My Take on Banished
There are several games that take you on the role of some immortal mayor/governor/president/emperor in the quest to create the greatest city ever (Civilization, SimCity and Anno being the greater exponents of this line). Even iOS games like Townsmen put you in that role.
In all those games, you have to focus on resources: You need to “capture” that iron mine in order to build iron weapons; you need workers to get the iron from the mine and bring it to your town to build said weapons; you need some farm to keep your workers alive so they can mine your iron and so on.
But none of those really focus on workers. Workers are nothing more than some easy-to-get resource, in which you usually build a house and wait till workers popup. And they keep going till someone kills them.
That’s not what Banished do. Banished focus solely in the workers and their lifetimes.
The interface is as spartan as you could get — pretty much what your new followers have now. On easy, you fortunately start with a barn to store goods, a stockpile of goods and houses for all your families; on medium, no houses and just a cart with food. And I still didn’t had the guts to try it on hard.
In this situation, you need to start providing some facilities for your people: Houses if you’re on hard, then some food generating facility, then some route of clothing or tools creation, then some roads to connect all those, then maybe some trading facility…
So far, it looks pretty much like any other town-creation game, right?
Well, here’s the twist: Building more houses does not mean more workers. When you put a house, you actually create a place for a family: a man and a woman (and hey, that’s the game saying what’s a family, not me — although I’ve seen families with just a man and his son). And, after a while, a family will have a child.
Children are little resource suckers that take food and produce absolutely nothing. But you need them ’cause, at some point, the mother and the father will get too old and just die.
And that’s the cycle you have to manage: Create houses, manage families, wait till they have kids, wait till the kids are old enough to work, wait till they create new families, wait till the old people die, try to move young adults to do the jobs of the dead…
Oh, not only that, but when you create some resource-creation facility, it just don’t simply sparkle to life and start producing resources: You need to allocate your adults to produce said resources.
“Laborer” is pretty much a person that doesn’t have a job, so they keep moving around, transferring resources from barns and stockpiles to houses (yes, houses have their little stockpile of food and wood and clothing, so people don’t need to keep walking back and forth — unless they are at work and feel hungry, in which they will do all the way from work to their houses to get fed), transferring resources from resource-creation facilities to barns and stockpiles and so on. Once a specialized worked dies (either of old age, crushed by a rock, mauled by a warthog, giving birth or some natural disaster) a laborer will take their place.
So there is this constant “I need more children so later I’ll have more workers, but I need workers now to keep the children fed and train them and OH GOD, WHY DON’T YOU GROW FASTER, YOU LITTLE RESOURCE-SUCKING-FUCKERS?!?” and “Gawd dammit, another worked died”. The balance between keeping laborers for when someone dies, trying to keep your workers alive, fed and warm, so they can produce resources to make more workers is very very very thin and keeps the constant “Ok, just a few more minutes so I get enough workers for this and then I’m going to bed” that goes for hours and hours.
Although the game sucks you into it — in a good way — there are some things that really aren’t helpful.
For example: Remember when I said that you have to wait for families to have children, wait till children grow up and then wait till they create their own families? Well, that’s the first problem: The constant waiting makes the game feel so sloooow it becomes kinda boring if you play in normal speed. I am, on easy, playing constantly at 10x the normal speed (fortunately, the game have a speed control). This is partly what sucks you in, and partly what will annoy the fuck of you (but, then again, if they removed the cycle, the whole game would lose its appeal).
The other problem is the spartanness of the interface. Sure it allows seeing a lot around so you know where would be a good place to build a farm or an orchard or were simply send your laborers to collect stone, but it makes harder to see how many resources you already have, for that quick “Damn, my firewood resources is slowly going down, maybe I need more woodcutters”, if you have too many laborers and can move them to more specialized work and even when people die, which mean you’ll have, maybe, to move some specialized worker back to laboring, in case someone else dies. That’s why most of the screenshots here have those 3 windows open all the time: without them, it’s pretty hard to keep track of all of this. Sure, you have the option to open those windows, but the fact that you have to open them irks me a bit.
On the other hand, you can’t call the game ugly (maybe not “pretty”, but seriously not ugly).
With all that, do I recommend Banished? If you like games about building stuff that give a different focus than other games and keep you on the edge of your chair (well, at least, till everything runs smoothly, you have a shitload of food, a shitload of tools, a shitload of warm clothes and a shitload of laborers), it certainly it is a good game.