Manor Lords is slow and frustrating, and I can’t stop playing

I am the kind of person who will spend hours on A Wiki of Ice and Fire just looking at families’ coats of arms and reading their heraldic descriptions. This is what I consider fun. So when Manor Lords started me off by having me design my own coat of arms, I knew I was in for a good time.

Manor Lords is a medieval town-builder strategy game. You’re a petty lordling who must build up your town, its resources, and its militia in order to drive out rival lords who’ve claimed territory that’s rightfully yours. Manor Lords launched in early access on Steam and PC Game Pass and has already sold over a million copies, a staggering feat considering it’s only been available for less than a week. Clearly, there’s an appetite for this flavor of game, so I spent some time with it just to see how good the food tastes.

First and foremost, Manor Lords is a solo-developed early access game. There are plenty of warnings that there will be bugs and missing or imperfect features. My biggest pet peeve with the game relates to its UI. Unless you’re placing buildings in the middle of an open field, it can be very hard to see where things are. I’m not the most aesthetically-minded manor lady; I place resource-specific buildings close to their intended source. That means when I plop my foraging hut next to a berry deposit in the middle of a forest, it essentially disappears. To find it, I have to either zoom in and search for it or wave my mouse around hoping to highlight it. I’d love to be able to turn on an interface that displays all my buildings or at least have the ability to drag and select a specific area to see any buildings in that section.

Manor Lords fulfills one very specific wish fulfillment fantasy — the ability to see snow in winter.
Image: Slavic Magic

Another thing about Manor Lords that you should be aware of is that it is very slow, and this is by design. This isn’t like Age of Empires where you pay your resources for a unit, wait a little bit, and then, voila, a house or a smithy appears. Part of the appeal of Manor Lords is its dedication to realism, meaning that resources for a building like stone or logs must be transported to the construction site before building can begin. And since this is the medieval period, your only means of transportation is oxen… and you only get one of those suckers to start. Having more than one building under construction means waiting on the order of weeks or months of in-game time before everything is finished and ready to begin production. Plan accordingly with ample amounts of patience (or hit the fast-forward button as the game itself suggests).

Beyond those two critical points, Manor Lords plays like your basic real-time strategy game: harvest resources to create specialized buildings that generate wealth and happiness for your villagers. I was worried this game would be too much like Menu Kings… err… Crusader Kings 3, and while it’s not quite an unwieldy mess of inscrutable menus, there is an extra layer of friction that people used to other kinds of strategy games might have a hard time with. 

When Manor Lords started me off by having me design my own coat of arms, I knew I was in for a good time

I’d absolutely recommend that you start with the game’s “Rise to Prosperity” scenario first just to get a feel for its systems. The game’s tutorial does a good job of explaining how everything works, and at this lowest difficulty level, you won’t be pestered by bandits or rival armies, allowing you to focus on growing your city. If you’re savvy enough, you can opt for the harder difficulties. But beware, bandits will steal from you, and after the first year, you’ll have to contend with a rival army. I couldn’t deal with the stress of combat (and I could not figure out the militia system), so I abandoned my first save to try my hand at simply growing my town, and I’ve been having a blast.

The way resource gathering works in this game is that you assign the families in your village to do work send them to granaries to mill flour, farms to harvest crops, stone pits to mine stone, etc. and any unassigned families will be left to construction projects. (Oh, one more UI wishlist: I’d like to be able to click a button to see what all my assigned families are doing. As the game is right now, I have to click each building to check if there’s a family there, and as your city grows, this gets time-consuming.) Families themselves require food, shelter, and fuel, and when their needs are met, your approval grows, thus enticing more families to move to your land. This system creates all sorts of tension, requiring you to deftly balance how you allocate your most important resource people and that’s where Manor Lords gets fun. I’m constantly chasing my villagers’ approval, which is itself a Russian nesting doll of needs that require two or more steps to fulfill. 

Choosing the right town development points gets you access to sheepbreeding.
Image: Slavic Magic

At the beginning of the game, my villagers were living out of tents, so I had to build houses for them. Meanwhile, it was the rainy season, and my food stores were getting wet and would spoil if I didn’t build a granary to properly house them. I had to choose between putting a roof over their heads or ensuring they had food to eat, understanding either choice would take a significant amount of time to implement. That’s the good stuff the kind of choice-making that makes these kinds of games enjoyable because it allows you to craft your own narrative for the lives you control.

I wanted to buy a second ox to speed up the construction process, but I was broke, having run out of money pretty early after spending it on chickens of all things. The best way to generate more money is via trade. Since I was sitting on a pretty hefty amount of wood planks and stone, I decided to build a trading post to replenish my gold stores. However, it also costs money to establish a trade route. Since I was sitting at zero, I had to wait, slowly improving my village market, which allowed me to improve my villager houses to a point where they started paying me modest taxes. After several months of biding and building, I finally earned enough money to establish a trade route, only to find out… I used up my surplus of resources and now had nothing to trade. Womp, womp. With Manor Lords, the food comes out slow, and you’ll have to work your butt off for it, but it’s damn good eating.

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