The tavern simulator that we’ve been waiting for has arrived but it’s less of a party and more of a hangover until its further distilled.
Genre: Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Kraken Unleashed
Release date: 23 October, 2019
Crossroads Inn is a business management simulation where you take on the mantle of tavern keeper. You’ll be building a booze-slinging establishment while managing its staff and resources as you guide it from its humble origin as a single room hole-in-the-wall to a sprawling inn of legendary renown.
At least that’s the expectation. As anyone interested in the medieval tavern sims already knows, the genre seems to be cursed and success stories are rare. Nearly every entry shows great promise until it is met with general disappointment upon its release. Unfortunately, Crossroads Inn fits this mold though the elements that are currently functioning leave me more optimistic for its future than usual.
Today’s Special: Bread Soup and Lager
Crossroads Inn offers three game modes that will be familiar to veterans of the business sim genre: campaign, scenario, and sandbox. As is recommended on the main menu, I began my career in the campaign, though in a matter of moments I realized that this was a mistake. The story seemed interesting enough (although its audio and video were not synced) as it details the recent death of the king and the pretenders who seek to capitalize on it before introducing us to a young man of unknown lineage (whatever could it be?) I never managed to progress very far into this tale due to a significant number of bugs that hindered me at every turn but it did give me a good first impression. The unique aspect of the campaign itself is the character progression system for your tavern keeper via dialogue options; the more you use a specific demeanor, the more success you’ll have using it in the future. For example, if you lie consistently you’ll build a tavern keeper with an impressive talent for deception while one who takes the aggressive approach more often will be specialized into intimidation tactics. The nice twist that keeps this fresh is that different demeanors are better in different events and with different than others are and any build is sure to bring complications with it. I enjoyed this feature though I didn’t get much time with it as both of the times that I attempted to play the campaign I was met with game-breaking bugs that prevented any further progress.
I spent the majority of my time in the sandbox mode due to the aforementioned issues with the campaign and the fact that the scenario mode seems to not have any scenarios to choose from. Unlike in the campaign, your sandbox tavern is non-existent and you’ll be building your establishment from scratch on the plot of land that is provided to you. The ideal first room is the main room, which is the location that patrons will spend their time enjoying your hospitality, and you’ll be able to modify its size and shape to your liking as long as you have the gulden to afford it. From here you’ll furnish it with tables and seating for your guests, a counter for your staff to perform some of their service duties, and whatever decorations you decide on to spruce the place up.
As you find success in the tavern business and send customers stumbling away with full bellies and hazy vision, your fame will grow. This will result in patrons arriving more frequently and bringing higher expectations with them. The bulk of your early guests will be of the ‘distressed’ group, poor peasants who prefer cheap drinks and cheap food, but as you expand your services you’ll have to ability to attract townsfolk, outlaws, travelers, and even nobles depending on the atmosphere and focus of your establishment. Each of these groups has preferences that you must meet if you hope to attract and satisfy them; bread soup and lager may be enough to satisfy the peasantry but no self-respecting noble will set foot inside your public house unless you’re offering exceptional food, drink, and service. You decide on the specifics of what you offer on your menu and how you decorate, so you can tailor it to suit whichever groups you prefer and I had a lot of fun with this. One of the taverns that I messed around with was built for occupancy and I packed it full of poor peasants and made my profits by selling sheer quantity while I focused on designing another one to look like something of a rogues’ guild and pulled in a seedier clientele.
There are a number of aspects that you’ll need to manage to keep your business working efficiently. Expanding and building rooms (like the seedy game room) are certainly important but you’ll also need to get a handle on managing your staff and resources. You’ll frequently be visiting the world map and shopping around for the best deals on everything from mugs to table wine to candles to beans. A number of settlements and trading posts are available and you’ll be able to use both gulden and juicy gossip that your staff has overheard to secure trade routes, price reductions, and even protection for the supplies that you purchase as they are delivered to you. I found this to be an interesting feature and it certainly adds depth to the overall experience, though I look forward to using more of the mechanics for becoming self-sufficient so that crops are grown at the tavern itself instead of having to frequently import them in.
Your staff will grow alongside your business as your need for tavern maids, laborers, kitchen workers, and so forth increases. Each employee that you hire has a number of traits, both positive and negative that differentiate one from the next. One of your bar wenches may be a hard worker who accomplishes her tasks very quickly but, as a drunkard, she’ll be taking the occasional drink from your stores for herself. Your workers will also gain experience as they perform their duties which leads to increased efficiency and eventually even upgrading to a new job title with expanded abilities. The staff do their job as you would expect and you are free to hire and fire them as you see fit, something I took full advantage of if I discovered the traits of an employee to bring more complications than benefits.
Ancient Curse of the Tavern Sim
As much as I love the concept and design of Crossroads Inn, it may be one of the buggiest games that I’ve played at its official release and it feels like a promising Early Access title. The campaign is unplayable, the scenario mode is empty, and the sandbox mode crashes at least once every hour resulting in sizable losses of time and progress. I wasn’t able to even get the game to run until I discovered that unplugging my controller seemed to do the trick and even then it seemed to struggle as it was being launched. Some of the tooltips in the game were in the wrong place while others simply did not exist at all and my staff and guests frequently got caught on door frames and other objects which slowed them down in a sim where time is of the essence. There are just a few of the many bugs that I encountered during my several attempts to run a tavern, bugs that hopefully will be fixed quickly so that this title can overcome the curse and be remembered for the fantastic game underneath.
Crossroads Inn is plagued with bugs that make it impossible to recommend in its current state. If it were working as intended this game would be a must-buy for just about anyone interested in its concept but it’s currently a frustrating shadow of what it could be. The heart is clearly there but the technical side of the game is a complete mess. If Crossroads Inn has caught your eye, wishlist it for later as it has a lot of potential if its many issues get ironed out but even the most hardcore fans of the genre will find it frustrating and disappointing as it is now.