Farthest Frontier is far from the first foray I’ve fared into the fir-flecked forests of an unforgiving land. But as survival city-builders go, it provides some targeted depth and realism in areas that often get ignored. While I ran out of things to hold my interest in games like Banished fairly quickly, the agriculture and food spoilage system here make running and developing a settlement much more engaging.
The premise is fairly simple. You get dumped in the woods with a few medieval settlers and have to survive harsh weather, disease, starvation, wolves, bears, and eventually – though I didn’t run into any, thankfully – bandit attacks. Providing housing, firewood, fish, and berries is the first priority. But as your population grows, your town center levels up, and the tech tree is slowly unlocked, things get more complicated.
The most significant wrinkle here is the very detailed food spoilage system. If you were planning to rely on the rations you brought with you to survive the first winter… I have bad news for you. They’re mostly going to rot faster than your villagers can eat them. Getting food is only half the battle, because you can make a giant pile of fish and berries in the warm summer months and it will all be inedible mush by the middle of winter. Thus the tech tree is just as much about developing ways to store and preserve food as it is about getting more of it.
Even for your tiny starting population, survival just by hunting, fishing, and foraging is a harsh life on the razor’s edge of starvation. You’ll have to develop agriculture to sustain anything much larger or have any wiggle room at all, and that’s where one of the most interesting systems in Farthest Frontier kicks in. In addition to having to find a site with fertile soil for your fields, the ground is also rated for its sand and clay content, with certain crops preferring more of one or the other. It’s possible to gather both from elsewhere and add them to the field if you need to adjust the composition.
Fields also have ratings for weeds and rockiness, which both reduce your crop yield, and require you to slot in maintenance jobs that reduce the amount of available growing time. Some crops suppress weeds, but don’t provide very much food. Some can be stored for longer, but are more susceptible to a late or early frost that could ruin the harvest. And some crops replenish the fertility of the soil, while others reduce it, which makes crop rotation essential. If you plant too much wheat or rye, you’ll eventually ruin the land, so you need to swap in a nitrogen fixer like beans every couple of years.
There are a few different ways to help your food keep longer. Meat and fish can be smoked at a smokehouse, though it has a tendency to catch fire. I didn’t get a good clip of that because I was trying to, you know, stop my settlement from burning down, but let’s just say there used to be a lot more forest over here. Vegetables can be stored in a root cellar, which also helps. And eventually, you can build a cooper to stock your storage areas with barrels, which slow down the decay even further.
AGAINST THE GRAIN
Eventually, though, you’ll have to do what most large, agrarian communities have done for the last several thousand years and transition to a grain-based diet. Grains can be stored practically forever in the raw form – as long as you keep it dry and have a rat catcher on duty for pest control. But it also can’t be eaten raw, so you need to employ millers and bakers to turn it into flour and, eventually, bread, which adds a lot of complexity and daily labor needs to your settlement. It also does a number on the soil, so good field rotation practices become even more important. Cereal is truly a Devil’s bargain.
This is a really interesting and novel centerpiece for Farthest Frontier’s tech progression, where more population requires completely rethinking how you’re going to feed everyone, which creates further problems to solve. Having played a lot of similar games where advancement through the tech tree is a lot more predictable, and less driven by actual historical realities and interesting logistical puzzles, I was impressed.
Along the way, I had to keep an eye out for disease and wild animals as well. If your townsfolk don’t have easy access to a well, they’ll just gulp down some pond water and probably get dysentery. Eventually I had to employ a soil collector and a grave digger, or else everyone would just dump their poo and dead relatives out on the street, which isn’t great for public health, as it turns out. Luckily, building a trading post and selling valuable furs to passing merchants helped me afford all of these new amenities.
It looks pretty nice, too. The realistic color palette sets it apart from more stylized city-builders, the buildings have a lot of little details to make them feel lived-in, and the changes to the lighting and ground cover during autumn and winter really help the world feel alive. The interface is a little bit busy, but especially the farming and crop rotation screen are very easy to read and work with, given how deep that system goes.
There’s still a lot more of Farthest Frontier I haven’t seen. Bandit raids and dealing with local nobles become important later, with the ability to eventually build roads and walls and train soldiers. There’s a whole third tier of tech I haven’t even touched yet, and I haven’t been able to open my pub because of a heartbreaking lack of beer. I look forward to seeing my little wilderness village grow into a proper medieval settlement when I get my hands on the full version on August 9th.