Honestly, it's pretty much an idyllic spot for an inn. Just over the bridge, on the other side of the stream that runs past the castle, on the well-worn road that leads out of the woods. People of all kinds take that road. Farmers bringing their produce into town, merchants seeking new trade deals, visiting nobles and lowly travellers alike, they all stop by to rest their weary feet and empty a tankard or two. Besides, it's not like you've got any real competition nearby.
is a stress-free management game where you run the only medieval inn in town. So long as you've got a spare seat at the table and the kegs haven't run dry, you'll attract enough patrons to turn a profit each day. Profits are easily reinvested into expanding the business as you relentlessly progress through a host of unlockable amenities. Failure doesn't seem possible; overreach and within a few hours of regular trading you'll be back in the black. The only thing to worry about is the occasional after hours visit by a persistent thief, tiptoeing into your establishment and making off with a barrel of wine. But hire a guard and the scofflaw
(sorry, I've been rewatching Seinfeld
) is easily thwarted.
I played Tavern Master almost as an idle game and it felt like the right approach. Much of the operation is automated. Hire a bartender and he'll pour the drinks as the orders come in. Hire a waitress and she'll take the orders, deliver the food and drink, and collect the empties. Hire a chef and he'll prepare the food. You can just sit back and watch them do all the work, listening to the gentle hum of pub chatter.
"Special events occur that require you to serve specific items, so you'll have to make sure you're well-stocked in advance with those...”
At some point the kegs will run out or the chests that store food will be empty. You simply click on them and pay for a complete refill, if you have the gold, or top them up to a level you afford. Later, even this simple action can be automated after the purchase of an on-site storage room. There's a little bit of strategy involved, but not a lot. Special events occur that require you to serve specific items, so you'll have to make sure you're well-stocked in advance with those. And you'll also take on quests that ask you to tailor your service in various ways. If a quest wants you to only serve soup for a day, for example, then you'll want to scrub all the desserts and mains from the menu.
Mostly though, you're just making sure that things are ticking over as they should be. I found it simple enough to make this a daily check-in. I'd hit start on a new day, tab out to do some other work or get mad about something stupid on Twitter
, then return at the end of the in-game day to see what new development required my attention. You can fast-forward time, meaning it'll take only a few minutes to simulate a day, and it even helpfully pauses as the clock strikes midnight and the last patron staggers home.
"I'd hire a group of adventurers to head out and protect the wagon delivering the cheese...”
At the end of each day I'd take stock -- literally, in some cases. I'd check the kegs to see what was running low, cross-check with the calendar in case the next day was a special event and I'd only be needing wine or ale or something, and refill accordingly. Then I'd do the same for the food. Sometimes I'd unlock a new recipe that would require a new ingredient, and I'd hire a group of adventurers to head out and protect the wagon delivering the cheese or send them deep into the forest to hunt for delicious meat. You don't get to participate in these adventures -- you're just issuing the orders -- but since resources are limited, and there's always a chance these brave mercenaries will fail, it feels like you're making meaningful decisions about how to best utilise their skills.
The other thing I'd do each day is manage my staff. They earn experience as they work and will level up, allowing you to increase various aspects of their speed and efficiency. Do you want your waitress to be able to carry a lot of glasses at once, or do you want her to move fast when she's not carrying anything at all? Is your chef going to make incredible desserts or soups, or be able to handle the lunch rush with ease? You can also tweak their priorities. I hired a waitress whose special trait was that her mood never dropped while cleaning, so I gave her a high priority cleaning duty while my two other waitresses focused on serving food and drink, and everyone was happier for it. These choices aren't particularly taxing, but it's satisfying to get the balance right and end the day with no reports of unhappy customers. It feels more like you're applying a spot of oil here and there, just to get things running smoothly, rather than building the machine from scratch.
"Pretty soon you'll realise you're hitting capacity every day and you've unlocked a few extra items...”
That said, you do get to build your tavern pretty much from scratch. You start with a small room with a bar in one corner and a few tables opposite. Pretty soon you'll realise you're hitting capacity every day and you've unlocked a few extra items in the research tree or via completing quests, and it's time to start expanding. Walls and floors can be slapped down to create new rooms. You plonk down tables and chairs to increase the seating capacity. Rooms need to be properly lit, too -- for some reason, medieval tavern-goers hated sitting in the dark -- so throw up some lamps and torches on the walls. Decorations, like banners, heraldic shields and potted plants, can be added to enhance the prestige of the place -- useful for attracting a higher class of guest and completing certain quests.
Eventually, you'll have a multi-storey establishment with several bars, a full kitchen, fireplace, various performance stages for entertainers, and -- in my case at least -- an entire floor dedicated to guest rooms and a library. You mightn't think the fittings of a typical medieval tavern would deliver all that much variety -- and truth be told, the selection here is limited when compared to The Sims and similar games of interior decoration -- but there's enough to feel like you've put your own stamp on a place. What at first seems like a generic collection of wooden furniture, gradually transforms into somewhere you might be happy to call home.
Tavern Master is a pretty simple and straightforward game at heart. There's not much in the way of frills, and it would likely benefit from some injections of personality. If I was playing backseat designer, I'd love to see the addition of conversations with regular patrons or some extra narrative dressing around the special events. At present, while on Tuesday you play host to a wine tasting and on Friday there's an executioner's meetup, the only real difference is for the former you have to put cheese on the menu. Still, with the sun rising over the castle walls, the stream gently gurgling in the background, and the birds chirping away in the nearby woods, it really is a lovely spot for an executioner's meetup.