Wednesday, September 7, 2016


"When we arrive, sons and daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls alluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon now"

The Decemberists - Sons and Daughters

It's been one hundred and fifty-two years since my people were Banished to this harsh mountain hinterland we now call the village of Nyctimus.
It's a rainy spring day in Nyctimus, and trade is brisk.
Thirty generations have come and gone. A hundred or more nomads have found sanctuary within the bounds of our settlement. We have grown, and prospered. It is now spring once more and with the thaw, trading boats glide their way downriver from the north, slipping under simple yet stylish wooden bridges, bringing... chickens.

Chickens? Look, I have chickens already you useless peddlers, ship me some damn stone if you wanna make a sale here so I can finish building more schools. Can't you see poor Shilomena the farmer condemned to live her life bereft of education? Sheesh.

In fact, the chicken pasture is doing a roaring good business supplying the nearby miners with eggs and Nyctimus-fried chicken (mayor Werwolfe's own secret original recipe) so those miners in turn can supply the blacksmiths with coal and iron, which, combined with wood harvested from orchards and foresters, yield the steel tools by which all tradesmen ply their various trades. Including teachers. What the hell teachers do with steel tools I shudder to think, but it may have partly motivated Shilomena to skip her education. Just sayin's all...

Shilomena works a bean field along with three other farmers. Life is good. The fall harvest is plentiful and Shilomena's house, just down the road a bit, is bursting at the seams with a healthy supply of varied foodstuffs. Her clothing is warm and her sturdy stone walls heated with a bounty of fuel (including coal, which I keep telling her not to take because the blacksmiths need it more) so she and her family suffered not in the slightest from this past harsh winter. The tavern across the river brews a delicious pear ale so she can party after work, supplied by nearby orchards. If she complained of any ailments, five herbalists and three hospitals would quickly do away with them, so she's as healthy as a ... a cow, I guess, since there are no horses in Banished. In fact, she and her husband just had a daughter. The ale may have had something to do with that too. Congratulations!

But I still need stone.
See, Nyctimus has had its share of hurdles in the past. Fires, a tornado, a severe shortage of clothing about sixty years back (not as fun as it sounds) pestilence among the livestock, a lack of churches, taverns and cemeteries to keep the populace happy and productive, a major outbreak of dysentery just a decade later... life's not all sipping pear ale by a coal fire, y'know?

Still, through the brilliant leadership of its mayor Werwolfe, Nyctimus has grown under a constant population boom these past few generations, to the point where it once more strains its carrying capacity.

Much of this story is true. Some I've shamelessly embellished for the sake of showmanship. If you like old-school city simulators, buy Banished. It strips the genre of most of the disgusting mass-market baggage acquired in the decades since SimCity's heyday* and distills the original formula to its requisite struggle to maintain an interdependent flow of resources through the indirect actions of meandering NPC numskulls. Excellent both in its gameplay mechanics and its deceptively simple aesthetics, it eschews any specific time and place for its setting. You do not rule Paris in the year 1950, nor Memphis in 2700 b.c.e. but a generic vaguely pre-industrial agrarian society. From that understated quaintness your own mind is free to build endless stories, much like Shilomena's illiterate bean-farming life or the saga of Anpu Tahet. Like Mount&Blade and other expansive, NPC-filled games, Banished takes on a life of its own, replete with tales of both individual and societal misadventures, the sort of virtual world on which we can only wish MMOs would be based. Its graphics and music, its scope and pacing, all add up to a beautifully immersive experience.

As far as mechanics, it's primarily a logistics game. Most goods and services have a physical presence, and figuring out how to space out the various kinds of production and storage is crucial to success. I've failed scores of settlements in my first or second winter because I waste too much stone on roads, fail to provide them with firewood and they freeze to death, or because I've spaced my first fishing docks and hunting cabins too far from the first houses and food storage. The most frequent nail in my coffin has been... well, a lack of nails. Tool shortage. Your supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

In the time since I began this post, I've left my Banished village running in the background. It is now the year 156 and the education shortage has begun to leave its mark. Uneducated blacksmiths are less efficient, producing fewer tools. Tool-less farmers produce less food. Everybody might starve or freeze to death. The end. There's no treasury and no convenient fix-all tax sliders either. Your village runs on a barter economy. A tool shortage means less efficient quarrying and construction as well, rendering me less able to remedy the situation, except through the thousands of tools I cautiously stockpiled in my trading posts... but even that's a temporary solution.

Banished thrives on subtlety and foresight. Bug-free, smooth-running, easy to learn and just hard enough to master to keep your interest. Lovely piece of work, and well worth every penny. Excellent for anyone who wants to give city sims a try or experts who want an exemplar of the genre. Buy it.

* - Unfortunately Banished does feature at least one of the major ills of modern games, a list of achievements. And as soon as I saw them I just knew I had to build at least one "One With Nature" town. Damn you.

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