Wolfbiter reviews Spring Thing 2024 -- Social Democracy (all main festival reviews complete)

Dragon of Steelthorne by Vance Chance
Playtime: 1 hour

This made me want to talk about:

  • Re: the relationship management elements—I got a mild enjoyment from the cast of characters (if anything, I wanted them to get up to more hijinks), but in this game the reward for building relationships definitely comes later through some kind of under-the-hood hidden stat. I think it might be more fun if the actual on-page interaction with the other characters was more immediately rewarding to the player—when the player chooses to spend time with someone, “reward” the player with a colorful description of the hang-out, a funny anecdote, dispense some angsty backstory. (I saw a bit of this with Chang, but most of the other descriptions were pretty bland.)
  • Re: the city management elements—I mean, I like simulators so I’m the target audience here. It was fun! It seemed a bit over-simplified though, in that all of the options make Numbers Go Up (no tradeoffs of the “this will decrease contentment but increase industry” type), the “tech tree” is a single layer (no restrictions on building order). I played on easy as suggested for new players, but because that pretty much eliminated negativve consequences from neglecting city management, it also created an unpleasant feeling that I should be working on relationships whenever I spent a turn building instead, and I’m not sure that was enriching the game.
  • Some of my favorite elements were the treatment of sort of low-level politics between the player character and the ruler, and the player character and surrounding groups, which were made interesting and slightly surprising by containing realistic nuance. Often it’s the best option to avoid combat, leaders are imperfect but not purely evil, one can choose not to fight the non-aligned civilians living near the city but one can’t promise them continued autonomy, etc etc.

My fervent wish:
For a game with this premise, the fantasy-side plot options felt . . . a bit mid? Like when I’m primed with the idea that DRAGONS exist in this world and one shows up and gives me a GEM and I learn the gem has MAGIC POWERS I do expect that to come up more. Whether we’re going to take the fantasy elements at face value or try to deconstruct them a bit (anti-spoiler, since this doesn’t happen?) (dragons are a hoax by the Jhou or something) I just think it would be fun to pay off the fantasy bits more.

To conclude, a smooth, workmanlike game that combines light city management elements with fantasy plot and character interactions, but I do wish it had committed harder in some direction.

Gameplay tips / typos
  • mild spoilers about relationships mechanics–I tried to interact equally with all of my companions, but I think that’s the worst option—it seemed like maybe instead of a “don’t let any companions hate you” it was more of a “develop a very close relationship (romantic?) with the character of your choice” set-up