I’d heard quite a bit about Tooth & Tail before seeing it in person at PAX East 2016. I’d seen artwork and updates online via Pocketwatch Games and Adam deGrandis, and heard the incredibly favorable reviews the indie RTS had received at GDC, but none of that really matters when it is up against seeing the game in person, having the controller in hand, and getting your ass kicked as you try desparately to save your crumbling army.
Tooth & Tail does something incredibly well that I would have almost said was impossible: Pocketwatch Games have created an RTS game in which you can play and complete a match in 5 to 12 minutes (or much less), with just about as much strategic depth as a full game of Starcraft II.
Title: Tooth & Tail
Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Platforms: PC, MAC, LINUX
Release Date: TBD
I need to get this out of the way first: I am a massive fan of both the art style and lore of Tooth & Tail, and that is 100% because I grew up reading Brian Jaques’ Redwall Series. These were medieval adventure stories with a cast of anthropomorphic animals, including monastic mice, badgers in full plate, and one of the most terrifying villians I read as a child in the form of Cluny the Scourge. Redwall was also a major source of inspiration for Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games in creating Tooth & Tail:
“I was a big Redwall fan when I was a kid, and…one of the artist on the game is probably the most well known or prolific Redwall fan artists out there…I wanted to bring Redwall into a modern, more brutal era. World War 1 happened during the Industrial Revolution, and the events of the game are inspired by the event of the Russian Revolution, [which] started because Russia was sending all of their food to the front in World War 1, and the people at home were starving. So, we thought, when you walk into your backyard and see squirrels on powerlines, or you see a crow land over there, what if they had a real society, and what if they all were starving [and] they wanted to eat each other? What would [that] society look like? How would they decided who got to eat and who would get eaten?” – Andy Schatz, Pocketwatch Games
There are four factions in Tooth & Tail, each looking to solve this issue of carnivorous hunger amongst the populace in four different way. The populist common folk fight against the incubent powers, arguing for democratically elected butchering. The militaristic KSR care only for the letter of the law, and want to kill any revolutionaries or dissenters and have them for their dinner. The Civilized ( a sort of religious clergy) believe that they have the divine mandate to choose who will be sent to the butchers. Finally, the aristocrats are pushing for a more free-market, every man for themselves approach to this issue of hunger. It’s compelling, if somewhat morbid, stuff and is backed up by the phenomenal art of Jerome Jacinto, whose brought these characters to life. Combine this with the incredibly emotive unit animations from Adam deGrandis, and huge parts of this story are being told by the units themselves, which I love.
Mechanically, there’s no difference between these factions besides what color they show up as on the map. Where the difference come in is your selections of what units you’ll have available. In each round, you’re able to select 6 units to be able to produce or build. There are three teirs of units, with the power and price of each unit going up in each teir. There’s also a fourth “teir” of defensive structures, like turrets, barbed wire and mines you’re able to choose from. The strategy comes with not having any idea what your opponent or opponents will be bringing until the game starts. This in many way forces you to consider a few options and try to balance your force, unless you are betting everything on one tactic.
All the units have their own strengths and weaknesses, so there are no “Must Picks” on the selection screen, nor any clear meta selection that you’d be foolish not to pick. This anti-meta attitude is an important element of Tooth & Tail that Pocketwatch wanted to ad hear to from the beginning:
“Before the match, you pick 6 different units from amongst the twenty available. Your opponent doesn’t know which six you’re choosing, so, every single match is going to be different. It’s not like your playing against Zerg or Terran , and your always going to go up against Zergling rush, You don’t know what combinations you are facing. And, the maps are procedurally generated. We really wanted to put an emphasis on creativity and improvisation over practicing build orders and knowing the maps really well…to us, and in our perspective Meta is a dirty word. What we want is for a player that does something unexpected to be rewarded.” – Andy Schatz, Pocketwatch Games
When I played Tooth & Tail, I decided to build defensively, selecting Barbed Wire, Turrets and Mines along side some Squirrel Infantry, Ferret Mortarmen and Owl Air Support. This suited my own play style, and were I to start over, I wouldn’t have had quite so heavy a focus, but this was my first time touching the game.
Controls were easy to learn and worked well. In the early game, there’s a focus on scouting the map, figuring out where your enemy is, and the lanes that have been formed in the randomly generated playing field. While you’re doing this, you’re burrowing back to your base to build farms and increase your food. This will be used to build more famrs, and then warrens that will begin producing units. The game is howevernudged towards conflict between players because of a forced scarcity: farms run out, and you’ll HAVE to expand to another windmill for more farms, or attack before starvation sets in. Combat felt decisive in the 1v1 I played, with the upper hand being seized by my opponent after the first major skirmish went in his favor. However, in a larger battle, be it 2v2 of 4v4 free-for-all, I think that the game may be more prone towards the seizing of opportunities and surprise comebacks.
Every new RTS game that’s coming out seems, to me, to try to get even bigger and more hardcore. Why is no one making a RTS game that’s easy to play, that is fast to play, but still has the same depth? – Andy Schatz, Pocketwatch Games
Tooth & Tail lived up not only to the hype I’d heard, but also my own expectations. I’m incredibly eager to see how this game develops and what new units and modes we can hope to see in the future.