Jon Shafer's At the Gates

Game review by
Michael Lafferty, Common Sense Media
Jon Shafer's At the Gates Game Poster Image
Average strategy game focuses on Roman and tribal warfare.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Players can choose how they wish to manage their tribe. While building and conquering is a major component of game, players can choose calmer and diplomatic course, though those choices may fly in the face of some scenario goals. Players are rewarded for patience, managing resources, training. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

As leader of clan, players are tasked with building strong clan foundation and expanding clan while seeing it prosper. A smart leader will reap rewards of labors with a tribe that's growing, building resources and technology to stand against Roman Empire. 

Ease of Play

While game has a simple interface, it's not that intuitive, and tutorial to explain gameplay elements is very basic.

Violence & Scariness

Violence kept to a minimum. When engaged in combat, two groups square off -- upon defeat, one falls to ground and other is left standing. No blood. Soldiers uses medieval weapons (spears, bows, other weapons) to defeat opponents. 


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jon Shafer's At the Gates is a downloadable strategy game for Windows PCs. The game is based around the conflict between the Roman Army and the tribes in the player's land. There are also rival tribes that aren't peaceful that players will have to face down and deal with. In fact, you unlock other tribes (there are 10 total) either by forming an alliance or by conquering their capital. The violence is minimal, as fights with swords, bows, and other hand-to-hand weapons result in the loser falling to the ground, without blood or gore shown. While alcohol can be researched and used to improve the morale of a clan, characters aren't shown drinking it. Otherwise, there's no inappropriate content in the game.

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What's it about?

Starting in the Dark Ages, JON SHAFER'S AT THE GATES uses the 4X game format (explore, exploit, expand, and exterminate) to walk players through a world trying to shrug off the grip of the Roman Empire and forge its own future. There are 10 tribes to play as, with nine needing to be unlocked, but the core elements are the same. Turn-based play will have players initially exploring and then identifying and foraging supplies for harsher seasons. The game uses the fog of war (maps that need to be revealed through exploration), and not only do players have to choose the professions and disciplines of clans within the tribe, but they may have to manage personalities that clash. At the Gates also uses rogue-like elements (randomly generated areas) to create evolving challenges during games.

Is it any good?

Old-school civilization-building games can provide long-term time sinks of amusement if they're good, but if they're average, the time sink is more like a sinkhole. Jon Shafer's At the Gates struggles with a bare-bones tutorial and gameplay that isn't intuitive, but it starts to make sense after you've played for a while. The game relies on minimal animation on a watercolor map covered by the fog of war that, while colorful, simply doesn't give a feeling of wonder, even as players are trying to combat the seasons. To train takes a while, and players can't train more than one clan at a time, meaning that seasons rush past while they're waiting for essential skills to train and benefit the clan. On the plus side, At the Gates does contain all the elements of classic civ-building games. This is a 4X game (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) with solid game-winning goals. The idea is to build up a clan, survive the harsh seasons, and then dispatch the Roman legions from your lands while creating your own empire. But the game advances slowly, and there aren't even visual bits of eye candy to spice things up. 

The skill trees are well-designed, with basic skills leading to more refined ones, although it takes longer to train better skills. But players also can't forget the harvesting elements, which are vital, because you need to acquire materials to advance the civilization. Jon Shafer's At the Gates is a true throwback game, boasting a turn-based chess feel that requires thought and that simply cannot be rushed through. While the game may not be long on eye candy, it does a nice job of engaging the brain without forcing players to rush through decisions. Since it's not entirely a game focused on violence, it could serve as a nice intro to the genre for younger players, while veterans may find the lack of graphical wonder and the all-too-familiar game structure merely average. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical time the game is set in and how different tribes were battling for resources and land. What parallels are there to today's more modern age? What's the best way to expand a tribe or clan, and what elements are important to think about as a civilization grows?

  • What's more important to a game: its story or its action? In a strategy game that demands players research professions to improve their civilization, what elements are the most important to research first?

Game details

  • Platforms: Windows
  • Price: $26.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Available online? Available online
  • Developer: Conifer Games
  • Release date: January 23, 2019
  • Genre: Simulation
  • Topics: Adventures
  • ESRB rating: NR for Jon Shafer's At the Games is not rated, but the game does contain minimal violence between tribes and alcohol can be researched to help with the mood of the clans within the civiliation.
  • Last updated: February 13, 2019

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For kids who love strategy

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