Growth describes itself as a “soft strategy” game – a term I’d never heard of before, yet now after several hours of play, its a term that I could apply to many games I’ve played. Deceptively simple game mechanics that require forethought, planning and a dash of luck are at the heart of Growth. Its time to clear the fog of war with animals and habitats!
Each randomly generated map starts off with almost all the hex tiles flipped like a fog of war. You’ll have some forest tiles to start, in which will reside some deer and maybe a hog. The concept of the game is to move your animals to new habitats, thus uncovering the surrounding area and in turn the whole map. You’ll do this by working out by the colour shades what may lie just beyond the surface, or by expanding your current habitats by moving an animal next to it and creating a new tile for that creature. It plays a bit like the early expansion and territory gathering phases of a Civilisation game and a bit like Risk. As your forest habitat grows for example, every second tile usually spawns a new animal and so you’ll be strategically working out how to maximise animal growth as well as land growth. If you forget the animals and spread out too thinly, it’ll game over very quickly.
The tutorial glosses over one very key point that needs screaming from the rooftops. Divide and then join habitats up! With very small habitats you’ll initially get new animals every turn and this is extremely helpful. Then you can join up two small habitats to make a larger one, like pools of water, and more animals will flow. Each habitat has a different function and they are introduced gradually. Initially you’ll have forests for land grabs and meadows for bees. Bees can travel over water and become very useful early on to bridge gaps. Once you reach the goal of your first hex map, suddenly the world pans out allowing you to pick your next area to expand out to. It turns out you are colouring in hex tiles inside seven hex boards! When you start the second hex board you’ll be introduced to mountain goats. They and cross over mountains and travel along them a bit too. Then after that ducks are available for travelling along water. Whilst both goats and ducks are very useful, they also leave mountains and ponds behind so their use must be strategic or you’ll box yourself in.
The larger Growth gets, suddenly, the trickier it becomes. It really sneaks up on you. A few wasted moves, an awkward topography or a few lucky guesses gone wrong and you’ll run out of animals extremely quickly. This is a game that rewards a conservative approach with tactical leaps of faith. The world gets more barren the longer you play and so its from the 4th board onwards where you’ll often fall over. To help you out points of interest can be unlocked. These can offer birds and bats as special moves to uncover tiles or terrain issues to help you plan ahead. They also break up what is a cute but simplistic map of hex colours too.
I didn’t run into any issues with Growth, and my only complaint is that this game would work absolute wonders with seeded maps to keep high scores relevant. At launch, it seems only your top score is kept and since every map is random, that never feels truly representative. The soft piano soundtrack lulls you into focus with the cozy vibes prominent throughout the game. A run will take up to an hour but you’ll often realise if you’ve worked yourself into a dead end around the 30-40 minute mark. Well I did anyway but that may be a skill problem on my side!
Initially, I struggled to really gel with this game but the moment it clicked that doing small habitats, little and often and then joining them together was the way to sustain your animals, everything clicked into place. I found the ramp up in challenge a pleasant surprise too – this is no walk in the park! It is a soft strategy game because the idea is very simple and the mechanics stay consistent throughout. It is you against the terrain and you’ll often come out second best, especially when it reaches the final stage. Deceptively fun.
With its ratcheting difficulty and need for early planning and decision making, Growth has more to it than it lets on.
Simple game mechanics that then trip you up as you take them for granted.
Cozy aesthetic helps you relax and focus.
Random maps add some longevity.
Gets quite difficult and punished mistakes.
Lack of seeded levels for score keeping or challenges.
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