Timberborn: a cute beaver colony sim with an unrewarding late game

I love colony simulation games like RimWorld, Patron, and Surviving Mars; and I’ve sunk way too many hours into these games. My latest obsession is Timberborn — a vertical city builder inhabited by intelligent beavers that have inherited the Earth after humans are long gone.

It’s delightful to watch the beavers as they bustle about collecting resources and go about their daily tasks. The art direction and the beaver simulation bring the game to life. The beavers take breaks from their tasks to eat and drink, and they wander off to stand on balconies and stare out over the bustling city life. Their little breaks can disrupt your production chains, but it’s a nice break from the typical mindless automatons that populate most colony/survival games.

Timberborn’s gimmick is that seasons represent changes to the water flow of its life-giving rivers and droughts. Most games in the genre are split into a summer/growing season for stocking up on resources, and a hash and snowy winter season to put your colony to the test. In Timberborn, you need to hold on to water through the droughts by building dams, and expand your colony by irrigating wasteland.

There are nine maps with varied terrain and rivers, and plenty of opportunities for water management. Water always takes the easiest route, so a small change can reroute it upstream and flood your entire colony. The best laid plans of beavers often go awry. Water traversal isn’t a problem for the beavers, but it sure interferes with your production.

Now that I come to think of it, the beavers do have some trouble traversing water. It’s frustrating and non-intuitive that your beavers need stairs to get in and out of bodies of water. They’re beavers! They should manage to jump into and haul themselves out of a river without the aid of stairs!

In the early game, you’re likely to run out of food or water by the end of the first drought period. There’ll be dead beavers everywhere, and this doesn’t have any negative effects on other beavers. Except, naturally, the potential for a worker shortage. Capitalism doesn’t care if you live or die, and neither does the post-apocalyptic beaver society of the future.

Food production isn’t a problem after you’ve mastered the water on the level as you can grow food all the time. At that point, you’ve also run out of gameplay. There isn’t much depth to the game; the beavers don’t have any needs beyond food and water.

You can raise their happiness by fulfilling more needs, but there aren’t any negative effects of not fulfilling their other needs. Nothing in the gameplay is gated behind your beaver happiness level. The game doesn’t have a traditional tech-tree; you can unlock any item in any order given you’ve accumulated enough research points.

The game has two factions with quite varied play styles and a couple of unique buildings. There’s plenty of replay value packed into the game, but you can quickly grow attached to a colony and don’t want to abandon it for something new.

After an hour or two of playing, I’m left panning over my city full of happy and fat beavers; with their every needs met. However, I’m left feeling like I’ve just gotten started on the game, and then it’s already over. That was the game.

I kept myself entertained in the late game by building ever taller and more elaborate mega-structures. The game lets you stack many buildings on top of each other, and providing vertical access can be quite the challenge.

The game falls short in the late game. Once your colony has enough food and water, then you’re pretty much done. The game doesn’t have many more challenges in stock for you. You can continue playing with the colony for as long as you want. However, the game won’t throw any more challenges at you.

Other solid games in the genre provide more challenges in the late game. Banished and Patron introduces new crop types via trade boats, and every citizen has a growing list of needs beyond just food and water. In RimWorld, you can pack a caravan and set off to explore beyond your territory. In Factorio, you can fire a rocket off into space and unlock some new and exciting things that break the game, but they’re adding something new and fun to the game.

In my opinion, Timberborn could be significantly improved by mix things up in the late game with new challenges. The following is my wish list for things I’d like to see added to the game. These are just some examples of mechanics I think could help make the game more entertaining in the long haul.

  • An obvious one is flash-floods caused by rain or just excess water flowing in from upstream. Large dams have spillways, and your beaver civilization should suffer the consequences if it doesn’t plan for increased water levels.
  • There’s room for natural progression where new mechanics get introduced as you progress through the game. A larger city also has more requirements and different needs than a small one. Population targets could trigger new needs like hygiene (baths), health (medicines), and waste management (plumbing).
  • Your colony consists of mostly wooden structures (it’s a lumberpunk society, after all). Fire hazards and prevention should feature prominently in the game. I don’t believe that beavers have somehow mastered fire to such a degree that it never gets out of control.
  • Once the population exceeds a certain level, groups of your population could float off downstream on their backs to look for new opportunities elsewhere. A large emigration could leave your colony with a worker shortage and sustainability issues. Similarly, your colony could get visitors from upstream colonies floating down on the river.
  • Similarly, a group of beavers can float in from upstream and join your colony for a few days. They don’t immigrate but just eat and drink you dry before continuing on their journey downstream. Maybe they could arrive with the restored river flow at the end of a drought, work through a season and leave after the end of the next drought period.
  • The description for the game’s decorative benches makes a joke about youths vandalizing public property. However, it also highlights the lack of a system for wear and tear of your colony’s buildings. There are no maintenance workers and no building logs or stair-boards ever need replacing.
  • There is plenty of room for random events that could affect the game’s buildings and production chains. Accidents with the beavers that work in them, damage to the building, and research inspiration and other production boosts. Maybe a windcatcher or a windmill gets caught and flies off with the wind. Random events can add flavor and variety, and that’s something Timberborn needs after a few hours of play.

These are just some ideas that could shake up the gameplay in the late game stages. The game studio probably has better ideas that didn’t make it into the game. I’ve submitted some of these ideas to the studio through their feedback system. Maybe you’ll find one or more of the above ideas (or better ones) in the game in the slight future.

The game is still in “early access”, so we could still see improvements to it in the future. The game had a free limited beta version available for half a year before it was released in early access. So, I guess I’m not sure what “early access” means anymore and what to expect for the game’s future.

The game only supports Windows. However, it runs excellently on Linux in Steam Proton compatibility mode. It’s more optimized and has few performance issues compared to early releaaes of similar simulator games.

Timberborn is a good game, and the novel water mechanic is refreshing for the genre. I recommend you check it out if you like colony/survival simulator games. The game is 21 Euro (25 USD), and you get your money’s worth. Just don’t expect a game to last too long before you need to start on a new colony.