Kainga: Seeds of Civilization is a strategy game by solo developer Erik Rempen, based in Thailand. Combining into a hybrid of city/village-builder and roguelike games, Kainga challenges players to build their own civilization in a beautiful, mythical, yet hostile world. Kainga integrates gameplay from traditional real-time strategy games such as Age of Empires or Red Alert with more complex sim building games such as Pharaoh or the Civilization series. On top of that, there are some elements of roguelike games, where the death of a single central unit will result in an instant loss. I had the chance to check out a preview version of the game before it comes out later this year on Steam.
Kainga’s gameplay features quite a depth that will pleasantly surprise fans of strategy games. Your civilization is built around the Thinker, the leader of your tribe and acts as the philosopher who will discover new technologies for your culture to progress. The Thinker is critical, as his demise means instant game over for your society. It is paramount, therefore, to protect this unit at all costs. This central figure reminds me of the classic Populous games, where a shaman serves as a godlike, central figure. Three Thinkers are available in the demo version, each with their own health stats, different number of starting resources and units, as well as an initial technology bonus. Unlike the shaman in Populous, however, the Thinker does not have any spells or magical abilities from what we have seen.
The world of Kainga is such a wonderful, mythical yet perilous world, filled with extreme weather, natural disasters and ancient monsters. Building your civilization in Kainga requires thoughtful consideration of the climate and land condition your base is built upon and the supply of necessary resources near your base. This demo comes equipped with two types of biomes to play with, the arid Flatlands and the more fertile Terraces. Take housing, for example. Any house in Kainga has a meter showing how exposed they are to four types of hazards: fire, flooding, gale, and snow. For example, when you play in the Flatlands, an arid, desert plane, it’s best to choose types of houses that are more resistant to fire hazards. The next to be considered is the materials. Between the options of fire-resistant homes, it may be wiser to choose one with an abundant supply of resources near your base. But you have to balance those with the strength of the materials and the capacity of the housing. Six more biomes, ranging from rainforest to icy tundra, are planned for subsequent development.
While the technology tree may seem quite simple compared to other significant games of the genre, it has a clever twist that makes it more customizable than ever. Technology is divided by its types: food, war, housing, etc. In the above example, selecting your desired type of housing means you have to unlock the technology for that specific house. Switching to other types of dwellings means unlocking other housing technology. Each of these processes spends a resource called “Favor”. You can obtain more Favor by holding festivals for the Gods. The more lavish the festival, the more favor you can acquire. But more lavish celebrations spend more resources and time for the preparation. Each ceremony will also increase disaster ante, meaning that the more often you hold these ceremonies, the more likely that disaster will befall your civilization. Without the proper technology, natural occurrences may also impediment your progress. Units will refuse to work under light rain without adequate equipment such as a rattan hat. These systems mean that each technology progress must be made meticulously. While choosing the wrong, unsuitable technology is not the end of everything, readjusting it can be an excruciating process. Technologies also come randomly. You can only pick between 3 technologies of a type at a time, with standard technologies have a bigger chance of appearing.
The process can also be risky. The game has a roguelike element, leading to an instant game over whenever you lose your Thinker or all the other units. And yet, your Thinker and people are in constant danger. The limited play area means that enemy bases are nearby, constantly demanding valuable resources, a requirement that, if unfilled, will result in waves of attacks. Ancient monsters also roam the land, stomping your village and eating your units without caring if you are on their path.
Kainga features a unique graphic style for a strategy game. The lay of the land is beautifully crafted in 3D, while the units are seemingly made out of cut-out paper, akin to the style of Paper Mario games. While the merge between the two styles is oddly compatible, it feels kind of jarring whenever the 3D animal creatures stomp my 2D people. I also found the land and materials explanation placement at the top right corner to be somewhat disorienting. With so many resources, items and land, I expect the explanation to pop up wherever my cursor highlights the objects. The camera also feels very clunky, especially when moving the view using the keyboard, instead of scrolling by putting your cursor at the edge of the screen. Giving a camera option or hotkey that focuses on a unit would also be very helpful, primarily to focus on the Thinker in the heat of the battle.
There are multiple alternative game modes, which offer various challenges to let players play at their own pace, between short, medium, and long scenarios. Some scenarios will ask you to build a particular building, while others may involve rescuing the Thinker from the enemy camp. For instance, rescue missions are branded with medium length gameplay; as such, one would expect the AI to be more defensive, thus giving me more time to build the village. But there is no difference in enemy AI between these scenarios, making it feel like it was the same game, just with different objectives.
While promising on a technical level, Kainga’s biggest challenge is finding the right balance between its different gameplay mechanics. When you combine genres, you have the opportunity to offer the best of both worlds, but the same can also be true for the opposite. As a fan of sim-like building games, I love the gameplay depth and customization of how I want to build my civilization. But having enemy forces constantly interrupting my progress and getting my Thinker one-shot killed by their rifleman from a distance, thus undoing all of my progress, removed the fun factor for me. For fans of more straightforward real-time war strategy games, the unit and battle system feels rudimentary at best. The roguelike elements beautifully intensify the feeling of dread from the danger posed by Kainga’s world. But I can’t imagine a fan of roguelike games wanting to play this game either, instead of straight-up playing an action or RPG roguelike game. Giving the Thinker no ability to defend himself also feels rather unfair. At the very least, giving him an ability to heal himself would vastly improve the odds of survival.
Still, Kainga has the potential to be an instant classic for fans of strategy games. There are still six more planned updates between this demo and the final release, each offering additional units, biomes, gameplay scenarios and systems such as trading, water cities, etc. But pacing the game with the right balance while combining it with the more action-oriented roguelike gameplay may prove to be Kainga’s biggest challenge yet.
Kainga: Seeds of Civilization is set to release as an Early Access game on Steam later this year.