The past couple years have been an adventure for Jon Shafer, lead designer of Civilization 5, but one thing has been a constant - his slow-burn personal 4X strategy project At The Gates, now due to release on January 23rd under the banner of Conifer Games. Looking like a more condensed take on Civilization, it has players leading their dark age tribe from nothing to (hopefully) usurping the mighty but unstable Roman Empire. It has a smaller, more human focus, with your clan leaders within your faction having their own traits, and your people needing food and shelter to survive harsh winters. Below, a release date trailer.
While I'm seemingly immune to the Just One More Turn phenomenon that has gripped so many and kept them glued to the Civ series for decades, I like the look of At The Gates. It looks like a nicely focused design - not too wildly ambitious, but sufficiently detailed in the aspects that it's simulating. Rather than be an entirely symmetrical, multiplayer-friendly design, it's a single-player game with significant challenges stacked up against you. Opposing empires can start out massively larger and more powerful than you, making your road to the top a circuitous one.
As with Endless Legend, seasons look to play an important part in At The Gates. Everything slows down in winter, food production is hobbled, rivers freeze and marching armies around becomes a borderline-suicidal proposition. Adam took a look at the game a couple years back, and Shafer said that - among other things - it was taking inspiration from a lot of roguelikes, giving the player a fresh set of challenges each time through. I'm interested to see just how fresh this one feels when it launches in six weeks, and how it stacks up a few months later.