Banished is the by-product of the floodgates opened when SimCity was released. A game about the creation and management of a town, where you must manage its expansion and population, with a twist: your people are fighting for their survival, against natural disasters, hunger and cold.
The game randomly generates a map each time you create a new game, taking into account variables you input such as map size, difficulty and terrain (which will determine what you start with, whether there are natural disasters and how prone for human development is the place your outcasts start at). As the name implies, you begin in control of a small colony of outcasts, who must establish a thriving and growing community in the harsh lands the seed throws at you, meeting, first, the most basic demands of housing and food – the two central elements of the game, followed by tools and clothing, which increase your productivity. Throughout it, regardless of what particular difficulties you’re facing (uneducated labor, natural disasters, a disease epidemic), hunger and proper lodging will be pivotal to the success of your community – too much of the latter and you won’t have supplies to meet your population’s demand, and it’ll dwindle down; too little and couples won’t have space to reproduce, and the population will also dwindle..
Management of your resources is key in Banished. Wood is essential for both crafting and heating your homes, but should you be too aggressive in the exploitation of this resource in a given area, you’ll have to wander further to gather it – and come winter, the further you are the likelier you are to die from the cold. Fishing seems like an easy and quick way to stack up on food, specially early on, but how will you mend the nutrient deficit of a diet with little variation, causing your townspeople to become deficient and diseased? These are questions you’ll have to ask yourself throughout your game of Banished, with its apparently simple mechanics splitting up into multiple consequences: creating clusters of houses is economic and easier to provide for with a single market, but will make you more susceptible to natural disasters. Wells are a great way of containing fires, but their high cost of stone means you might have to build some wood houses rather than stone ones, which will be much less efficient during the winter and will need a larger supply of firewood.
Actions in Banished all have a consequence, and taking shortcuts is no exception. You’ll have to manage your forests so that they aren’t depleted, your stone and iron sources so that you don’t have to litter the maps with unhealthy quarries and mines, and keep a varied stock of food, all the while concerning yourself with keeping your population growing, as a generation of mistakes could well mean the endo of your small community.
Natural disasters will come, occasionally, and serve as an iron test against your city’s infrastructure: do you have enough hospitals and healthy citizens to withstand a disease epidemic? Is there a nearby body of water and wells spread across your city to contain any major fires? How fast can you re-establish your citizens’ lodgings once a tornado comes, sparing them from facing winter without any warmth and resting place? Economy becomes a very distant issue and concept when your population has to band together for survival.
Once a certain building is constructed, immigrants will sporadically appear. As a double-edged sword, they offer an interesting dynamic: you can accept a surge in population of uneducated nomads, without knowing how old they are and at an increased risk of bringing disease (much as trading does, as well) and over-consumption of your limited resources. Another foreign contact, the traders, are vital if you want to diversify your crops, plantations and livestock, and will come periodically to vist your town once you’ve created a proper port (make sure to have a surplus of supplies to offer in return for whatever they bring – there is no such thing as currency in this savage frontier).
The game offers you a detailed and easily accessible interface to keep track of your trade, food, population and resource stockpiles, and can be further enhanced by UI modifications available for download. The graphics are crisp and, along with the soundtrack and sound effects, help convey a rather dissonant tone: a calm, placid nature, much different to the relentless struggle against nature you’re faced with.
Banished will automatically manage your workers and their relation with their workplaces and housing. Routes will be shortened and optimized, though it still is up to the player to set up their centers of distribution as best as possible, taking into consideration the nearby farms, fisheries, hunting grounds and housing complexes.
Banished is a fine foray into the city simulation genre, with a spin of its own: much more than optimizing your city, your main concern will be just keeping it alive. The satisfaction of managing to scatter it across much of this brave new world is great, as it is a testament to your capacity at keeping a thriving population. Long roads and bridges will be the hallmark of your success, one that won’t necessarily imply a cute, symmetrically structured and optimized city, but one that has organically grown and survived throughout the years, a community of outcasts that has flourished and, as one can hope, is now better than the world they came from.