I’m always a bit suspicious of Early Access games that people are raving about. Northgard was one of those games. It released late last month, but it didn’t take long for it to climb the Steam sales charts, score a Very Positive rating from Early Access players, and net some positive buzz from press. It certainly didn’t look like much (judging from the screenshots), but when I read about comparisons to older Settlers games, I knew I had to take it for a spin.
And for $19.99USD (though I got it a couple of bucks cheaper when it was on special), it wasn’t exactly my biggest Early Access investment. It’s worth noting that the tiny download (362MB!) is reflective of the reality that Northgard only has skirmish mode at the moment, but there are plans for a campaign and multiplayer (as well as new clans). Because it’s only got a Skirmish mode, you’re essentially thrown in the deep-end, too. After a handful of hours of playing, at least one restart and, generally, learning things the hard way, I finally got the hang of it. Here are 8 tips that can help you (hopefully) hit the ground running.
Procedural generation is your best/worst friend/foe
If I’d known at the beginning what I know now about Northgard, I would have tried to restart on the first procedurally generated map I played. I had the sea at my back, mountainous territories to my flank that you could only access through my base, and easily defensible surrounding territories for capture (with the right kind of resources). Invest in a Scout Camp early on and turn one of your villagers into a scout by left clicking on them, and right clicking on the Scout Camp (this is how you convert all villagers to different roles). If you have to, force the scout to remove the fog of war from all flanking territories before letting him shift into auto-pilot and exploring the rest of the map.
Winter is coming… always
Northgard is basically Game of Thrones meets Groundhog Day when it comes to the cold, snowy times: nasty winter is perpetually coming. When it arrives, you want to have a healthy amount of food and wood reserves because no matter how positive your production, it’ll likely drop into the negatives when the snow lands (at the very least early on). Having a territory with sheep reduces the winter wood bleed by 20 percent, and the Hearthstone lore upgrade also reduces it by 50 percent. Food is a little trickier, which is why it’s best to try colonise territories with fish, deer and/or fertile land, but that’s only if the procedurally generating gods are kind. If you’re unlucky with the RNG dice roll (as I was in my second match), you’ll be reliant on basic food scavenging, which is what makes Food Silos so important. Food Silos are an advanced building, which means you have to have a Woodcutter’s Lodge and an upgraded Town Hall before they unlock, but they’re well worth investing in and upgrading.
Take note of the victory conditions
[Please note: a recent patch lets players pick which victory conditions they do/don’t want.] There are five paths to victory in Northgard: Domination, Fame, Trade, Wisdom, and Map Special (like Yggdrasil, but only if the RNG puts it in). Domination requires you to destroy the town halls of the other settlements, which will either be one, two, or three depending on what you chose before starting the map. Fame means you have to control 12 areas, score 1,000 fame and then to build the Altar of Kings advanced structure (400 wood, 400 kröwns, 10 stone). A Trade victory comes from collecting 7,000 kröwns, having 1,000 kröwns in stock, and having at least four active merchants (which means you need at least two Trading Posts, even if one is upgraded).
Wisdom wins come from unlocking four blessing from the gods, which means you need 15 lore upgrades, and you need to have four active Loremasters. The Yggdrasil victory (the only Map Special I’ve encountered thus far) requires you to discover and control the territory with the Yggdrasil (World Tree), which will set you back 2,000 food, even if you have the ‘Colonization’ lore upgrade that reduces colonisation costs by 30 percent. You can check these conditions at any time by pressing ‘V’, but I didn’t look at the keyboard shortcuts, which means I only discovered that after an NPC had won my second skirmish. Bear in mind you can continue after a ‘defeat’, which is a great way to test out new tactics, buildings and units.
Then play to your clan’s victory condition
There are three clans to choose from at this stage (there are plans for five): Fenrir (Clan of the Wolf), Eikthyrnir (Clan of the Stag), and Heidrun (Clan of the Goat). Each clan has different starting bonuses and fame bonuses, the latter of which kick in when your fame hits a certain number. Basically, Fenrir are best for Domination victories; Eikthyrnir are suited to Fame, Trade and Yggdrasil victories; while Heidrun is more about survival than a specific victory condition. Heidrun are a great place to start when learning the game. Despite what I’ve said above, I was able to win a Trade victory with Fenrir, but only because I was starting fights (this earns easy kröwns as Fenrir) and expanding early on to slow the growth of the NPC factions.
