A little indie game by the name of Banished has taken the corner of the blogosphere that I hang out in by storm (or if you ask Murf of murfvs.net, by tornado after tornado after tornado if his Twitter is any indication). It’s a city-building strategy game. Think SimCity, but medieval.
The premise is simple, and so are the rules. You start with some folks who were banished from wherever they used to live—and nobody cares why—and are trying to build a new home. You are the one guiding their growth. You tell them where and what to build, and divvy folks up into professions such as Builder, Farmer, Blacksmith, etc. There’s no tech tree per se, so you can build whatever you want in whatever order. However, you need to have the basics up and running, so not unlike Minecraft there’s a pretty decent build order to get you started at least. Otherwise you may find Winter has finally come and your people starve/freeze to death.
Otherwise, that’s it. You just build, and make your city, and expand it. Now, there’s more to it than just that, because there are intricacies around food production, health, happiness, and other things. For myself, I ended up making a couple cities.
|The town I learned how to play. Compact, totally asking for a fire, and fraught with issues to start with|
City #1 was pretty rough, as it was all about the learning process. I managed to get my followers fed and warm for the first winter, but quite quickly I ran out of food the next year after. Turns out that you need a fair bit of surplus food before your citizens stop hoarding it like some squirrel colony and starving everyone else.
Once I had that solved, I ran into the issue where we ran out of firewood. Whoops, everyone was freezing. Thankfully, that was easy to remedy: just get more wood faster, and the Woodchopper would chop wood as fast as the Woodchopper could chop wood.
The next problem I ran into was my population dying off. Not from hunger or cold, but old age! Every person’s age is tracked—actually, their sex and family status is tracked as well—and in my town I don’t think I had more than a couple people under the age of 45. People get old, they stop reproducing, and while they’re still productive citizens, they take up family homes where other people could be reproducing. So I had to somehow get more citizens to make babies, and get all the old people out of the houses they were taking up. Strangely enough, dying definitely fixed half of that problem. Thankfully I figured out the issue just in time, and while my population basically dropped to about half, I managed to get a healthy younger population making babies.
On one hand, damn you old people for dying. On the other, hooray, vacancies! #Banished is kind of brutal that way >.>
— Talarian (@Talarianjs) February 25, 2014
Now, the hardest issue to fix that I ran into was when I ran out of tools. Here’s the thing, anybody who has a tool works at a given rate. Without the tool, you slow down (half speed, I think), which ends up cascading into a horrendous failure spiral. My Blacksmith had no tool, so she was making them at half speed. But then we ran out of iron for the tools because the Miners used up their tools and couldn’t mine iron fast enough to give to the Blacksmith to make more tools. And then my Farmers couldn’t harvest as much food because they also had no tools. Soon everyone in my village was tool-less, and the ones I was making were getting chewed through before I had supplied enough for everyone.
If I recall correctly, I lucked out in that a Merchant had stopped by my village and I managed to purchase 20 tools from him. I also started to make Steel tools, which last twice as long. Between the two of those, I got myself out of the failure spiral, but it could very easily have ended in disaster. Which when you’re first starting out, as you can read, is pretty much the constant state of your town. Always on the edge of disaster.
|The second city I built, this one was the original part of my new town. The game is quite pretty.|
So I decided that I was going to start from scratch with the knowledge I gained, and boy, did that go much more smoothly. In fact, it went so smoothly that it was kind of boring. I ensured that early on I educated my populace (as educated people work faster, apparently), and I made sure that I always had a large surplus of food, tools, firewood, etc. Slow and steady expansion until I had one town that had about 75 people and was self-sufficient.
Of course, once I had that figured out, I wanted to see if I could make a prettier, planned city, although I wasn’t going to start from scratch. I just built this new one across the river from my old one, so they could share resources, populace, etc. And it worked marvelously. And now I’m up to like 175 population or so, and two mini-cities on one map that are both self-sufficient. With 80,000 food saved up, and a surplus of 5,000 every year, tonnes of wood, stone, iron, and so on, a major disaster could occur and I’d be able to recover relatively quickly, assuming the disaster didn’t wipe out both mini-cities.
|The second half of my new city, built well after the first. Organized, self-sufficient, and aesthetically pleasing.|
And there’s the problem. The game was really good and really interesting up until the point where I had figured out an algorithm that worked, and worked really, really well. Since the only goal of the game is to make a bigger city, I suppose I could work on aesthetics and organization, but for the most part, the thing can run itself now. There isn’t really any decisions to be made that affects the survivability of my populace.
Thus I get bored with it.
Oh, I did have a tornado take out my forestry industry, but because I’m smart and had enough firewood and raw wood banked, the couple years it took to rebuild it all went by without a hitch. Basically, playing smart meant there wasn’t much of a game left. To be fair, I had the same issues with SimCity as well. There isn’t much of an end game to speak of in either game. Once you’re rolling, you’re rolling.
Is the start of the game really fun? Yes! Getting the city going is super satisfying, and depending on your start position, fraught with many different dangers. Once you’re self-sufficient and have a large enough baseline population? Dull as dishwater. Still totally worth the $20, and an incredible technical accomplishment for the one-person studio, and incredibly polished, as well. If you like the struggle part, it’s still a good 15 – 20 hours of entertainment for a couple of cities and getting them off the ground, which makes the pricetag more than palatable to me. So it’s definitely worth checking out, but I think I’ve checked out entirely at this point.