I enjoy indie games. The general lack of resources developers have access to compared to their AAA counterparts means they really have to focus on getting the game's core mechanics right. They're allowed to play around with genre conventions and determine what's really important. These experiments can lead to some intriguing conclusions that actually filter their way back up to larger products.
Boid is the latest title from indie publisher TinyBuild Games. It's a real-time strategy game, built upon the same genre conventions that gave us Starcraft II, Company of Heroes, and Planetary Annihilation. You have a variety of units and points to hold on the battlefield; success involves using your available resources to defeat your opponent. RTS players expect multiple specialized units, different factions, harvesting and managing resources, and building construction as a gate to progress.
Boid boils the real-time strategy game down into its minimum viable product. Developer Mokus asked itself, "What can we remove and still be considered a strategy game?" Their answer seems to have relied mostly on consolidation. Hold points and buildings for specialized units are the same thing. Units are the resource that you have to manage.
Every round in Boid starts with you floating in a glowing primoridal ocean. Your starting point is your first base and it spawn basic units at a set interval, small cell-like soldiers with limited survivability. You can command these units to explore away from your base. As you make your way through the ocean, the fog of war lifts and the ocean itself lights up. When you find another base to hold, it'll come in various flavors: some bases are additional spawners or change basic units into different classes, while others offer special abilities. All you need to do to take control of a specific point is have your units float over it for a certain period of time.
Units will automatically initiate combat if they come in contact with enemy's units. How that combat turns out is dependent on how many units are involved and their specific health and attack statistics. Your basic unit has average speed and health, and only attacks in melee range. Holding other base types gives you the ability to evolve your units, simply by having them float above the base. The Crab is your slow, heavy attacker, while the Kamikaze explodes when it gets near your foes. The Scout is the fastest unit available, but it dies from a light sneeze. The Leech slows and drains enemy units, while the Medic heals and removes poison.
The basic ebb-and-flow of Boid is like any other RTS: tentatively moving outward from your base, prioritizing specific hold points, and attacking your opponent while you build your army. The simplicity means your tactics are key to winning and the ease of unit evolution means those tactics can be surprisingly fluid. You may have been building a number of Venom units for an assault on your opponent's forward base, but you see a swarm of Crabs coming your way? No problem, move those Venoms over to a different base and change them into Gun units on the fly. The Guns can attack from afar, whittling down the Crabs before they can get into melee range.
Boid matches are relatively short compared to its bigger RTS counterparts: 10 - 15 minutes. You'll also have to learn to adapt to the game's various levels, as they don't all contain bases for every unit type. Boid is about quick adaptation, without relying on the manic-clicking of a game like Starcraft II.
The game is currently in Early Access, so there's not much to work with yet. There's only win condition: finish off your foe completely. You can only choose from a live player or AI as an opponent; I recommend the former once you dig into Boid a bit, as that's where the fun is. There's room to grow Boid with additional game mode and options. Capture-the-flag as an optional game mode would certainly switch things up a bit. Color customization and allowing for larger multiplayer matches would also be welcome.
My biggest takeaway with Boid is how many genre conventions we rely on that we don't need to. Resource harvesting is at the top of my annoyance list when it comes to RTS mechanics; I prefer it in 4X titles like Civilization, but it's tedium in many RTS titles. Boid rightfully strips most of that out in favor of pure, quick strategy. It's the kind of game you can drop a bit of time in at lunch and be satisfied. I'm looking forward to seeing where tinyBuild expands the idea as it continues in Early Access. Fingers crossed they can grow Boid without losing its special niche.