Ancient city builder El Dorado has a free prologue, with some angry gods to appease

Basically the only sort of strategy games I like are city builders, so I was interested in the playtest for El Dorado: The Golden City Builder, which casts you as the leader of an ancient Mayan-ish city. The playtest is only the prologue, but the eventual goal is to take over the Yucatán peninsula, and if nothing else it’s refreshing to see a city-builder that doesn’t feel overwhelmingly European. It also has a complicated system of religion. Whereas in a similarly polytheistic game like Zeus, the gods would turn up to stomp on buildings and/or bless them, at fairly large intervals, in El Dorado I was getting a home immolated every few days. Building shrines that have an area of effect, and that require resources to run and protect your town, is its own supply chain in El Dorado. This is a very interesting idea that I liked.

But. The aforementioned deities are figures from Maya mythology, and the Yucatán peninsula is the bit where the Mayans lived, so I just find it a bit sus the word “Mayan” does not appear anywhere on the Steam page or in the press release materials. Sometimes said materials say “the Yucatán peninsula”, and sometimes “the mystical land of Jukatan”, which could well be an innocent translation mistake, but doesn’t make me less sus. I’ve hedged my bets by saying “Mayan-ish” – just as an uncharitable person could say the devs are doing…

I don’t know who specifically was involved in making this, so it is very possible that the devs (based in Warsaw in Poland) have familial links to Mesoamerica or South American indigenous peoples, and are exploring their own heritage. This game apparently gets into enslaving neighbouring cities and human sacrifices, so hopefully there’s some sincere research going on in any case. I don’t know enough to be able to make a call, and I didn’t get close to the darker parts of the game, so I’d be super interested to hear from someone who does and can when the full game is released.

Whether or not it’s correct, there is a lot of detail to engage with. The game has a calendar which tells you which god you should be concerned with in the current season, and for my playthrough Hun Hunahpu was pretty pissed off the whole time, setting fire to a bakery or a farm at least once a week. Until, that is, I used some of my gathered food and minerals to unlock his constellation. New production buildings are gated by different gods’ constellations, you see, and I think this way of tying deities intimately and inextricably with a whole civilisation is a very cool idea.

With Hun Hunahpu’s constellation unlocked I could build shrines to him around the city, and their areas of influence stopped him going all arsonist on everything. His shrines would only work with a supply of maize from my farms, and he is sometimes identified with the Maya maize god – implying that at the very least someone at Gameparic read the same Wikipedia page I just did.

A temple and town center building in El Dorado: The Golden City Builder's prologue

Some worker houses and maize farms in a city built in the prologue playtest for El Dorado: The Golden City Builder

Legally distinct ancient civilisation | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Gameparic, Games Incubator

Elsewhere, I liked the way that, as in many citybuilders, the regular poor person houses supplied workers for the scrub jobs (farming, getting water) while the fancy houses provided essentially a priest class for your temples – where, by the way, I was limited to sacrificing fruit and veg at this early stage. Water is sourced from a cenote rather than a well or river, and farm fields are cleared with fire, and leave behind dark ash squares for your crops. El Dorado just looks extremely different to what I’m used to, as you build in a lush jungle and not a conveniently open plain with a few trees around. So yes, refreshing to see, and some interesting systems. I liked playing the prologue, but I’m just a bit, you know. Lads. Why are we saying “mythical ancient tribe” instead of “Maya peoples”?

You can request access to the playtest now, via El Dorado’s Steam page, but the prologue’ll be out for everyone in a week, on January 30th. I’d be interested to hear what other people think.

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