Ranch Simulator is a simulation game where you run your own ranch in a remote forested valley. Developed by Toxic Dog and published by Excalibur Games, Ranch Simulator released on Steam Early Access in March this year and has been steadily updated since. In July they revamped the building system so that players could freely build structures without being restricted to set blueprints. The most recent update at the end of August added the ability to purchase, ride and train horses. This is what piqued my interest and so far, this is one of the better early access experiences I’ve had in terms of how well the game runs and looks.
In Ranch Simulator, you will experience life owning and maintaining your own ranch. It was once your grandfather’s pride-and-joy, but your family ranch has fallen on hard times and it’s up to you to turn things around. You start the game by creating your character, and I was surprised at the customisation options as they are quite detailed for a simulation game like this. I played around with some of the presets and then dressed my fella in a flannelette shirt, black jeans, boots, a cowboy hat and some aviators glasses. I’ve been watching a bit too much Yellowstone lately (but how bloody good is it?).
The tutorial then commences where you’re directed to a broken wooden shack which has a letter on a table. The letter was left behind by your grandfather and it states the family ranch is now yours. It’s desolate and run down, but we’re free to do with it as we please. After you head to the homestead and collect some money and a revolver from a chest in the attic, another letter explains that we can use the revolver to kill wild animals and we’ll need to repair an old UTV in the garage, otherwise we’re free to do as we please. The level of detail in the grass, wooden walls of the houses, mountains in the background and the lighting is really well done, and it helped me lose myself in getting tasks completed. The way the sun slowly fell into the mountains casting shards of lights and shadows on the walls of the shed and barn were brilliant. Every so often it would rain and there’d be mist in the background, with a flash of lightning illuminating the gloomy clouds, followed by the clap of thunder rolling through the valley. The sound design is spot on and even down to the saw mill sounding authentic, really immersed you in the sounds of a working ranch.
Running back to the garage, you need to pick up tyres spread around the area and install them, as well as the seats, bumper guard and fuel tank. Next you need to drive to the Gas Station. You can open the game’s map and place a waypoint, then either follow the roads or do what I do and go bush bashing. I had bought in my brother-in-law Justin for some co-op and I crashed the UTV on the first hill – hilarious.
Thankfully he’d been playing the game for several hours and learned if you turn the wheels to the side you’ve flipped onto and accelerate, the UTV will bump up and right itself. Sure enough up we went and a few more flips later, we got to the Gas Station. You need to take the hose out of the bowser and place it into the fuel can. The pump doesn’t start automatically so you need to press E on the pump and it fills the can. Move the hose from the can to the UTV’s tank, fill that up, and we were then sent to the real estate agent.
She gives you a book to rebuild our ranch which contains blueprints for building components such as foundations and walls, to full blueprints for a chicken coop and even whole barns and houses. Building blueprints require wood planks, bags of cement and metal rebars. Wooden planks are made by chopping down trees and then using a table saw to cut logs into planks. The cement and metal bars needed to be bought from the hardware store.
Over at the hardware store we bought an axe, crowbar and a cheap table saw. In shops like this and the general store, you interact with a computer monitor and browse the items for sale. There are things like a drivable lawnmower, small trailer, meat grinders and heaps of other useful things. Once you’ve added them to the cart and purchased them, they are placed outside on a sale area which is where we parked the UTV. The axe and crowbar are put straight into your inventory, but bulky things like the table saw need to pick up and placed manually into the tray of the UTV.
We drove to the general store and purchased two chickens, some bags of feed and a basket. As I loaded the first chicken and basket into the UTV, I noticed the second chicken had laid an egg! I thought beauty, i’ll sell that. Justin told me to put the egg onto the sell pad, then run inside and sell it. I left clicked the ground whilst holding the egg, throwing it to the ground and smashing it. I should have right clicked to enter placement mode. This is a common mistake I kept making through my playtime in the game which got really annoying later on.
