Starved for anything even remotely RPG-related after finishing Risen a while back (if you haven't played it, you need to), I decided to gamble on a little "under the radar" game that had no demo but promised an interesting gameplay mechanic: the RPG/Town Builder hybrid. That game is called Hinterland.
Now, I've always been a fan of this concept. I remember playing Secret of the Stars on the Super Nintendo and instantly falling in love with the fact that as you progress through the game, your home town grew in buildings and town members. You had no control over this and it served only as a plot device, but I still got a kick out of it. Since then, I've always wished that someone would expand on the idea. Hinterlands, while still not quite fully tapping the true potential of the concept, provides a really fun experience.
You choose your character from a list of over a dozen classes, each with abilities that skew them along a continuum from being good fighters to be good town administrators. A game world is then created (always randomized, ala Diablo 2) for you to explore, conquer and tame. The core of the gameplay consists of a juggling act between venturing out in the unknown for treasure and nurturing your growing town by maintaining food production, weapon, armor and potion creation, and safety in the form of a militia (which can also join your treasure hunting party).
The zoomed out town view.
There are a goodly number of unique buildings and townspeople to choose from and depending on your needs, you could get one of every type, or specialize in specific directions (to compliment your character's class, for example). Aside from treasure, the other reason to scout out the world is to attain city resources such as wild game, fresh water, stone, iron and even a gravesite from which your necromancers can harvest souls. You can even train dragons to be your allies in combat.
I'm the guy up front being pounded on.
The graphics are very basic, as is the Diablo-style hack-and-slash combat, so don't expect anything mind-blowing in those areas. The large number of character classes and the randomized nature of each new map make for very high replayabilty, however. Depending on what size map you choose at the start, games can last anywhere from an hour to about five hours, which is the perfect range for a game such as this. At $20, you really can't go wrong with Hinterland (especially with the included Orc Lords expansion).