Bees are fascinating creatures. Rather than scavenging the world individually, as most insects do, the deadly black and yellow fuzzballs co-operate with each other in a strict hierarchy, with worker bees and drones swarming together to protect their queen. This regimented social structure serves as the perfect backbone to developer Cheeseness’s Hive Time, a management game focused around building and maintaining a thriving colony. With a slick interface, colourful creatures, and randomised events, this take on the city builder is suitable for fans of the genre, old and new alike.
Building and maintaining a bee colony is super approachable in Hive Time due to the game’s extensive tutorials and easy-to-read interface. Each hexagonal honeycomb cell represents a space that can be built upon, which can be used for recruiting different types of bees, storing materials, refining resources, and creating openings to the outside world for the foragers to explore.
The bees are assigned to their different roles at birth, with a wider variety of jobs available as more work spaces are built. The Beesitters are vital nursery staff who keep the bee population growing. General workers can do basic building and foraging, but dedicated builders and foragers perform the tasks more efficiently. Builders also conduct research, finding ways to store resources more efficiently or produce new materials. Defenders protect the hive from invasion, and can accompany foragers on exploratory missions into dangerous territory. Rather than choosing what class a specific bee is, roles are determined on a sliding scale, with the player choosing what percentage chance a type of bee has of being born. Keeping a healthy population of different bees is a delicate balance, and the scale will often have to be adjusted on the fly to provide what the hive needs. If a scouting party is wiped out, setting the forager percentage to 100 will quickly replenish the little adventurers, but leave the proportions out of whack for too long and the population will drop due to lack of Beesitters.
The ultimate goal of Hive Time, at least initially, is to produce 600 units of royal jelly before the queen dies. This task is harder than it first appears, as the colony lacks the knowledge of how to make the jelly initially and can only store 12 units of a resource in each cell. Lots of research is required to uncover this information, with discovering new technologies requiring a donation of some of the four building materials—pollen, nectar, wax, and honey—a builder to research, and time. The research tree can be a bit confusing to read at times, with items available to select depicted as a slightly lighter grey than the ones that are not. A more clear distinction between what can and cannot be researched would make this screen more approachable. This muddied interface is a surprise considering the rest of the game is extremely easy to read, with bees wearing job-specific hats and honeycomb cells colour-coded by their purpose.
Adding a wrinkle to a smoothly running hive is random events, where the player is offered a choice with uncertain consequences. Snail monks given honey might return with a blessing later on, increasing honey production overall. Harbouring slug criminals might give a short term boost in materials, but the wasp police could knock down the door at any moment. A popular movie might inspire the bees to suddenly switch jobs, filling the hive with a wave of builders. These vignettes build a wonderfully dramatic world of insect society, and shake up gameplay just when things are going a little too smoothly.
While the basics of town building are explained extremely well, the late-game of Hive Time could have used a little more direction. Upgraded versions of rooms need the same type of cells built next to each other in a specific pattern, such as a four nurseries aligned in a diamond or a circle of seven spaces for a big storage tank. A little note encouraging the player to build similar rooms next to each other, rather than dotted all over the place like my hive, would have been a big help. Players do get a small resource refund when deleting a cell, but restructuring the whole hive was a pain. Sparkly special bees appear on the rare occasion, but I could not find any information that told me why they were special. I also only realised right near the end that I was not using the foraging bees to their full potential: they can search further from the hive after an upgrade, but this can only be found by experimenting in their submenu by clicking on a seemingly blank space. An alert that bees are sitting idle would also be an asset: my hive was sorely lacking in exits, so quite a few of my fuzzy friends were stuck loafing around. The tutorial does tell you that a single exit is only good for three bees, but since the other room types have no such limitation, it is an easy detail to forget.
Hive Time is utterly sparkling with polish, sporting a super clean interface and loads of personality. The bees will offer little quips about their day, talking about how they do not like sharing their tools with others, watching the latest movies, and suspicions that their friend is actually three ants in a bee suit. A low texture style means the game can easily fill the screen with bees, with no slowdown occurring even when the hive tipped 70 members. The background music drifts breezily in and out, a soothing mix that encourages the player to relax even when the screen is thrumming with activity.
I really enjoyed Hive Time, even if I just fell short of producing enough jelly to make a new queen. The game incorporates all the elements of a city builder into a more streamlined, but still challenging, format. A high level of customisation means the game is suitable for players of all skill levels, a tricky balance to hit. If you would like to support the developer, the game’s soundtrack can be bought from Bandcamp, or a contribution can be made to Patreon.
Next week, we will be playing Dead County, a survival horror game in the vein of the original Resident Evil games. The game can be downloaded from itch.io here. Discussions are happening in the Discord server, or you can email me here.