I couldn’t tell you where in the universe my little planet is, or even if it had a proper name before my ship landed here. Still, even after just a few short months, it feels enough like home that each tree I cut down provides a tiny moment of melancholy; as if I was erasing part of an ecosystem. They were green when I arrived. Bright and plentiful and loudly announcing their presence as a resource to be utilistised, removed and reshaped.
Now, in Autumn, the solitary, uniform green has given way to reds and yellows and oranges, and these polyhedral tufts rise up from a blanket of resting, shard-like leaves. I am reminded that even on a planet named nowhere suspended in nothing, life is cyclical, and delicate, and impermanent.
I am reminded of this again when angry red spacefaring trolls invade my planet a few months later and wipe out my entire population. The hopping, meeple-like invaders have no definitive look, just tiny devil horns rising from their spherical heads. A wry nod to the quintessential archetype of the invader? I wonder, and….oh, oh shit, we’re all dead, aren’t we? Yes. We are all extremely dead.
Poly Universe is an ultra-stylish, minimalist survival city builder from developer Pouchmouse. Those familiar with Kingdoms and Castles will be immediately familiar with its charmingly simplistic visuals, as well as the general rhythms of play. The game generates a planet from stretches of land and water, with patches of trees and stone which your settlers can gather for resources. You build fishing boats and farms for food, power stations for electricity, houses to live in, and forts for defense. There’s also a variety of other buildings to make your population more efficient workers, gatherers, or fighters. Every so often, those bastardly red trolls invade. There’s no tactical options during the fight as yet. If you’ve got enough defenses, you win. But combat really isn’t the point here. In fact, my favorite way to play is just to turn it off entirely.
Like Kingdoms and Castles, Poly Universe is pleasingly meditative, but still lets you know exactly what you need to do to progress at all times. Three game speeds mean you can always take a breather if you need it, but that there’s also very little forced downtime. The result is a sim that manages to provide a compulsive loop without ever breaking the chill by putting too much pressure on the player.
It’s a still a game for the strategy fan more than the architect. Poly Universe’s small maps emphasize space management over self expression, so there’s not much room for artistic renditions of your dream space colony. Still, the simple, bright palette, shifting seasons, and ever-so slightly melancholy ambient soundtrack keep things visually and sonically appealing throughout.
Poly Universe is currently in very early access on steam, with lots of interaction between the developer and the community. I can see the game growing a lot, but there’s still a good few hours of fun here, even in its nascent state . If you’re a Kingdoms and Castles fan looking for a change of scenery, or just looking for something to wind down with after a mammoth Stellaris session, Poly Universe offers a pleasant diversion that I can see even hardcore strategy fans enjoying.
Poly Universe is currently available on Steam