Back at the ranch, we set up the table saw and started chopping down nearby trees to get a collection of logs to be able to build the chicken coop. I worked on keeping the saw fed with logs which turned into planks while Justin took the UTV over to the tree line and started chopping trees. I picked up a log and you can see a green highlight of where you need to place the log onto the table saw. If you are slightly off and you left click, it dismantles the table. You need to drop the log, pick up the saw box, place the saw, pick up the log and then carefully make sure you click to place the log. This happened so bloody often. It’s not a major deal as you can replace the saw quickly, it was just annoying. We worked well into the night and we have headlamps that can be activated.
Animals need to be fed and watered, and you can see their sustenance values at a glance which is great. You also need to make sure to clean up their poop too, otherwise they can get sick and die. Justin gave me a hot tip for making money in Ranch Simulator – breeding and slaughtering pigs. It sounds grim, but that’s ranching for you. We went back to town and bought two pigs (one male and one female – important!), then built a trough and water tray for them. The idea being that in about 4-5 day cycles, they would grow and breed to produce piglets. Those piglets then grow and mate, and produce more piglets and the cycle of life and earning money carries on with the ultimate aim to slaughter the bigger pigs for meat. In these early stages of the game, selling meat and meat products is the quickest way to make money.
You can hunt elks and bears in the wilderness for meat, but they’re spread few and far between and only drop 3 or 4 pieces of meat and only respawn daily. A fully grown pig produces about 10-12 pieces of meat and whilst it takes 3-4 days to fully mature, working out to be the same as selling elk/bear meat, it’s when you get yourself 6-8 or more pigs that it becomes really profitable. When a new horse can cost up to $7,000+, you need to find some good methods for making money early on.
Back in town, a burger shop will purchase the meat from you and there are specials each day. Sometimes meat only sells for 1.6x the standard price, sometimes 1.8x. On a good day you’ll get 2x the price which is the best day to sell. Sometimes though, it’s not just pork or chicken they’re requesting, rather it will be pork meatballs or chicken sausages. When this happens, you need to buy a meat grinder and/or sausage maker, then go back to the ranch to manually grind the meat into mince, and then into sausages. There’s a lot of to and fro between the ranch and town to buy supplies and sell goods. Faster vehicles would likely help here once you can afford them, it just takes a while to set up some initial funding methods.
While we waited for the pigs to fatten up and breed (and geez do they grow big!), we used our crafting book to place a blueprint for a big barnyard. This required a whole heap of wood planks, so off we set to work. Again, we were thankful there were two of us to do the work. It was cool working in the afternoon and watching the lighting and shadows change as the sun went down behind the mountains. It looked amazing. Once the barn was complete and we had built a pig stall within it, we checked the real world time and it was 1am. We had been playing Ranch Simulator for 4 hours and it hardly felt like that long at all – a sign of a good immersive game.
Ranch Simulator is still in early access. There’s no story or quests to give you direction, you’re just left to build and maintain the ranch to your creative desires. It can be a bit of a grind to get yourself established, especially if you’re playing solo so I definitely recommend playing co-op if possible. Some simulation games don’t grab my attention once the tutorial stops, but this was a pleasure to play. The graphics are really good, especially the weather effects and sunsets. The developers have recently released a roadmap for the next 6 months which includes:
- October – private multiplayer games, multiple save-slots and naming your animals.
- December – additional cow breed, fattening and breeding of new cow breed and an automatic milking machine.
- February – quests from hunters and other ranches, hunting rifle.
The developers do warn though that with these larger updates, there’s a risk that save games may be wiped. At least you can get some time in now to work out what things you enjoy doing and efficient ways of making some money. February’s update excites me the most, so Ranch Simulator will definitely be on my game rotation over the coming months. This is certainly one of the better performing early access games I’ve played and if you’re into farming simulations, I highly recommend giving this a go.
This review utilised a key provided by the publisher and Ranch Simulator is out now on Steam Early Access.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis