Civ V’s lead designer is at the Kickstarter gates

Civ V’s lead designer has put his new project on Kickstarter.

Jon Shafer has clearly learned a lot in his job as the lead designer on the latest entry in the Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise. On Civ V, Meier turned over the lead designer duties for the game to his protégés, Shafer, so that he could work on the Facebook version of Civilization, CivWorld, which was a complete flop, mostly due to Meier’s complete misunderstanding of his audience.

Now that development on Civilization V is complete, Shafer has moved on to a new project, for which he’s founded his own studio, Conifer Games. The studio is almost done with its first game, but they’ve seemingly run out of funds to work with because they’ve turned to Kickstarter to get the game finished.

The game, Jon Shafer’s At the Gates, is clearly influenced by the titles Shafer worked on with Meier, and he admits as much in his Kickstarter pitch, calling the game, flatly, “similar to Sid Meier’s Civilization.”

He describes the game thus:

Starting with a small tribe, you must explore the world, exploit its scarce resources, and eliminate or outsmart potential enemies. The game starts simple but grows in complexity until you command a mighty economic and military powerhouse.

Over the course of a single game your tribe will migrate to more lush and bountiful lands, conquer and barter with other clans, work alongside the Romans, learn from them, and finally destroy them. Along the way, you’ll need to master the art of war and craft cunning plans to strengthen your kingdom – all while enduring the worst mother nature can throw at you!

So, it’s similar in play to a Civilization game, but not in scope. The engine seems more simplistic graphically, but more complex in simulation of the world. The weather and seasons will change the environment of the game as the story progresses, and not just as yearly weather moves through. Lakes will freeze, and trees will turn their leaves, yes, but the major component here is that shores will erode, rivers will change course, jungles will go barren, and wastes will become verdant, the climates of the game-world shifting around, just as they have in the real world. In addition, resources are not inexhaustable.

The plot is also more focused, mostly in that, there is one. Rather than having the player start out as a lowly tribe among other equally lowly tribes, the game begins in the classical era, when Rome is already a gargantuan master of the Earth. As the game progresses, the player takes on the role of the leader ofa tribe of barbarians who are fighting at the edge of the vast empire, picking at it’s fringes, and scavenging its territory as the Roman Empire slowly crumbles under its own weight.

This is from the most recent update to the Kickstarter campaign, in which Shafer describes his reasons for choosing this specific scenario for his game:

“I’ve long thought that the standard model for a 4X title has been a bit flawed. Instead of the game easing you in and growing tougher over time, instead the beginning is filled with possibilities which gradually diminish, and as you grow in strength the challenges in your way become increasingly trivial.
But here was a system where the game was actually working against players, and making life tougher and tougher on them. The fall of Rome seemed like a great format for trying out some of my gameplay ideas along with solving the 4X genre’s greatest flaw.”

As the Roman Empire falls, the barbarian tribes found their own settlements which become cities which become countries, and divide up the bits of Europe left in the wake of the receding dynasty. Along the way, they found alliances, make tributes, and fight wars. Combat will be more tactical than Civilization games, with players having to worry about things like supply lines and rations.


The timeline of the game will run up to the Colonial era. Players can choose to play the game on a map of real-world Europe, or have the map randomized for a challenge with more variables. You can see a sample of how the game will work in this video, though Shafer points out that it’s unfinished, so there are lots of art and sound assets missing from the demonstration:

After only a few days, the campaign has already raised more than half of its requested $40k, so it seems likely that it will soon surpass its goals. The plan is to have At the Gates finished and released by July of 2014.