Game review: Ratropolis, real-time strategy with deckbuilding
Released in November 2019, Cassel Games’ Ratropolis sets players in the role of the leader of a post-apocalyptic rat society, attempting to rebuild their once-great civilization after scientific experiments caused its collapse. But in order to grow, the new settlement must defend itself - first from mutated rats that caused the apocalypse, then as the settlement grows, from predators. The goal is to survive 30 waves of enemies using cards that provide an array of tactics, and with the leader’s special ability.
Like in Kingdom, the leader must amass gold to spend on various resources - hiring military units, constructing buildings, and using special skills. Advisors can be recruited to add passive benefits as the game progresses. Fans of Slay the Spire will find the deckbuilding aspects (and the many easter-egg references) familiar but unlike Slay the Spire, which goes as fast as the player chooses, Ratropolis forces on-the-fly decision-making as ever-increasing hordes of enemies approach the city’s gates.
There are six leaders to choose from, each with a “passive” and “active” ability. Different leaders favor different play-styles. For example, the military leader, which adds “ratizens” (playable units) for every military card in the deck, and adds an increasing temporary buff every 90 seconds to military cards in hand, suits players who prefer to focus on those cards. But there are either cards or advisors who effectively grant any of the different passive abilities to any leader, and there are no cards in the game exclusive to any leader, meaning the difference really comes down to the active ability and which cards the player comes across during the game.
Roguelike elements exist in the game, as each game garners points that unlock new, more powerful cards tailored to the leader used. Other elements encouraging replayability include rewards in subsequent games for how long the previous civilization lasted, differing locations with widely different boss battles, and random events that change the narrative of each game. Players wanting more of a challenge can enable Nightmare Mode, which allows the game to go beyond 30 waves, where the player is punished in increasingly brutal ways.
The game is in early access, and new features are still being added. One that is in beta that I’ve enjoyed is the Leader Plus mode, which adds new mechanics and leader-specific cards, modifies some familiar ones, and changes how one might use the same leader in the base game. Occasionally, especially in the beta features, translation errors might make a card or event’s meaning unclear, because the developer is a Korean company, but these are being fixed all the time and finding out the meaning is as simple as playing the card.
In all, Ratropolis is a highly challenging game easy to devote many hours to, even if individual games only last half an hour or so. It’s available on Steam for $14.99.