Every week for 12 weeks, we will be highlighting and reviewing one standout indie game that was released in 2020 that you’re likely to have missed. So please, come with us on this trip through wonderful worlds, heartfelt tales and mysteries simply begging to be solved.
2020 Indie Spotlight – Tenderfoot Tactics
My curiosity piqued from a map acquired in Stinkhorn, I was determined. I would find this abandoned castle marked to the north-west, plunder its depths and free it from the Fog and the Fae residing within.
I set off with my party goblin party of 6 – two archers, two wizards, a knight and a battlemage – in search of some grid-based tactical battles, some loot and above all, adventure.
Tenderfoot Tactics bills itself as an open world tactics RPG. The meat of this game has you getting into fights with those consumed by the Fog, a nebulous, existential miasma encroaching upon the archipelago home of the goblins. Everything about this world is deliberately a little out of focus; almost dream-like in its inability to gain full control over.
As they head out from Stinkhorn, my goblins take off from the safety of the town’s shore and sail to the mainland. Mountains, clouds and tree lines grow and fade in and out of view, imprecise in their dimensions and scope. The only bearings I have to help navigate are the shapes of the islands and the angles of the coastline, viewed through a type of eagle vision from high above our boat, compared to the static images of the maps we’d collected in our travels.
Flipping between these maps, I triangulate our location in reference to a castle city occupying the top of a central mountain. It takes a minute, as the map from Stinkhorn does not face north, but eventually, I get my bearings and head toward our destination.
Map use is quite an important aspect of Tenderfoot Tactics – the world is large but quite barren. While a few other points of interest throughout the world would be nice – stumbling across a lost goblin to trade with, a small hut with a Woods Witch who might send you on your way with a permanent buff etc could be pretty awesome – you can spend a long time just wandering through forests fighting off the Fae in the Fog. Using maps, however, you can pinpoint some locations well worth the trek.
Landing on the shore of the mainland, we still have somewhat of a hike ahead of us. We’re safe for the moment, but further into the mainland, dozens of Fae and goblins lost to the Fog bear down on my party, taunting me into a fight – a smaller scale skirmish before the heavy assault. I oblige willingly.
Moving into battle mode, a 12×12 grid with varying elevations and obstacles is generated, 13 creatures of the Fae lined up opposite my party. The enemy and map variety on display in TT is impressive. Every battle is a challenge. Every battle feels fresh.
In the setup phase, I place my archers on the highest elevation I can, while preparing my knight and battlemage for a full-frontal assault. The battle begins, and the turn order is set. One of my archers and another of my wizards get the drop on a few Fae before we take a hit, but before long our respective forces are tussling it out around some brush in the centre.
An enemy lets off a fire attack, devastating my battlemage, a fellow by the name of Willow. It’s their turn next, so I use their healing ability to cleverly heal several party members. At first, I’m pleased with my tactics, until a few seconds later I remember that said healing also produces a side effect – instant brush growth. This only adds fuel to the now spreading fire, allowing it to reach halfway across the map – a blessing and a curse, as several of my units are set alight, alongside several more Fae.
The fight ends with my units battered and bruised – only four of them survive – but as I’m victorious, my party is revived at full health and ready to continue on. The Fog rolls back slightly, sunlight now bathing the surrounding area and rendering it free from the Fae – for now.
On our trek amongst the countryside and several battles later, we detour to a nearby campsite – a place of rest that everyone would return to, should we not be able to overcome the upcoming conflict and the need to flee would prove necessary. We finally make it to the castle doors, my party eager for its biggest challenge yet. The game asks if I’m ready for this fight. I respond in the affirmative.
This battlefield is a small horizontal rectangular grid, about 9×18 squares, with a small rise stretching the centre length and a towering pillar bang in the middle.
Class progression is lateral rather than linear in Tenderfoot Tactics, so for example in order for some of my goblins to become wizards, they first had to build experience as archers. Not only does each class have their own skillset, but classes can be swapped at any time outside of combat without penalty. They also can pull a single skill from another class they’ve spent time learning – making every class from bottom to top useful in the right situations. This on top of a broad range of elemental and environmental factors make for a dizzying amount of team potential.
At this point in the game, my team is built around high damage through elevation. The archer class has the useful skill “Lofty”, which provides +5 damage per height advantage over the target. With my archers and wizards all equipped with this skill, their area of effect attacks proved destructive when used from above. Placing them above on the highest elevations I could find proved crucial to giving me an edge in battle.
