Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Banished

This is actually a rather large village.
As I noted a few posts back, I wanted to take a look at Banished, a new city building game.  I got a copy and started up.  The game presents itself very pleasantly.  I loaded up the tutorials, spent about 15 minutes playing through them.  A lot of games could learn from the tutorials in Banished.  They are short, to the point, and get you rolling quickly.

After the tutorials I started up my first town.  I decided to go for medium difficulty, as this provides you with a barn already loaded up with your starting supplies, and about 10 or so villagers.  I had read a little about the game, but went in and tried to play trusting my gut.  I built a farm and a whole bunch of houses and other support buildings.  This was not wise.  I lost six people the first winter and decided to start over.

On my second village I only built enough houses for the starting group.  This means one house for each "couple" of male and female adults.  One of the mechanics of the game is that couples will move into an empty house, and procreate.  If you build too many houses all the eligible couples tend to pair off an you get a bunch of kids.  This is a bit of a liability in the first few years when food is at a premium.  I also ignored farming for a few years.  Due to a quirk of the game Gathering Huts seem to be the most efficient method of food production for much of the early game, as long as you put them in the woods.  Pair this with a Forester to plant in all trees and you have a nice food supply going pretty quickly.

Once I had the basics of food and shelter down, I began building out slowly.  I would add a few houses and a profession building or two each year as kids grow into adults who can then work the new structures.  Now I am at the point where I think I can safely deal with populations of at least 120, having gotten there on a few subsequent cities.

I stated before that I hoped this game would solve the GUI issues of Dwarf Fortress while providing a solid game to back up the graphics.  It comes tantalizingly close so far.  By focusing on the core issue of resource management instead of throwing in a whole bunch of features Shining Rock has created a nice, tight little game.

The game rewards you for playing smartly and cautiously balancing expansion with managing the core resources.  These are stone, wood, leather, iron, and many types of food.  Pretty much everything in the game comes from this handful of items.  The fun bit is in having to choose the balance.  Do you sacrifice iron and wood for tools and firewood, or do you build a church for happiness?  Do you use your stone for houses or for a new workshop?  Do you gamble your stockpiles on getting some livestock or new seeds from the trader, or do you spend them on an increased population?

The one downside is that one solid evening of play will show you the entire game.  I have built every building in the game after a few hours.  A fair number of reviews have picked on this a bit unfairly, by my estimation.  While there might not be a whole lot of Banished, what is there is done very well.  The game is not about the destination of building a metropolis, but rather the journey of carefully expanding just a bit more each year.

Right now the game is feature locked, but Shining Rock has stated that mod support is planned.  If that mod support comes out soon, within a few months or half a year, this game may go from being very good to great.  At the moment there isn't much beyond the resource choices presented above.  Don't misunderstand, those choices are very fun to play through and are really well done.   I see myself playing a few more villages, or maybe taking the game in bite sizes once a month.

Modding would really allow the game to open up and give it legs.  Custom buildings, maybe some sort of limited combat, perhaps more resources and goods.  With a few good mods or an expansion of some sort Banished could become a real force in the city building genre.  A very solid offering from a one-man shop.  Do yourself a favor and buy the game.  This sort of game deserves your dollars.  At twenty bucks it is an easy way to show the creator and other developers that doing something simple and well is worth doing.

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