February 23, 2014 4:30 PM | Lena LeRay
Czech developers Jan Horacek and Jindrich Pavlasek have been hard at work for several years to make Cubesis, a turn-based strategy game in which angering and appeasing the gods of rainfall and temperature is a strategic choice on the path to achieving one's goals. It began as Horacek's entry for a competition, intended to be a simulation of the development of life from bacteria to animalia and so on. What they ended up with, however, is a game in which player choices affects the state of the environment, which in turn affect what the player can do.
In Cubesis, you control the inhabitants of the Cubeworld, or cubies. They are little people who go where you tell them, doing things like planting fields, digging up stone, and building buildings. If you have enough wheat, your population can grow; if you have enough stone, you can build buildings. And you need both, though neither of them is your most important resource. Every action except walking consumes the cubie that performs it, and if you run out of cubies before completing the stage's objective, you'll have to try again. How quickly your cubie population grows is dependent on how much food is available and how warm your town(s) are. That sounds simple, and to an extent it is, but the underlying systems that determine the state of the environment are subtly complex.
To start with, the sun hovers over the center of the map, marking the warmest point in the environment. Move out towards the edges and things cool off some, which means that the location of a town will affect growth. One of the buildings you can build affects the mood of the god Likael, who controls the overall temperature. You can trigger a heat wave, which will speed up population growth in towns but fry any cubies who are outside of town for too long and cause fields to dry up faster (reducing food output), or you can trigger an ice age, which makes it so that your cubies can cross water without drowning and prevents population growth.
Sometimes you want to keep your population small with controlled growth, because the cubie-to-church ratio affects the mood of the god Ikjuch, who controls the water level. If there are more cubies than churches, the water level will rise, eventually flooding everything; if more churches than cubies, a drought will occur. Lowering the water level creates more open land to use and/or travel across, but also means that fewer squares will be able to support food growth, and for less time.
The interaction of the flood/drought and hot/cold mechanics leaves players a lot of room for varying strategies. The tutorial stages do a great job of walking the player through how to control the environment before throwing them into the frying pan (or ice box, as the case may be) that is the main set of stages. At that point, the game becomes quite a bit more interesting.
When asked if there is anything that makes the game uniquely Czech, Pavlasek replied, "Maybe the type of the humour, but that's not for sure because every person has different tastes. But since the Czech Republic is considered to be a non-religious country, the game contains some kind of careless form of devotion to god, idolatry, and the possibility to totally ignore them by digging a hole into the ground and other such things."
Cubesis is a single-player experience, and although it's not the biggest game ever, it packs a good punch for its size. It'll only set you back $4.99 US or €3.69, and you can pick it up for Windows on Desura right now.