This fight was to be longer than most, with three rounds of enemies to face. The first was easy enough – a bespoke group of 5, which with my team I could easily dispatch with one flash, two volleys of arrows and a swipe from my knight. Slaying the final enemy triggers a three-turn countdown, where the procedural element of the game would kick in and enemies would appear in a random corner of the level.
Two creatures of the first wave blow up with a blast when they go down, leaving two gaping holes in the floor where they once stood. I now know what my strategy to win this fight needs to be.
The following two rounds are much harder than the first. These waves scale to my team and are a random assortment of enemies each attempt. My first go-around presented a bunch of fire golems – absolutely devastated my healing capabilities, leaving my party too worn down to make it through progressive waves. Thankfully when my party wipes, I can simply restart the fight from the beginning. Tenderfoot is quite forgiving in this regard, giving you an infinite number of retries should you need – it’s that or flee, return to your camp, then come back later with a different team and strategy.
I give it another go. This time around, I’m hit with a group of hill trolls – simple attack units with a ton of health – accompanied by faerie’s whose primary job is keeping these bruisers at full health. I fair better, but can’t quite manage to pull through unscathed enough to continue on.
Two hours and five attempts later, I had gotten my strategy fine-tuned, but was still unable to take down the sheer number of enemies. I had picked the best place to take my stand, and was using my battlemage’s Stalagmite ability to block off one path and forcing the enemy down into my pit of death – yet, still couldn’t quite pull it off. I told myself that the sixth would be the last one, else it was time to pack it in.
This time around, the second wave was a handful of regular units alongside a half dozen dreaded behemoths – huge units that can do large area of effect attacks (devastating in a small arena such as this) and spawn three lower-tier units when they eventually get taken down.
It was slow going, but this time, I whittled them down and pulled through with all my units alive and well.
The third wave comes and I see a path to victory. One of my archers and a wizard go down, but with four units still battling on, my heart begins to beat faster. As I slay the final Fae, I rejoice… before realising that there were three waves of reinforcements, not three rounds of fighting. It was a little soul-crushing, but my battered units were set up in a good position to defend, so I continue. The final wave spawns in – directly on top my poor dwindling goblin force.
What ensued was nail-biting. I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off, as one wrong move would mean the end – hell, even making all the right moves wasn’t a sure thing. But, one by one, the Fae fell.
For my efforts, I was rewarded with a collection of items. You gather many such trinkets through your 30-40 hours, each with a bonus “power” and “health” number attached. Each goblin can equip two, boosting their damage/healing and max health totals respectively. The rest can be used to trade in towns, earning respect from that town’s deity, which can then be cashed in for better curios.
My conquering of the abandoned castle netted me the most helpful and valuable item I had obtained all game – the Class 9 Power Armlet. A “spotted grey band bent almost completely into a circle, with “class 9” stamped inside the curve. From an archaic time when goblins lived in worksites, not towns. The hazards of a mine, power station or factory were frequently lethal for any goblin without a power armlet.”
Much like the world itself, the lore behind it is hazy and a little obtuse, but wonderful to sift through. It’s all so eloquently suggestive – there’s a history behind this world, the reasons for the Fog, the lies of these beings and the lands they inhabit. The item descriptions, the spirits and their musing, the small talk amongst fellow goblins. It’s truly evocative of a place, a time, and a world just outside the grasp of anyone being.
don’t know why, but something about traditionally “evil” creatures – goblins, orcs and the like – tend to turn me off. Which is weird, because the orcs from Shadow of Mordor/War, for example, have some of the best characterisation of a species of any kind across any fantasy game – and they are procedurally generated.
Tenderfoot Tactics falls into a similar category, in that the world and its denizens are a mix of crafted history and procedural generated physicality. The map itself is static, while every battle is dynamic.
And what crunchy, satisfying battles they are. Even regular skirmishes are challenging, but putting together a team suited around whatever strategies you wish to pursue. Height was my advantage of choice, but building around water and electricity, the destruction wrought with fire, or even poison is completely viable. Due to the way progression is built, you can also switch between these at any time – and will need to if you wish to conquer all of the challenges found within this vast world.
There is so much to like in this open-world tactics RPG. The battles are some of the best in the business. The world, while feeling somewhat empty, for the right kind of person is a wilderness ripe for spending hours upon hours getting into fights. With 45 hours on the clock by the time my goblins completed their quest, this juicy tale has become a favourite that I know I’ll return to time and time again.
Tenderfoot Tactics was reviewed on PC with a code kindly provided by Ice Water Games.