It's nice sometimes to go into a game knowing nothing about it. Okay, not quite nothing: the name, the price, and the most basic hint of what it might involve moment-to-moment. This is how I approached ROD: Revolt of Defense, which I just picked up on Steam for 79p. Looks tactical, I thought. Signs of a grid. Less than a (large) Twix. IN.
Turns out I love it, too. Although, having only played about twenty minutes, what I'm loving the most at present is that strange, tentative process of feeling your way into a game, of reaching out for a sense of what it is and what it's trying to do. ROD has been unusually accommodating in terms of mystery, too. It loaded in Russian language mode at first, and even when I got that sorted the icons didn't initially look like anything I understood so I whacked it back to Russian for full immersion.
Steadily, though, it's coming into focus. You start with a little gridded territory inside a sort of bubble. There are plenty of numbers scattered around suggesting different types of resources, and sure enough you can spend these resources on buildings that you place on the grid. Warehouses, walls, trees - these make oxygen, which is one of the resources! An early cognitive victory - and various defensive towers with little guns inside.
You place a few of these around, and you run out of resources. Now what? Well, next to your bubble world is another grid, built on what looks like an asteroid. Turns out that I have a connecting door in the bubble, and I also have little people running around, and I can get them to go through the door and explore this asteroid. Pretty soon they're gathering resources! Now, another screen I opened by mistake and then closed in fear starts to make sense. It's a three-dimensional space map. Maybe I can take my bubble world and move through the stars, gathering new resources?
I can! And guess what? Sometimes there are people in space who want to shoot at me too. New icons: target one or target many? Defend or attack? Pretty soon my bubble world is racing across the galaxy, wreaking havoc, stealing resources and struggling to douse the fires on my own burning buildings. ROD is truly coming together: seat of pants risk/reward strategy and tactics. Lovely!
That's all I've had time for so far. Well, not quite. One of the nodes on the space map seems to be my ultimate objective: it's highlighted with a broken circle and when I try to go there I get a warning that there will be lots of enemies waiting for me (switched back to English for this, I'm ashamed to say), which makes me think I should spend a little longer preparing myself. I'm also coming to a decision regarding my favourite mysterious feature, which is a button that allows me to flip the tiles on my own grid, turning the entire playing field over. My guess is that over the next few minutes I'll start to build defensive structures on one side and warehouses and whatnot on the other? Or maybe not. Maybe I'm wrong about everything. So be it. With games, sometimes the real narrative they offer is learning to play.