It doesn’t sound like a cross between simulation games and Banner Saga-styled strategy RPGs would go over well, but in CCCP’s Dead in Vinland, that’s exactly the case. Your family, husband, wife, sister-in-law, and daughter are driven from their viking homestead by war and invaders only to have your ship sink and find yourselves washed up on a mysterious and hostile island. It’s here you must struggle to build a home, fight off roving bandits, and discover the secrets of the old gods littered across the terrain. It’s a complex, strategic, and heartfelt story of a family and a people’s will to survive and I was pleasantly surprised by just how engrossing it becomes.
The first time I played, I survived three days. After your first true fight with the barbarian tyrant Björn Headcleaver that lays claim to the island, he leaves you all battered, bloodied, and even more depressed than you thought possible. If you don’t take care of that depression, with mead, beer, rest, or what have you, your people will commit suicide. For me, my wife commited suicide, and then the rest of the family did too from pure broken hearted woe. THREE. DAYS.
The second game, I was more prepared. You can play Dead in Vinland like a roguelike if you wish, starting over when things go wrong, but it also saves progress so you can go back and try again from the last save. I started over, and this time after the drubbing by the bad dudes, I knew to drink the mead we’d rescued from our ship’s wreckage, and I knew what to have my people craft on the island - a place to rest during the long days, a tavern to make beer and talk at, a logging station to harvest wood, a gathering space to find berries.
The gameplay loop of Dead in Vinland is addictive in that Civilization style - days come in stages. You have two “turns” to craft, assign chores, collect things like water, wood, and send someone exploring the island. By nightfall, you all gather back in the hut to rest, eat food, hydrate (provided you purified enough water), and shoot the breeze with your family. As you progress and explore the island, you’ll also find other folks to recruit. One of the first people I found, and lost from pure exhaustion by mistake, was the Lady Tomoe - a killer samurai-like warrior who lost her family and was seeking revenge. I regretted losing her immediately, but resolutely, I let my mistake lie and carried on.
I also found a musician and an old witch - both of who brought their own skills and traits to the table. The musician, while absolutely crap at fighting, hunting, foresting, proved excellent at gardening and harvesting and crafting. The witch, while no one liked her personally, was really valuable for her wisdom, knowledge, and ability to cook for the whole camp. It’s this kind of “community building” you’ll need to do in order to survive the game’s trials, uncover the island, overthrow the barbarians, and ultimately make Vinland your true home.
There are so many little mechanics I could dive into - characters level up and earn traits or perks akin to Fallout, your whole camp can be upgraded and turned into a more and more sophisticated little hamlet with different buildings and features to make life easier. Characters all have needs, their own status effects in reaction to the life around them, and the people around them. It’s an incredibly nuanced and layered experience that only gets better the longer you play.
Combat is turn-based, and somewhat simplistic, but comes with real consequence and rewards. You take three from your group into battle, and they can die, get seriously injured, but the rewards are often key - food and supplies for your whole camp if you win. You can’t avoid fights either. The further you explore the world, the more you’re going to upset the native barbarian hordes that are also taking taxes from your supplies each week. Heck, even that tax payment process becomes a game of its own - you can decide to cheat the collector, trick him, or not pay him at all - each with their own consequences.
Each location you explore on the island has something to interact with. Sometimes it’s a simple hunting ground, others it can be a gate to Hel itself. See above. Some are mysteries waiting to be solved, others are simply a place to get more goods to survive by. But the best thing is that each new game means that the locations of these items and the outcomes are completely different. The skills of your people mean success or failure in getting the most from them too. It’s just… brilliant design, and like a really pretty and engaging single player board game.
Dead in Vinland from CCCP comes out on Steam on April 12th, and in my humble opinion it’s going to be totally worth the investment.