The king can’t run the kingdom all by himself and that’s where you come in. Build and a manage a successful settlement as you balance the needs of the families and your duties to the king.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Honestly Games
Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Release date: 30 September, 2021

Overview

Colony simulations tend to be quite a thrill if the experience is as refined as it needs to be. For better or worse, the venerable Dwarf Fortress has left an incredible mark on gaming and we’re consistently fed a steady stream of the genre that it almost single-handedly spawned. I’m still always looking for something that can match the level of depth and emergent storytelling that was provided by it as I check in to see how close we are to getting its updated Steam version. That said, Gnomoria and RimWorld stand out as the most memorable releases of its legacy even if they have shed some of that depth in an attempt to become more user-friendly.

Over the years we’ve received plenty of other visions on the genre and, for the most part, I was expecting something of a medieval RimWorld out of Lords & Villeins. To my surprise, even in its very Early Access state, it’s left my assumptions by the wayside and offered me an experience that’s far more unique than it had appeared at first glance.

Your Fief, My Lord

Lords & Villeins has you taking on the role of a lord in service to the king. You’ve been granted a wild, untamed territory with a pair of commoner families so that you may transform it into a new town for the good sovereign to tax. Your starting three families include your own, one that has a knack for farming, and one that can make sure that your royal forest is operational. They’ll need your direction in setting up their homestead and determining which lands are theirs for working so that they might become productive members of society. Lucky for you, you live in a feudal society so once they’re up and running you can follow in His Majesty’s footsteps and profit from their hard work.

Oh, this jackass again.

There are four separate contracts that you can force upon your subjects on an individual basis. Socage requires that they simply pay a percentage of what they make to you. Fishermen will provide you with some of their fish, bakers will provide you with a few loaves of bread, and so on. Alternatively, fee-farm is the classic rent situation that too many of us are familiar with. They’ll pay you a fixed amount for the lands that they hold but get to own everything that they produce. Stewardship is the third option and it requires your villages to hand over everything that they produce. The benefit for them is that they’re now salaried employees and you’ll be paying them for their labors in coin. Finally, frankalmoigne donates the land to the new holder free of any obligations to you. In Lords & Villeins current state, this appears to offer no real benefit, though the implementation of a faith system could certainly make it viable with some kind of church-based favor.

The bakers have arrived! New families are always exciting and add either new industries or more population to work in those you already have.

Family First

Private ownership and a functioning economy are what make Lords & Villeins stand out from its competitors. Each family has its own inventory and the right to buy and sell goods as needed. Whether they’re opening their own stall in the marketplace to sell the fruits of their labors or simply purchasing what they need with the salary that you pay them, there’s an active economy that’s always running. This can look different depending on the contacts that you’ve put into place and how centralized or free trade is under your rule.

Life is good and the people are happy. Yes, it may just be that there isn’t a feature to make them discontent yet.

Families themselves have the classic needs of food, sleep, shelter, and basic resources, though it’s clear that there’s plenty related to this system that hasn’t been implemented yet. Family mood seems to only be impacted by starvation or a lack of a place to sleep, otherwise, they’re as happy as can be. A straw bed and a sack of potatoes is all they require. I’m sure that big changes are on the way for this, though it makes the experience very easy currently. The only real challenge comes from the king’s taxes and even that’s not much of a struggle if you understand the economy. It’s made even easier if you game the system by pushing an oppressive tax system and seizing property as there isn’t any pushback from the people.

As the wilds are tamed, a lively economy takes over.

Sound & Graphics

Lord & Villeins’ atmosphere was another pleasant surprise. The art style is all its own being both pleasant to look at and different from anything else I’ve played. I’m so used to being bombarded with the RimWorld / Prison Architect style that this was a breath of fresh air. The audio design was also solid with a lack of any intrusive noises and relaxing background music that fit with the theme of the title. Even the general vibe of the experience made it so that it felt like I was building my own Stardew Valley village of sorts as opposed to desperately clinging on to survive in a harsh world. It was a nice change of pace when compared to what we’re frequently pushed even if I do find myself enjoying the intense storytelling of other games as well.

The art style is a significant improvement over what we’ve seen in the genre.

Verdict

Lords & Villeins isn’t a complete game yet but it’s well on its way. It’s already shaping up to be a unique entry in a genre that’s begun to get stale and I found myself hooked even on my first sitting. The family dynamics, implementation of feudalism, and active economy stood out to be for their innovative vision and I could see this being a great town builder if Honestly Games keeps moving full-speed ahead with new content while slowing down just enough to hammer out a few minor quality of life improvements along the way.

Written by
Aurumlamina
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