Business simulator games are a popular evergreen genre, as they’ve been relatively common ever since Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon in 1990, with several games predating it throughout the 80s to varying degrees of success. The Tycoon games are especially rampant and typically have thousands of concurrent players on Steam years after release. These games are handy comparisons because Crossroads Inn is a medieval tavern simulator with much in common with the usual suspects in the business simulator genre- you’ll be serving adventurers, shooing away rats that try to make their way into your stock of mead, and participating in the local economy. So is Crossroads Inn a worthy investment of your time, or has this game crashed and burned?
When starting up Crossroads Inn for the first time, you’ll be met with the task of building your tavern. The interface and building space are a lot more limited than you would see in games like The Sims 4 or something of that nature, but the act of building your main hall, storage, kitchen, etc., is quick and easy. As you progress through the game you can expand the area of your tavern, and you can approach gameplay from different angles, such as trading for the lowest prices for goods you may need to sell, or setting up your tavern to be self-sufficient via farming- a great way to pull in the locally-owned, organic-loving medieval crowd (it’s easy to imagine people in medieval times screaming, “Burn the witch!” at people pushing GMO foods).
The campaign of Crossroads Inn features a fairly modest little story and has you play through some brief scenarios, such as building the inn and furnishing it, and checking off a variety of quests like smuggling in goods to keep the business running while noblemen price gouge via a monopoly on goods. Sandbox mode gives you a more laid back experience where you can just play however you want and develop your tavern as you wish it to be, possibly ignoring quests outright if you don’t want to bother with them. There are multiple different types of characters you can set up to run the tavern you build, each with their own job and traits. Servants can clean or wait tables, while drudges will haul wood and do other heavy-lifting jobs like moving barrels. Later on, you can acquire bards to entertain guests, and adventurers who can go out and accomplish various tasks or quests for you, which can be of great help.
The traits each character you can hire has determine their habits- greedy characters will want to be paid a higher salary, while persuasive characters can convince patrons to order more than usual, making you more money. There’s a large list of traits, both beneficial and negative, that can impact how well your selected workers do their jobs. For the most part, you can aim to just have the least awful traits possible, but sometimes you can be surprised by a character with all positives. There are hidden traits as well that you can reveal later on, but that’s mostly just for the player’s knowledge. All traits, shown and hidden, are active at all times; the only difference is whether or not you know about them.
As your inn satisfies more people, you’ll acquire a better reputation which will unlock new quests and the more trade with farmers or towns. You set up what you want the menu to be, rooms for patrons to sleep, etc., all while hiring workers and managing what they get paid, praising them for a job well done, paying a higher salary to incentivize good behavior (there wasn’t much change noted when doing this, but maybe it’s just slight). The core gameplay loop is actually quite enjoyable, as you’re in a constant loop of building, renovating, and expanding as you turn a profit to continue to generate more of a profit and keep the patrons happy with more attractions like gambling tables.
Workers tend to have a variety of traits, some which will aid them in the performance of certain tasks, but others that may make them worse at other jobs in the tavern. One trait may make a worker more brave, so they won’t become scared by bar fights or fires, while another makes them messier so they don’t clean well. Divvying up your workers based on their strengths and using them for tasks that prevent their weaknesses from being apparent is a pretty important aspect of Crossroads Inn. While your workers receive orders and take care of the day-to-day tasks like cleaning, food prepping, and serving the customers, your goal will be to ensure everything runs smoothly by assigning tasks when emergencies come up, ordering supplies when running low, and re-planting your gardens for the cheapest possible ingredients.
Once you hire enough workers and have patrons coming in regularly, and as you appease guests your fame grows which can lead to acquiring new recipes, methods to farm your own ingredients, gambling tables to acquire cash faster, and more. Acquiring more fame and gold means you can continue to expand to please a growing customer base, all the while you can collect more expensive ingredients, decorate the inn to your liking (though some workers have certain requirements, such as thugs not liking rooms full of flowers). Rowdy customers can pop up from time to time, as well, and you’ll need thugs to take them out of the inn should they try to start a fight. That is, if the fight starts and the thug can properly get to the room, instead of walking in circles on the wrong floor.
Unfortunately for Crossroads Inn, there are a number of problems with the game as its riddled with more bugs than its Pests & Puppies DLC added. Crashing issues are abundant- crashing once every couple hours isn’t uncommon, and sometimes you’ll pay to buy new recipes, but you won’t actually learn them. So you have to save, close, and reload the game to make it work, but sometimes that won’t even fix it so you need to exit sandbox mode, load up the campaign, play until you can buy recipes in that mode and purchase them, exit campaign, load back into sandbox, and boom, now you can buy recipes. These are the kind of bugs that are so incredibly esoteric that, unless you were already invested in the game, you probably wouldn’t bother playing further.
It is incredibly important that, in a simulation game, the AI functions properly. Sim games are different from third person action-adventures- in those games, you control a character to do jumps or combos, and that’s where a player will derive fun. In sim games, however, players take on the role of an overseer where you, instead of directly controlling anything, instruct or automate elements of the game to do things, and it is in strategizing and efficiency that players will have fun. If the core elements that the player instructs simply don’t do what they’re supposed to, the game becomes more frustrating than fun. Poor AI pathfinding in a sim or strategy game can be like trying to play a third-person shooter where one out of every thirty button presses makes your character toss a grenade at their feet- it can be that much of a setback in terms of time spent.
The AI pathfinding in Crossroads Inn is absolutely abysmal- workers with no negative traits and lots of room to move can just get stuck in hallways, not doing anything at all, for in-game days at a time. It can be maddening when you have 8+ workers all set to clean because you’re getting rampant complaints from customers that the tavern is dirty, but every single AI-controlled worker spends half the day in the hallway of the second floor with an hourglass over their heads. They just walk into a room and sweep 1/5th of the time necessary to clean the room (so it’s still dirty), then go back out to the hallway to stand around again with an hourglass icon above them. It seems as if the workers stop when there’s a task the game wants them to do, but the AI-controlled characters cannot figure out how to get there, so they stop dead in their tracks, unfortunately. Oh, and for good measure: Sometimes workers can get stuck underneath stairs, for no reason other than they’re doing their best Harry Potter impression.
It should be noted that saving and reloading can sometimes fix the AI pathing issues, but they always come back. It can be irritating to have to save and reload every few minutes because the game just isn’t doing what it’s supposed to again. Several times the AI just got confused and stuck in place because the worker was trying to open a door on the second floor while on the first floor, but they wouldn’t move toward the stairs to actually go up to the second floor– or if they did, they get stuck in the stairs. I swear that happened dozens of times, each requiring demolishing the stairs and rebuilding them, or saving/reloading until things worked properly only for it to happen again 5 minutes later.
Overall, Crossroads Inn has a lot of potential to be a fun business sim game with decent visual design and a nice gameplay loop. Unfortunately the sheer number of bugs that can get between the player and actually doing the core steps of the gameplay loop, itself, can cause the game to be ludicrously un-fun. Crossroads Inn appears to be a game that was released earlier than it should have been, and the number of game-breaking glitches that involve deleting something, saving, reloading the save to fix is higher than practically any other game out there. There’s a solid game in there somewhere, but in its current state, Crossroads Inn is a difficult game to recommend. Cities: Skylines and Two Point Hospital are business simulators that let you build, but don’t have such horrible AI pathfinding.