Banished is the little town sim that could. Built by the one man team of Shining Rock Software, the game sees you controlling a group of exiles from small beginnings to a burgeoning town of several hundred people over the space of a hundred years or so.
The aims of Banished are simple: Grow your ramshackle group from a dozen to a few hundred, while battling the cold of winter, starvation from poor farm management, work-related accidents, natural disaster, resource shortages, or just simple old age. The game features no combat such as in other town sims like Caesar, and I’m pretty thankful it doesn’t, because combating a lack of firewood is hard enough.
The game’s greatest strength for me lies in its iterative nature. You’re learning more and more about the game each time you play it. My first lesson was not to build a quarry in your second year. My second lesson was that just because people are well-fed, doesn’t mean they’re immortal. A 15 year setback due to letting my population age but not procreate. Many revelations are “well, duh” moments. People procreate when they have a house to themselves. A lake has more fish than a stream. Of course, I could just be pretty dumb.
Planning is a big part of the game too. The children of today are the hungry workers of the future. The idyllic groves for gathering mushrooms and berries are the farmland of tomorrow. Location location location. At first you’ll want everything relatively near each other so your citizens don’t need to walk too far, reducing production and potentially causing starvation along the way (students are terrible for this. Typical). But as you grow, you’ll want the space for expansion, you soon spin-off mini villages in whatever nooks and crannies the valley or mountainous landscape provides. Suddenly you’re managing two towns. Then three, then a weird sub-town that’s two houses, a wood cutter and a church because that’s all that fits. The game uses a random (or manual) seed to spawn the land your Banished people will prosper in, making no two games the same. A thin valley may force you to expand outwards earlier, or you may luck out with large plains, but with water sources for fishing and trade a large distance away.
One difference that Banished has from many other sims is that all the buildings are available from the start; there’s no research tree. And while it’s wise to build certain buildings before others, the game isn’t going to stop you or even make it obvious which is best to start with. In fact, there really isn’t much of a “best order” to be had. The lack of enforced progression order and random seeds make plenty of playstyles quite viable. Build an industrialised process of farming and mining, stripping the land bare and trading spare ore to get other foodstuff and clothing. Or be one with nature and not build a single farm or mine at all, living off the land with sustainable forests, the local migrating deer, and mushrooms.
It’s a game where failure is easy, but a long time coming. You may think you have a good stockpile of food now, you may have what you think is enough logs, you may be about to hit your first major milestone of 100 people. You are very much about to watch the horrible yellow text of death after death after death of farmers, miners, fisherman and children for the next 3 months. But on the bright side you don’t need as much food this year. Which is good as you don’t have enough population to grow much. Which means, yeah, starvation this year as well. But once you have rectified your issues it’s a joy to see your town’s recovery after several hard years, and eventually break that first 100 barrier, then 200, and onwards. The deaths can be somewhat harder hitting due to the citizens having names, made quite memorable by the quirky random name generator. Following the birth, growth and eventual death of Mine, Attuine, Illuimimmer and Braylord.
Visually the game is pretty good looking, especially for a one man team that learnt quite a few things along the way. I’m playing in DX9 due to a bug I had with DX11 (one of the things he learnt along the way), but there’s not much difference between the two if I’m honest. I mainly like the little attentions to detail. I love the quarry that’s getting mined out over time, getting deeper and deeper as the years pass. I like watching the crop be planted, grow, ripen and my guys running around harvesting it. And I especially love pausing the game during a winter blizzard and whizzing around the map with the snow just stopped in the air. It’s rather magical.
There are some annoying quirks to the game though. Occasionally, the AI will frustrate in its pathing, going well out of the way to gather resources despite closer ones available. I once identified a firewood shortage by tracking one worker who was taking a month-long journey across the map to get a log to take back and cut up, rinse and repeat. Unfortunately, the game lacks any tools to direct citizens to use specific stockpiles. In games like Caesar you could make warehouses and granaries only accept specific goods, making it easier for craftsman to get close access to them. With Banished, stockpiles and storage barns are random dumping grounds for whatever citizens feel fit to put in them. Even building Markets there seems to be no system in the game for an even distribution of goods. I can have a large field producing apples, several hundred apples in storage, yet due to nearby storage barns having none in, my taverns will claim they have nothing to brew cider with. The obvious solution would be to make sure production and processing are near each other, but this makes the town building substantially less free-form, and in most cases just isn’t possible. In general though the AI is quite smart and, through the professions window, very easy to manage what your citizens are working on, and usually they’ll make sure to work near their homes. Which you can use the pathing viewer to check up on.
For a one man game it’s pretty impressive, it has the feel of a game made by a larger team. It’s a competent title, despite the AI issues which games developed by teams much larger don’t avoid either, and one that will be interesting to, hopefully, see grow. I would say if you’re looking for a challenge, happy to accept failure that has been several hours in the making, and enjoy quirky randomized names, then this is a title worth checking out.