firearms and other missile weapons are surely the feature Kenshi needs most urgently.

Day 4
Another trip into town (this time to stock up on med kits). Another eventful tramp home.

Old Soldier arrives back at Excalibur with bandits hot on his heels. Hours spent sparring with practise dummies don’t appear to have had much effect yet; all but the returner are swiftly cudgelled or cut from the combat equation. In the end, the desperate ex-serviceman, dressed in an outfit that I suspect I may have purchased by mistake during an earlier shop visit (inventory management isn’t as elegant as it could be), sprints for the safety of the shack. Frustrated attackers gather at the bolted door, then – oh God – that door begins to slide open.

A unit of Imperial Lords slaying sand ninjas to the north of Excalibur, ultimately save the day. Running for his life, Old Soldier manages to engineer a meeting between the two parties. While the unwary outlaws are cut to ribbons, the sly manipulator engages in some opportunistic looting.

A few hours later a stunned sand ninja wakes to find himself swordless and debagged.

A morning of blood and panic morphs into an evening of sweat, progress, and promise. Beneath a sandstorm of stars the Fabulous Bakery Boys (Studying the tech tree I’ve decided to turn Excalibur into a wayside rum and bread shop) put the finishing touches to a grain silo, a retail counter and a generator.

Day 5
Two dust bandits strayed into the camp in the early hours and paid for the trespass with their lives. Even with backpacks, my party is starting to run out of inventory space. Time for another stroll into Scratch.

Then again… The bandits seem especially thick on the route to town this morning, so I redirect my shoppers towards a smaller trade post atop a hill to the north-west.

No taverns means no chance of expanding the gang, but sacks of flour and pilfered equipment are redeemed, med kits are acquired. Maybe this trading business isn’t so tiresome after all.

Day 6
Skins and Thoke bring the building materials necessary to finish the stove. Soon the camp is filled with the aroma of hot bread. Somehow this moment feels every bit as important as the battlefield victories that preceded it. The Fabulous Bakery Boys wayside boulangerie is now open for business! (Or it would be if I could work out how to man the shop counter.) Today: bog-standard wheatstraw wholemeal. Tomorrow: focaccia, barmbrack, brioche…

Day 7
Though still baffled by the fact that I can’t build fences or thorny barricades to help keep bandits out, and still annoyed by my inability to staff my shop, I decide to devote the day to solving my increasingly pressing building materials shortage. Footings are dug for a stone mine and a stone processing plant. Naturally, work grinds to a halt a little later due to a lack of a building materials. As Chaplin looks down on the stalled project, something in his calcified countenance seems to say “I think Kenshi’s economy would be more plausible were it built around water, food, scrap, weapons and power. Why can’t I scavenge for building materials as well as digging for them? I want pack animals and sand yachts too.”

Or maybe I’m projecting.

Day 8
A miracle! After quickloading for the first time, Chaplin, like a migrating swallow whose bead-sized heart has just blown a gasket, plummets to earth. The Fabulous Bakery Boys have their boss back! Surely nothing can stop them now.

Nothing except bandits, bugs, and the irresistible lure of the far more visceral, polished, and plausible Mount & Blade.


  1. Olivaw says:

    This game has so much promise but it seems like it’s been a long time and they still don’t even have AUDIO yet.

    I know it’s a small team, alpha, blah blah blah, but it is a bit disheartening. I heard about this game over a year ago! I am forced to wonder how much time it will take for this thing to resemble a finished product.

    • Surlywombat says:

      Yes it was/is small, I think when I brought into the alpha it was 1 guy.

    • pupsikaso says:

      Year? This game has been in development for far longer than that. A year ago is when I gave up on it.

    • Arkh says:

      It’s just one guy developing and he just recently bought an audio engine license and he will pay the audio artist. He is doing audio next as he explains on some recent updates.

  2. phelix says:

    I love the desolated feel those massive desert plains give. Really adds character and a sense of scale.

  3. DarkMalice says:

    I’ve been waiting for a while since a friend recommended this, however he’s since told me that there hasn’t been much in the way of updates for months now. Looks very interesting but there are so many other alpha/beta games in a more playable state and/or getting regular updates. Think it’ll have to wait for my cash.

    • Arkh says:

      It gets updates more regularly than Prison Architect or Kerbal Space Program. It’s not Don’t Starve frequent, there are longer release, but it usually gets more than an update a month.

      • thrawn says:

        True, but KSP at least is already in a much better state of play-ability than Kenshi. I’ve already blown about 50 hours on it and enjoyed most of that without really thinking that it was unfinished.

        I don’t know, have gems like Minecraft and KSP spoiled us in what we should expect from typical 1-person development teams, at least when an indie dev tries something more intensive than a platformer/puzzle game? The new wave of indie development is still a bit nascent, and it takes more assets to build a good 3D open-world RPG than it did to make an RPG back in the last generation when small developers were still running around.

        • Brun says:

          Squad (developer of KSP) is also a lot more than one person developing. I think it started as a very small team (2-3 people) but they’ve expanded to 6 or 7 now by recruiting people from the modding community.

          Dwarf Fortress is a true one-man team and we’re lucky to get one update per year for that.

