Post-Apocalyptic “Shelter Manager” Has Potential but Can Be Frustrating for Newbies – Early Access Game Review

Shelter Manager game
Shelter Manager (Image: PR)

From developer Hamsters Gaming, Shelter Manager is a post-apocalyptic management/strategy indie game that comes with a tough learning curve.

The Geekiary was provided with a free digital Steam key of Shelter Manager for review. The opinions shared in this post are my own.

I was looking forward to playing Shelter Manager when I wrote about it nearing the Steam Early Access release in September. I enjoy managing resources to ensure the survival of an in-game community after or during a crisis. However, I have to say that Shelter Manager wasn’t what I expected.

There’s a lot of focus on numbers with little to no direct interaction with the people you’re trying to help survive. Fallout Shelter this is not. The focus on Math-centric puzzles and calculations could deter certain players from checking this game out. But having said that, Shelter Manager is currently in Early Access on Steam. So, to be fair, I’m willing to give the creative team more time to polish certain edges for more engrossing gameplay.

Going over what I got to experience while playing Shelter Manager, the premise is straightforward. A catastrophe’s occurred and you have to manage an underground bunker with a whole bunch of people in it. The three catastrophic options are Nuclear War, Virus (in development), and Meteor (in development). I was able to have the bunker be in the USA. The team’s working on having bunkers be in Asia and Europe soon.

The Customization options include the Bunker Budget and the number of Starting Bunkers. You can also select the quality of equipment inside the bunker, room size, and food storage. Players can also select if their bunker is going to be Scientist, Military, or Worker focused (each option comes with specific bonuses).

The gameplay is turn-based. This means that you get to decide when to end a turn and allow things to happen (time to pass, accumulate points, etc.). The User Interface (or UI) is easy to make sense of when understanding what type of resources you currently have and how many resources you will lose per turn. Hovering over an icon provides you with the details you require.

You can set how many hours a day people will work and how the food rations. Players can also select if they want more Work or Science points. The Science points can help you unlock a variety of new stuff and bonuses including better food extraction, increased weapon power, boosting comfort, and such. 

Workers are recruited into your Army and you can arm them with weapons (pistols, shotguns, rifles, and assault rifles). Weapons can be upgraded for more damage. Not only that, you can raid other bunkers for resources and recruiting people. You can select if your Army’s going to be aggressive or not during raids. Keep in mind other bunkers can attack you, too. So, always keep an eye on how your Army.

Tools act as in-game currency which can be used for trading purposes. If you’re short on food, you can even buy that. But I do recommend working on your food production inside the bunker and make it self-sustaining.

As for expanding the Bunker, unlocking rooms will cost resources but also offer you certain bonuses in return. Once you open a room, you can use it for more housing, food production, morale development, weapon production, or ensuring repairs. 

While such a level of customization does sound very appealing, you have to keep in mind that this is a resource distribution game through and through (as of yet). This means that the gameplay will primarily have you keeping an eye on ever-changing numbers being displayed onscreen instead of being able to interact with certain people in your bunker and assigning them specific roles. Even the battles with rival bunkers are quite passive with you, again, keeping an eye on numbers.

If you haven’t played number-centric resource management games before, Shelter Manager is very likely going to frustrate you. And the tutorial doesn’t offer much help. If there’s one thing I would want the creative team to redo first, it would be making the tutorial better and accessible to newbies (which, if you read the team’s updates, they seem to be already doing due to the recent feedback).

Below is what The Geekiary’s Editor/Author Bekah had to say about playing Shelter Manager:

I’m not one for numbers. If you need someone to help you with math, you better get someone else. I like simulation games like Stardew Valley, Genshin Impact, and The Sims. Before Farid played Shelter Manager, I took a crack at it. And I couldn’t even finish the first level of the tutorial. I’m not the brightest when it comes to video games but I can play most simple, entry-level games if they don’t require a joystick. 

When I play a video, PC, or mobile game, I just want to turn my brain off for a bit. Worrying about strategy and numbers simultaneously while doing statistics in such a short period of time very nearly drove me to the edge of a nervous breakdown. I played the first level of the tutorial for about two hours, restarted the first day at least twenty times, and finally snapped my laptop shut in a fit of irritation. 

When Shelter Manager was presented to The Geekiary as an option to play and review, I immediately jumped on it. I thought that it might be a fun survival-management game. Well, it is a survival-management game, but it’s not fun. 

For the mathematically minded, this might be your game. But if you’re looking for something with more interaction and a variety of characters to liven up your bunker, I don’t recommend this game at all.

So, yeah, as you can tell from Bekah’s opinions, Shelter Manager is clearly not for everyone. It seems to be targeting a very specific type of gamer present in the survival-management gaming niche. And even then I’m not sure if it will appeal to a majority of such types of gamers, at least, not yet.

There’s definitely potential here. I liked the customization options and the team does seem to have plans for a lot more content soon. There’s definitely a lot that can be done by making gameplay a bit more accessible, branching research tress, more weapons, items, etc.

As of writing this, Shelter Manager is available on Steam Early Access for only $6.29 (due to a 10% discount). The original price of this indie game is $6.99. It was released on October 8, 2021.

If you want to give it a try and help the indie creative team make it better, I say go buy it. However, I also understand if you prefer waiting for more content to be released and certain gameplay mechanics to be polished.

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.

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