The Rat Pack Review

Screenshot of level cutscene in The Rat Pack
At the beginning of each mission you'll be treated to "cutscenes" like this one


Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
Developer: Dave Seaman
Publisher: Dave Seaman
Release Date: 16 Oct 2021
Time played: ~5 hours

An AGS Award Winner

The Rat Pack actually started out as a game jam entry for the May 2018 Monthly Adventure Game Studio (MAGS) competition, a monthly competition where developers need to create a game developed using the AGS engine within a month. The game was ultimately awarded the honour of "Best Non-Adventure Game Created with AGS" at the 2018 AGS Awards because that is indeed what it is: a rat colony simulation game built on an engine that's more often used for developing retro point 'n' click adventures.

Fast forward to the end of 2021 and Dave Seaman, developer of The Rat Pack has expanded on his initial prototype and created a game with 15 missions spread across three chapters. The goal of the game is to complete the missions by meeting different success criteria like gaining a certain rank in the King Rat's hierarchy or growing your colony to a certain population. There are plenty of actions that you can direct your colony to perform in this game such as foraging for food, expanding food storage, expanding accommodation and searching for treasure. You'll also have to ensure the colony doesn't get too unruly or attract too much attention from humans, all while managing research priorities and battles with rival rat colonies.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank Dave Seaman for kindly providing a review copy. While I've had some experience playing turn-based strategy games it's been a long time since I've played one that is, for all intents and purposes, entirely text-based, and I've never played one where I've had to manage a rat colony (so full marks for trying something different)!


It's no Rateo and Julirat

The game's campaign does have a story but the game's primary focus is managing a rat colony so the story is just there for the sake of story. You'll find yourself running a colony in the countryside and as you successfully complete missions, each level will take you closer and closer to the affluent households in the city. At the beginning of each level, you'll hear a rat narrate to you the reason you've started the new colony and what the higher level goal is but other than that, there doesn't appear to be any further story. What I do like about the game are how the random event "cutscenes" will often have pop culture references, such as mentions of Indiana Jones or even the kingdom of Daventry from Sierra's King's Quest series.


Screenshot of random event in The Rat Pack
Sometimes random events can be a bit rough

It's Hamurabi but you play the rats

I really commend what Dave has attempted here and the reason I played the game is because I wanted to see if a modern take on the 1968 game Hamurabi would work in this day and age. Many times I've considered going back and trying my hand at churning out some indie games again which would also help me become familiar with the current game creation tools available (I did use to dabble in AGS for example, but that was a long time ago now and nothing came out of it). I always wondered if I could take the core ideas of games I found fun in my childhood and translate them to a new experience that a modern audience could get excited about? Hamurabi is probably the oldest game I've ever played, and I never played it when it originally came out, I just played a BASIC version of it in the 1980s, but it left its mark. When I see The Rat Pack, I think of it as a modern take on Hamurabi but where the tables are turned: instead of you acting as Babylonian king Hammurabi and worrying about rats eating your bushels of grain, now you are the one that gets to play the rat, but managing your colony in a similar way to Hammurabi where you're trying to determine how much effort to spend in creating more space, acquiring more food or invading neighbours.

Admittedly, the game does have a certain addictive appeal. You're always wanting to have just one more turn to ensure your colony is on the right track. Although the gameplay does have its flaws: sometimes when I played the game and I was working towards certain objectives (especially when gaining favour with the King Rat towards the end of the campaign) the gameplay started to feel like grind or a whole lot of micro-managing and I didn't feel as invested. This resulted in me trying to rush through the level meaning I inevitably made silly mistakes. Couple that with some unfortunate turn of random events and it's entirely possible to wipe out your colony after persevering for so long (it's not the best feeling when it happens, let me tell you). I felt like my greatest enemy was complacency and that in my haste to finish levels, I would accidentally unravel all the progress I made and would end up having to start all over again. This did happen a couple of times and I was close to giving up on the game altogether but I persevered and ensured I focused better on the mission goals. I also just hoped to not be on the receiving end of too many adverse random events in a row since that could really stuff you up.

Finally, another aspect of the game that makes for interesting gameplay is that unlike other games where you're managing a colony and you generally want the population to increase, you don't want it to increase too much in The Rat Pack. This is because you have to worry about your Human Alert level and if the colony grows too large, that's definitely going to attract attention. On the other hand, you're not going to want to have the colony too small either, otherwise it's vulnerable to random events or attacks from rival rat colonies that can wipe many of your rats in one fell swoop. It's a balancing act and one that differentiates this game from any other colony or city building turn-based game out there.


Screenshot of the main screen in The Rat Pack
Most of the game is spent looking at this screen

You don't play these sort of games for the graphics

The game doesn't really have much in the way of graphics. 95% of the game will be spent navigating the main menu screen and interacting with one screen that contains information about your rat colony's wellbeing. As mentioned earlier, whenever you start a new mission you'll have a little "cinematic" where a rat will narrate what is going on and during the game whenever a random event occurs you'll be treated to an image that either shows your rats prospering or perishing but that's about it, so don't come into this game expecting much in the way of graphics. I was slightly disappointed there was not at the very least an ending "cinematic" or screen, considering the rest of the campaign has them, but guess you can't have everything, right?


I'm still just a rat in a cage

The game does have some voiced rat lines which are amusing the first time you hear them but you'll probably soon learn to ignore them as you start playing the game for a decent length of time. The music in this game I found kind of perplexing at first: I couldn't understand why a game about managing rats would have synth-pop or grunge for background music. It's not that I didn't like the music (in fact it started to become quite catchy after a while) it's just not what I expected. However, what genre of music would you have for a game where you're managing a rat colony? Once I realised rats would probably be just at ease listening to Beethoven as they were listening to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", it became a non-issue.


Screenshot of Achievements Page in The Rat Pack
Achievements will give players an extra incentive to play the game again

Achievements give you an extra incentive to play again

I think the addition of achievements into a game like this (one with lots of stats and numbers) is a must and thankfully there are plenty of achievements to shoot for. If the game ever sold on Steam I hope that these achievements would translate into Steam Achievements. Yes, some would say hunting down achievements in games are a waste of time, but for every person who thinks this there'd be at least one or more who'd be delighted about the news and I think it gives the game more longevity as it's an extra reason to replay it.

Since the game is big on numbers though and the choices you make in terms of maximising certain numbers over others, I think it would've been nice to add an epilogue to the game that showed the number of times you decided to perform certain actions in the campaign, or the number of times certain random events triggered or the number of times you accidentally starved the colony and so on and so forth.


6

If you ever played the old text-based empire building simulation from the 1960s called Hamurabi and ever wondered what it would be like if you played as the rats instead, this game is for you. The game can be quite addictive at times and it does many things right but there really isn't much in terms of graphics, the campaign's plot is forgettable, and some of the gameplay can feel like grindy micro-managing especially towards the end of the game. You'll find your greatest enemy to be complacency, ensuring your colony can continue to successfully grow without forgetting to order your rats to forage for food when supplies are running low.

Competition is also tough nowadays with these kinds of games as there are many indie business simulation, colony management and survival sims out there that give The Rat Pack a run for its money. What it does have going for it is that it definitely sticks out as being somewhat unique but did I have fun while playing it? Well, not consistently, but I did sometimes, and maybe that's enough for most of you to give it a try.


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Comments

  1. Thanks for taking the time to play and review the game, much appreciated!

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    1. Thanks again for the review copy! I look forward to any new games you plan to develop. :)

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