      • DarkMalice says:

        Sorry I didn’t write that clearly; what I meant to convey was that there hadn’t been enough substantial updates to bring the game to a level where I could justify spending money on it, for the purposes of actually playing the game. It does look very promising however and I would be keen to try it out properly upon release. My friend has also corrected me about the updates, what he actually told me was that he didn’t feel there had been enough progress in the last few months since he had played.

        • gi_ty says:

          Progress has indeed been painfully slow, personally though I think the premise is good enough that I happily bought it on steam. I haven’t played it more than ten minutes preferring to wait until it gets to a more finished state. I do stay current on the updates though and he says he has a good sound guy on board now, as well as actively looking for another programmer. His attitude toward development is also admirable in my opinion, link to 6aming.com this was an enjoyable read.

  4. Chorltonwheelie says:

    “Until it arrives I recommend filling the void with classy Bedouin tunes.”

    Nah, classy Touareg rebel tunes from Tinariwan.

  5. Lacero says:

    “Shadows are beginning to stretch like hot toffee”


  6. Velko says:

    Neat, but this is never going to be completed.

    • thrawn says:

      Or at least not for a long time. The updates are still occurring, but I’m not gonna hold my breath for it or anything. And that’s a pity, since I really do love the premise and all; I am personally sick to death of post-apoc being all about savaging… people rebuild after disasters.

  7. Wret says:

    Defensive walls and gates were in before. They were removed sadly when it turned out they had the capacity to screw you over more than the bandits at times, they’ll be back…Soon™?

    The map is going to be expanded and diversified in the future, but I’m hoping the seemingly endless expanse of pristine desert is still there. It has character, in it’s complete lack of definition.

  8. Reapy says:

    For one guy making this (it is one guy right) it’s pretty impressive, although slow going. Still this is one of those things I’ll keep checking back on and waiting for to achieve a nice playable state. Has lot of neat ideas and potential for sure though.

    • Danarchist says:

      It is definitely just one guy, and besides coding the game he also has to deal with marketing, tech support, and all the other little pieces that go into getting a game out there and on things like steam and GOG.
      That being said the game has not changed much since I bought it months ago. Some missing art pieces have appeared and I read a recent patch note that said you could now craft weapons. It is honestly a fairly massive game world that exists around you. One city I was using as my main selling hub was taken over by a group I had managed to piss off and boy that was a surprise! It is an impressive project for one guy+some outsourced art and music folks.
      The weirdest thing about this game is, even for its broken, half done, god this may be cool someday status when I start playing it I cant stop for hours. The simple act of ambushing groups of starving bandits for weapon practice is really oddly engaging. I dont even get mad when I have to literally limp a guy at crawling speed across the dessert to find a bed to rest. I think I am more patient with this game because it leverages my hope of something grand to come.

  9. ZHsquad says:

    This is what I love about RPS. Gaming news with some good humour. It’s the nice kind of laughing I get reading these articles. “Explosion? Spell? Mighty uppercut?” – brilliant.

  10. Davie says:

    This is one of those games that I don’t mind waiting to get the finished product. If the guy behind this keeps his promises, in a year or two we’ll have something really awesome. Hopefully it’ll get a Mount & Blade-style surge in popularity to really get it off the ground.

  11. MajorManiac says:

    I look forward to the sound update as I find the silence distracting.

    I’m also a massive fan of Mount & Blade. Does anyone else know of any other M&B-like games out there in the world?

    • trooperwally says:

      Besides the original M&B and M&B Warband there was With Fire and Sword (awful, avoid) and Napoleonic Wars (entertaining voice comms made this multiplayer only thing fun for a while but I don’t know how active the community still is).

      Then there’s M&B 2 ‘announced’ (by means of slide show with no details. The vacuous nature of the discussion on the official forums fills me with doubt that it’ll have anything new to bring to the party).

      And Caribbean – ie M&B on ships with guns and a pirate flavour. Sounds promising but it’s being developed by Snowbird (the folks behind WFAS) and it’s been put back by six months plus without a convincing explanation. I fear that development is falling apart.

      Sorry if I’ve been too literal in my interpretation of ‘M&B like’, I wouldn’t know quite where else to start with other sandbox and quasi-sandbox games…

      • MajorManiac says:

        Thanks Trooperwally.

        I had not heard of the Caribbean game. The idea is very appealing so I hope they pull it off.

        Looks like I’ll just keep playing Mount & Blade mods for the time being. This is no bad thing as some of them are amazing.

        I’m currently playing though Prophesy of Pendor for the third time. I’m excited to use the new feature they have added where you can create your own custom Knighthood Order. Very cool.

  12. frightlever says:

    That was funny.

    The game really seems to have come on a LOT since I got it in an Indie Fort bundle. Maybe not ENOUGH to go back and play it again though.

  13. radishlaw says:

    It’ll keep. I mean, Mount and Blade took years to fix “most” the bugs and it had much less features than Kenshi.

  14. CaptainDeathbeard says:

    Hi all, I’m the developer of Kenshi! I actually stumbled on this while I was having a poo and reading RPS on my phone.
    Thanks for the article, I know I’m not making super fast progress and I will never promise speed, but I do guarantee I will finish the game and do it properly too. This project is my life now, don’t worry.
    Defensive walls and shop counters are high on my to-do list, and audio is on the way too. I’m also taking on an extra programmer and a “miscellaneous business junk doer” soon which will help speed things up a bit.