Karawan review – A free, inspiring treat of a game

Escaping the cataclysm is more fun in Karawan, a free, bite-sized game where your route is circuitous.
karawan review

I love games that are concise enough to appreciate during my lunch break; bite-sized experiences that are easily digestible and, yes, maybe I’m hungry because I’m so focused on devouring this latest delight, Karawan, that I keep forgetting to eat. Over three midday meals, I have strived to lead innocent people away from their crumbling world, those eager to leave and those resigned to floating gently away. 

The immediate choice in Karawan is where to move, in a way that is part The Curious Expedition, part Snake.

If you have wood, you can build caravans and collect villagers, who will follow you in a line and gather food (for survival), wood (for caravans and bridges) and ore (for magic), but only if you’re carefully dragging them directly past resource-rich hexes. Your goals are to explore, path strategically, cast spells (sparingly) and, after several attempts, solve the three maps presented. One is a longer, balanced journey, and the others are smaller, devious puzzles. 

karawn review screenshot

Levels are handcrafted, not procedurally generated, which causes me to wonder how the developers planned for possible routes.

Are there certain resources that will lure me in the wrong direction? Is there a way to save every village? How many times can I harvest a berry bush before I have lingered too long? I’ve never so desperately wanted a level editor to fiddle with. I imagine that designing an evocative and challenging scenario would take time, and that it would need to be thoroughly tested, but I just wanted more, even if I had to make it myself. 

Created for the Ludum Dare game jam, these few straightforward ideas and game pieces evolve as a kind of conversation, in which the developer challenges the player to be observant. There are places you can cross the river. There is a shortcut, if you can unblock it. And I would say that once you understand how it works, magic is just a little overpowered. But these parts come together so seamlessly.

Given that Karawan is free and can be played in a browser, it’s a treat, to be enjoyed when time is limited. My enduring impression is of the sad guitar music – I picture a lonely man sitting on the roof of the last caravan, strumming a lament for every village, tree and berry bush succumbing to the void, waiting patiently to either fall in, or run out of food. What happens then? Don’t ask. It’ll ruin your lunch. 

4 stars: ★★★★

Platforms: PC
Developer: BippinBits
Release: 14 January 2022 

Karawan is free to play in your browser or download.

Meghann O’Neill is a videogame roustabout, with a patchwork career spanning reviews, composition and education, often all three at the same time. She loves the creativity and cleverness that independent developers bring to the medium, especially in Australia. She’d love you to tell her about your game at @indiegames_muso on Twitter.