Screenshot: Steam

Tied to last night’s Game Awards, Steam is hosting a bunch of game demos through Saturday morning. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to check out, but I particularly enjoyed Wooden Nickel, a minimalist story game set in the Wild West.

Wooden Nickel is by developers Brain & Brain, who previously made the lovely Burly Men at Sea. In this point and click game, you play as a visitor to a frontier town. Upon arrival you’re greeted with the local paper. Via ads, the paper gives you the option to stay at a small boarding house or a fancy hotel. From there, each day’s edition features attractions to visit or events around town to explore.

The demo is short, covering two days in town. The day’s paper anchors your choices, and even though you can’t do everything in a day, just reading the headlines or ads gives a sense of a whole lively town outside your door. Each ad or news story makes noise when you mouse over it, like the rowdy sounds of the saloon, teasing you with what you might find.

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Each sparse location has a few points to interact with. For example, the hotel and boarding house feature what seem to be full copies of Walden and Last of the Mochicans you can read. I picked up a mysterious package at the train station, delivered letters for some prospectors, and stumbled on a cache of stolen goods in the woods. As in Burly Men at Sea, the sound design is excellent: a clanging mail slot or rustling tent flap provide just enough texture to make the scenes feel real, even though they’re rendered in sparse lines and muted colors. I couldn’t tell from the demo how complex the storylines get, but it was fun to peek into residents’ lives and learn more about the town.

Wooden Nickel doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m looking forward to playing more of it. Playing Burly Men at Sea on my phone was a wonderful, peaceful counterpoint to my usually hectic morning commute, and I can see Wooden Nickel being the same.

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