Home Wind might sound like a domestic problem brought on by the overconsumption of pulses, but it is in fact a quietly excellent casual city-builder created by solo developer Adi Zhavo. Like a good lentil soup, it takes a handful of basic ingredients and combines them into something pleasant and moreish. It’s also free to download, making it cheaper than a lentil soup, as well as being devoid of the more aromatic side-effects.
A typical round of Home Wind sees you attempting to build a townscape on a quaint, tile-based island dotted with trees and roaming tiny animals. You start your settlement by plonking down the “town-centre”, resembling a fairytale castle. From here, you are assigned a set number of “contracts” – essentially in-game turns that provide you with a handful of structures, like a couple of houses or a few farms – and tasks you with earning a certain amount of money from them.
The money you earn from a structure is based entirely upon where you place it. Houses and farms, for example, accrue revenue based upon how many other settlements lie within their proximity bubble. Other buildings, like lumber mills and mines, can actually lose money if placed too close to your main town, and are better placed around trees or mineral deposits.
There are several other factors you must consider while constructing your city. Although you can place your town-centre almost anywhere on an island, any subsequent building must be placed within a certain radius of it. At the same time, placing your town-centre will remove any resources immediately surrounding it. The fundamental tension in building placement is immediately clear, challenging you to maximise your short-term gains without compromising your long-term sustainability.
In this way, Home Wind unfolds into a surprisingly cerebral urban-planning puzzler. The first few contracts of a round are always straightforward – you just cluster the buildings together to earn the coin you need. Around the fourth contract, however, the game will offer you a range of contracts, each providing a different roster of structures. You could get two houses and two farms, for example, or two houses, one mine, and one lumber mill. Depending on the layout of the map, and where you placed your town centre, one option could lead you to victory, while the other could spell ruin for your fledgling settlement.
As you progress deeper into Home Wind‘s ‘Prosperity’ campaign, which offers 100 short levels for you to build upon, the challenge becomes increasingly complex and diverse. You’ll gain various storehouses for your farms, mills, mines etc, which can provide huge bonuses when placed near a cluster of the relevant buildings. Meanwhile “water tiles” are stone foundations that let you expand your city across the water. These can be extremely helpful if you build yourself into a corner, but it can be tricky to make all that additional empty space profitable.
In short, it’s a delightful virtual board game, pleasantly presented and with just the right amount of depth. Amid the glittering spires and thatched rooftops of your medieval metropolis are a few unsightly brownfield sites, however. Many building-types have multiple sprites, which is important for aesthetic purposes. But because they’re not uniform in size, whether a farm or house fits in a particular space often comes down to luck rather than skill. This means your city-building efforts can be slowly scuppered by the type of house or farm the game dishes out. Similarly, placing a house or farm near wild animals will provide a cash bonus, but because animals move around, whether or not you receive that bonus is a total lottery.
It’s also worth noting that Home Wind is not completely free. The sandbox mode, which lets you construct a city unbound from the proximity ruleset of the Prosperity mode, only lets you play on the smallest island for free. Larger islands cost $5 (£3.83) and $10 (£7.68) respectively. Personally, I find Home Wind to be a dull affair without the mechanics of Prosperity mode. I don’t think the creative options are broad enough to make the sandbox engaging, especially when compared to something like Townscaper. I’d rather pay a few quid for the base game. It’s certainly worth it, and feels more transparent than the payment model Zhavo has opted for.
Zhavo reckons Home Wind will be in Early Access for six months to a year, and in that time hopes to add new game modes, social features, and crucially, more building interaction. The latter is by far what I want most for the game. While Zhavo might see Home Wind as a casual creative experience, I think it’s true potential lies in being a puzzle game. The most fun part of any city-builder is placing the buildings, and the way Home Wind focussed purely on that, stripping away the management layer normally associated with the genre, is comfortably the game’s most unique and compelling feature. If Home Wind can find more ways to elaborate on that, I think it could end up being a must-see destination.
Home Wind is available for free, via Steam Early Access. If you liked this article, why not check out our last Unfinished Business entry on Wrath: Aeon of Ruin?