Hot Dang, They Are Billions is pretty good

Y’all heard about this? It’s a sorta-steampunk anti-zombie turtling strategy game in Early Access that uses procedural map generation.

But for all of that, it really isn’t just a collection of buzzwords! It’s a very solid and working strategy game with some great core design elements. It needs a bit of tuning but it’s pretty complete and playable (although right now the only mode is Survival, which is basically a timed horde mode), with no glaring holes. It’s even stable.

Gameplay is Real Time With Pause, and the core gameplay loop is almost more about dealing with flooding than zombies. At the start of the map, they’re largely passive, and the area you control is tiny, and it’s a race against time to balance your expansion of the areas you control and make income from with the amount of territory you’re able to defend. Periodically, larger waves of zombies will spawn off-map and attack, and excessive fighting can draw in the more-passive mobs that populate the beginning of the map.

The key thing that makes this design work is that it uses terrain that is all about selecting and managing your chokepoints while constantly requiring you to push the area you control, and having enemies that can and will wipe your entire game if one gets past your perimeter and into insecure spaces. Non-combat buildings can be attacked by a zombie for a very short amount of time before they get inside, at which point the residents of that building will be turned into zombies themselves, and set up a very fast cascade failure.

Oh, also, it uses permadeath. You can’t reload a game. It’s sorta like darkest dungeon.

I don’t particularly care for the steampunk iconography but goddamn this has a solid core design.


It’s been cool over the last couple days to see an indie RTS have more concurrent Twitch viewers at times than CS:GO and Overwatch. They Are Billions is extremely watchable.

I’ve noticed that casual RTS players (including myself) like to turtle to a strategically sub-optimal degree. We spend our time building walls and turrets when the game wants us to get a big-enough army onto the battlefield absolutely as fast as possible. So while it’s surprising that an RTS broke through that genre’s doldrums to be this year’s first shock indie success, it’s less surprising that it’s one about defense. We just want to build forts!

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What’s fun is that it presents as far more of a turtling game than it actually is. Early-game aggressive booming is essential to surviving, so it’s a game about scouting and being smartly-aggressive. It’s like if you could pause Starcraft to think about what you needed to do, and didn’t have to worry about building SCVs.

Like, the core objective of a game is to build a strong enough defense to survive, but you can’t do that without being aggressive economically until the last possible second. It’s a really fun balance.

I played for like four hours last night and nearly survived a game at a difficulty level sufficient to unlock the 2nd map type! That feels like a goddamn accomplishment and I can’t remember the last time a new strategy game really did that.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what Rob thinks of it. It feels like a potential 3MA episode, although that might wait until it’s more “finished.”