Goblins of Elderstone by Outerdawn, Lost Goblin
Goblins of Elderstone is a village builder or colony simulator in the vein of the venerable Settlers series and similarly inspired games like Valhalla Hills.
The distinction: instead of Medieval peasants, Viking settlers, etc., you’ll be building a village for everyone’s favorite cannon fodder fantasy monster, the humble goblin.
Hallmark Channel Horde
The titular goblins of Elderstone are definitely on the cute side of goblins, less the slavering hordes depicted in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations and more a blend of Harry Potter house elves, the gremlins from Gremlins, and the Smurfs from… well… The Smurfs, with big expressive ears, hapless facial expressions, and lots of muttered Simlish-esque grunts contributing to an aesthetic weighed heavily toward cute and comical.
There are a few concessions to the ostensibly monstrous nature of goblin society, like frogs being a luxury food (having had frogs’ legs at a traditional French restaurant, I’m inclined to agree with the goblins, though I realize I may be in the minority), but overall the village-building itself is equally cutesy in flavor, even comparison to other humor-infused “play the monsters” games like Dungeon Keeper.
The building designs lean toward cottagecore, especially once you get them going and have lots of buildings connected by wooden pathways. Think Ewok village from The Return of the Jedi with a hint of Thomas Kincaid, and you get the picture.
Even screenshots during the harsh winters could almost double as Christmas cards: snow frosting the rooftops of little round buildings, cozy fires glowing within. Zoom the camera out enough, and you won’t even see the goblins freezing to death.
It’s Not Easy Being Goblins
Which of course brings us to the main problem: Goblins of Elderstone has some unexpectedly steep difficulty spikes.
The general mechanics are pretty typical for the genre – gather resources, place buildings, and grow your population so that you can gather more and better resources to erect bigger and better buildings – with some survival elements and rudimentary diplomacy and warfare dynamics.
And while there are a lot of statistical elements and charts you can dive into if that’s your thing, the game doesn’t let you get too deep into micro-management beyond picking which goblins to do particular jobs and adjusting their priorities.
Between that relatively hands-off approach, a generalized slow tempo – it’s real-time but you can pause whenever you want to place more buildings, rearrange goblin jobs, etc., etc. – and a visual style that owes more to Hallmark cards than Warhammer miniatures, it can be pretty shocking when you can’t manage to figure out an efficient firewood distribution or berry-collecting system, and freezing or famine turns your cozy little village into a tragedy.
Catastrophe Goes Cottagecore
In fairness to developers Lost Goblin, the game’s tutorial does warn players of the difficulty and encourages persistence and multiple attempts at village creation. And this is hardly the only game that hides a mean streak behind sugary sweet imagery (as Aeryn recently found out with The Legend of Gwen).
And Goblins of Elderstone’s relaxed pace and eager-to-charm attitude might in fact be the game’s saving grace here. Personally, games that require managing a bunch of things at once – not only RTS or management games but even things like the Cook, Serve, Delicious! series – tend to stress me out more than anything else.
I didn’t feel that low-grade panic with this game, though. Even as my poor management skills, bad luck, or inherently unfair game design – I’m still not exactly sure where the blame lies – led to death and disaster, I still ended up enjoying the pastoral fantasy imagery, occasionally poetic flavor text, and the mutterings and meanderings of my minions.
Credit to Goblins of Elderstone, then, for taking the opposite approach of realistically bleak games like Frostpunk and making famine and catastrophe seem almost inviting.
Goblins of Elderstone is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Goblins of Elderstone below: