"Europa 1400: The Guild" places players in a medieval historic setting, with the general goal of building a wealthy and powerful family dynasty, and leaving it to the player whether their methods are going to be ethical and virtuous, or gruesomely underhanded and treacherous (or somewhere in-between).
|Screenshot from the intro movie of Europa 1400: The Guild|
The game begins when players create their own character and choose a modest starting occupation of some sort, ranging from blacksmithing, running a medieval tavern, running an alchemist's laboratory, the low road of thieving, or various other medieval trades like a stonemason, perfumer, or preacher.
The latest version of Europa 1400 is now available as "The Guild: Gold," featuring both the original game and built-in expansion pack which adds new features and even more interesting professions to choose from, including the traveling entertainer, tailor, and "churchyard warden" (who in actuality appears to be more or less a necromancer).
|A view of Europa 1400's medieval London in winter, featuring the market square and Town Hall|
As for the gameplay, Europa 1400 combines in-depth strategy, medieval "life simulation," and RPG elements with a nonlinear format, as well as the option to include or exclude historic events in the game timeline. So far, the in-depth strategic options and nonlinear format is showing excellent promise for being able to win the game without ever being forced to kill anyone— even though fending off the black treachery of one's ambitious rivals in the medieval business or societal structure is eventually going to be a necessity...
|Player character "Gentleman Tarquis Goldlender" (with player name borrowed from an NPC from Thief:Gold) retires to his abode "Honest Home" as the express picture of contented industry, reposing after the virtuous labors of the day. However, as his wealth grows, it's only a matter of time before less virtuous citizens hatch nefarious schemes against him, plotting in the shadows of their own nighted dens and backrooms...|
The Guild's game manual describes the game's setting and ambitious premise this way:
"The “golden age of discovery and free spirit”, as the late Middle Ages in Europe is known
by its contemporaries, is the era of free-thinkers and merchants.
With the nobility in dire financial straits, due to their penchant for extravagance and
ongoing, expensive feuds, some wealthy towns are seizing the moment to pay a high ransom
in return for increased privileges from their rulers, and occasionally even from the Emperor.
Their goal is to achieve wealth and power based on the philosophy of a free middle class,
albeit one that rules over others. This is the dawn of the free towns..."
|Gentleman Tarquis Goldlender's modest medieval tavern "Little Dreckboun" seen in the foreground of the medieval town of London, 1400 AD.|
Lest this be mistaken for an inherently nonviolent economic or trading simulation game, however, they go on to warn that: "...the town is not merely a place that promises hope of the prosperity for which everybody strives. Again and again, fatal epidemics run rampant, thieves and cutthroats lie in wait for their loot, and craftsmen and merchants compete mercilessly at the expense of the ordinary town-dweller.
There is also a steady supply of predators in the nobility, who are envious of the towns’ hard earned wealth and waste no time in occupying some castle ruins near the town, from where they can spread fear and terror amongst the traders ...
The player's broad goal is consequently not only to make your fortune, but also to survive the foul machinations of whatever rivals end up plotting and scheming against you. Even if you never do anything to offend anyone, religious rivalries always exist as a baseline default source of antagonism coming from some NPCs, and other members of medieval society (including thieves and robbers, as well as competitors) will likely also covet your business assets or wealth for their own use, and consequently start plotting against you...
Goldlender and I wasted little time investigating these ruins
when we saw the luminous gold coins floating over them— but it would
seem these picturesque ruins are actually the lairs of cretinous "Robber Barons," members
of the nobility who have turned to using overt criminality against the rising
medieval merchant class...|
Each game of Europa 1400 begins when the player generates their own character, with the option to have a more specific goal defined by choosing from a set of "assignments." For example, a player can set a goal to become rich by accumulating a fortune in gold, to become a magnate, to finesse and/or slither one's way into the ranks of the nobility, to become a universal scholar, or take things in a more overtly dire direction by becoming a professional blackmailer (or worse). The player then embarks on an in-depth campaign, starting from living in a modest medieval town dwelling and building up a small business, and theoretically eventually building enough wealth and influence to rise to a position of power and prestige.
|The interior of "Honest Home," where Gentleman Goldlender enjoys firelight and candle-lit medieval ambience, and trains diligently to increase his talents for negotiation and handicraft... (In future we also plan to add a wine cellar where he can hide hoarded gold from thieves, as well as to prevent the Crown and Church from becoming overly avaricious when applying taxes and tithes.)|
Starting from the beginning of the campaign, players also get to choose
their profession and allocate points to selected "talents," including
"Negotiation," "Handicraft," "Stealth," and "Rhetoric", showing that there is plenty of possibility to survive and
thrive without having to rely primarily on combat. (The talents each player-generated character starts out with are determined by the player's choice of parents, whose combined talents are passed on to their offspring.)
|Under the influences of the planet Venus, Tarquis Goldlender was born from the union of his father (a trader with talents in handicraft and negotiation) and mother (a thief, specifically a forger, with talents in stealth), bestowing a measure of their combined talents on their promising son...|
So far the game shows lots of promise for combining medieval history and atmosphere with engaging non-combative gameplay, including mercantile pursuits, medieval investing and economic strategies, and a substantial amount of scheming, plotting and intrigues to avoid being ruined by ill-intentioned rivals.
|A spectral hammer appears above Little Dreckboun— not as a manifestation of ghosts from Gentleman Goldlender's past, but as an indicator that the building improvements he ordered are under construction: Barred windows and stinging nettles to deter thieves on the outside, and a gaming table and leather chairs on the inside. Now even patricians may deign to seat themselves in our humble tavern and spend their gold...|
The remaining question is just how far one can get into these darker dimensions of gameplay without some event forcing a player to "kill or be killed..." Our Google searches about a pacifist run in the Guild series weren't conclusive, yet the series shows very significant nonviolent promise.
For one thing, the game is known to be very nonlinear and let the player guide the members of their dynasty through a "life simulation" in which the same scenario can have different results each time based on the player's specific decisions throughout, making it sound much more likely that they won't force any mandatory kills on the player through any scripted plot events.
|The Tavern's honest and hardworking employees distill and brew beverages in the cellar...|
As one's businesses grow, the player can choose whether to involve
themselves in detailed active management decisions (like buying raw
goods, monitoring fluctuation of market prices of inputs and finished
products, managing a fleet of supply carts to deliver goods to the marketplace, etc), or whether to hire a manager to run the business for
them. Doing the latter will increase management fee costs, but free up
time for other pursuits, including dealing with one's ambitious
|A vagabond camp adjacent to our tavern and the frequent sighting of nearby thieves are causes for concern, but so far our investments in building upgrades (including stinging nettles and barred windows) appear to have successfully fended off burglaries...|
Even when dealing with openly antagonistic rivals, the game has a
creative array of non-combative choices about how to handle each
situation, enabling players to try to take the ethical high road by
building genuine influence and forging alliances with other NPCs— or to
take the lower road of attempting to use bribery, blackmail, or even
worse methods to try to manipulate rivals.
|Nonviolent players who may nonetheless have one or two marks against them might find it advantageous to buy one of the notorious "indulgences" once sold by the Church, in order to absolve temporal sins in exchange for some gold. (And if anyone nails a dissertation on a public notice board condemning you for this action, you can probably just tear it down at a cost of 2 "action points" before it does serious harm to your reputation.)|
There is also plenty of grey
area since players can compete to win various forms of political office,
influence other NPCs to use as allies to obstruct their rivals'
hostility, and also to overtly abuse their positions for their own
personal advantage. (For example, a town guard may have the ability to arrest
specific persons, but if one climbed high enough to win the position of a
judge, they could even become immune from prosecution.)
|Town Councilmen (from the in-game tutorial) vote to award Gentleman John Merryman a position as town servant...|
The welcome inclusion of an impressive array of "fantasy-RPG" special items expands the nonviolent asset list even further: Relics, potions, enchanted rings, alchemical reagents, and other special items may be crafted or purchased from an alchemist, tinctury, abbey, or occult shop, among many other places. There are too many special items to even list in this one post, but just a few noteworthy examples include a "Bloom of Discord" potion (which can cause two rivals to turn into enemies of each other), Skullfire Liqueur (to slip into an opponent's drink to hinder their talents in negotiation and rhetoric for one round), silver rings, gold chains, and musk perfumes (usable with varying rates of success to gain perceived influence with NPCs, including members of the town council or church), or stink bombs that cause a rivals' employees or henchmen to flee from the stench for a period of time...
interior of the Tinctury, where Gentleman Goldlender purchased
endurance potions to enable him to become even more industrious. The
Tinctury is also one of many places where players can spend some gold on
non-lethal assets to aid in thwarting rivals...|
One last word: "Europa 1400: The Guild" is by no means a casual game, and the depth of its gameplay means that most players should probably expect to invest at least a few hours getting used to the slightly challenging interface, and "learning the ropes." We struggled with it a little at first despite the helpful built-in tutorial and game manual, but ultimately found it well worth the effort, after which it became much more fun despite still being amply challenging. (We also noticed some other players denouncing the game in lengthy negative forum posts when they were frustrated with the learning curve— only to return a while later after they'd apparently gotten the hang of it, saying they'd changed their mind and concluded that Europa 1400: The Guild was actually fantastic.)
|Show some good-natured patience like these nice pigs from the in-game tutorial, and vistas of profitable medieval opportunity will open up in Europa 1400: The Guild...|