Funded by Kickstarter, Foundation is a medieval city builder that eschews the doom and gloom of the dark ages for a more bucolic — though not exactly fantasy-based — approach, with appealing cartoon visuals, lush scenery and rolly-polly little villagers that are happy to build and gather and craft. Although it innovates a bit in the area of monument construction and pathing, Foundation is generally a gentle and risk-free way of puttering around a virtual countryside.
You begin by acquiring a plot of land, painting it with specific zones for gathering or foraging and assign a small band of villagers to specific tasks, like building a city center or lumber mill. Short of a few early tool tips, Foundation assumes the player has probably been at this type of rodeo a few times and can figure things out. By and large, the game is correct. The economy grows, bigger buildings get built, more villagers arrive and are put to work and before you know it, you have a thriving medieval burg.
Along the way, there’s quite a bit of micromanagement. In some ways, Foundation feels like an older title that is absent of some of the improvements in the genre. Although there is some freedom in where buildings or farms are placed, workers tend to play dumb when not actively assigned to a task, idly doing nothing once their assignment has been completed. Population happiness and political savvy all play a role in keeping the town prosperous and moving in the right economic direction and this means vigilant awareness and constant fiddling with one parameter or another.
The visual rewards of creating a storybook town, with impressive, custom churches, cathedrals and castles is perhaps the greatest pleasure of Foundation, and it’s accompanied by an appropriate soundtrack that suggests the middle ages without actually being authentically medieval. The art design suggests an idealized, fresh-scrubbed theme park version of the age, not that it’s a bad thing. At this stage of development, Foundation lacks a compelling campaign or a really thorough tutorial, although there are some mission-like challenges along the way. The game’s UI — besides being small and hard to read —seems a bit stuck in the past, with controls spread over far too many tabs, making the near constant management more of a chore than it should be. The dozens of villagers are stylized, cartoon clones that don’t have much personality.
Foundation is attractive and relaxing to play and though it has a few quirks and plays variations on familiar themes, it doesn’t represent a revolutionary step forward in the city building sim or take the genre in a bold new direction. Not every game has to reinvent its genre, of course, and there is something to be said for a well-made product that is easy to get into and just surprising or different enough that it makes you pay attention. Still in Early Access, Foundation has a good, solid start.