Building space is at a premium
Every territory has limited building space, which can range from around one to four buildings per territory (except for Heidrun players who can unlock the Amenities lore upgrade that allows for one extra building per territory: handy!). Considering that the cost of colonisation goes up the more territories you seek to own—and the more buildings you have, the higher their upkeep cost—territory planning is essential. You get a few resources back for destroying buildings, too, so don’t be afraid to flatten buildings when they cease to serve their purpose in a territory. The Scout Camp, for instance, can disappear once the island has been completely scouted, or even once the initial surrounding areas are scouted (you can always build one later when you have more resources). It’s worth adding an upgraded Food Silo in your starting territory because new villagers default to food collection, and the Silo will ensure food production is increased before you assign them to other jobs.
Initial build order
You want to start with a Woodcutter’s Lodge, a House and a Scout Camp. Those are the first three build options, but getting your villagers collecting wood, and then facilitating population growth is more important than fast scouting. Against Normal difficulty AI, the areas closest to me didn’t become interesting until mid-game at the earliest, so it’s not as much of a land grab as you might think. Don’t forget to left click on your villagers then right click on a building to assign them to that task (you can also turn them back into villagers right clicking on a House). After this initial build, it’s really about shifting towards your preferred victory condition.
If you want to be a military conqueror, you’ll want to get at least two Training Camps up pretty early on (and upgrade them if you have available stone). The Healer’s Hut also helps to keep your units alive, but only when they’re in friendly territory. A Trading Post is useful once you start expanding out, and become essential once you have a lot of structures (those kröwns tick down fast). Food Silos should be constructed whenever possible, and the Fisherman’s Hut, Fields and Hunter’s Lodge buildings will only open up if you colonise the corresponding territory. Defense Towers are mostly useless (unless you have a spare spot on an expanded territory that’s flanked by wildlife threats), and will easily fall to a handful of military units, so avoid building them (more Training Camps are better). Mining doesn’t become relevant until you want to upgrade or recruit a War Chief, so having a small reserve of stone is handy, but you don’t need someone working on it full-time.
Keep an eye on the visual calendar
This is another feature I discovered way too late into my play time. Down the bottom left of the screen, just above the mini-map is a visual calendar. Not only does this give you an at-a-glance indication of how far away you are from the recurring annoyance of winter, it also shows impending catastrophes with an exclamation mark. If you hover over the calendar, you’ll be provided with more information. If you hover over the exclamation mark, it’ll tell you what type of catastrophe is incoming. I’ve encountered three so far. Blizzards can be countered by having a lot of food and wood reserves (at least 1,000 of each). Rats are rendered irrelevant by having adequate Food Silos (you’ll lose a percentage of food not automatically stored in Silos, though). And the interdimensional Draguar invaders are defeated by keeping your military units near their shadowy spawn points.
Speaking of exclamation marks, keep an eye on the notification icons above the unit screen in the bottom right-hand corner. You can click on these to take you exactly to points of interest that require attention.
Maintaining smiling citizens
Happiness is actually one of the trickiest factors to control in Northgard. I know I’m the one writing the tips article, but I can’t actually find any information about why the ‘expected happiness’ rating seems to always be so unforgiving. That said, there are times when a negative influence will appear on the happiness screen, but it doesn’t account for the overall happiness bleed. Hover over the smiley face at the top of the UI to (as well as food, wood and kröwns, for that matter) to see the negative ‘expected happiness’ rating and the ‘current happiness’.
What I can tell you is that happiness is positively impacted by the amount of territory you control, food reserves, brewers, wealth (kröwns), Baldr’s Blessing (a Wisdom-related lore unlock), feeling safe (no military threats), healthy units (damaged ones impact happiness) and military eradication. There are also faction-specific happiness modifiers, such as the Brewery building (not available to Eikthyrnir players, it’s replaced with the Hall of Skalds) or the Eikthyrnir Eradication lore upgrade that offers happiness boosts per Food Silo. The happier your people are, the faster you’ll receive new villagers, so you don’t necessarily want happiness to be insanely high, but you do want it in the positive.