[Tapuak]is a classic city building sim. You're founding a settlement in a world of islands, and develop it by providing space to live and necessary goods to the citizens. In mission mode, you have to fulfill single tasks, but in free play, it's your final goal to beat your opponents from the surrounding cities to achieve sovereign rule over the islands. At the beginning, you choose a appropriate island to found your first settlement. Right from the start, you have to deliver basic goods to your people.
[Mr Creosote] Still, no island is perfect. A completely independent economy can't be established on any of them, because something's always missing.
[Tapuak] All islands are fertile for three specific crops (plus sometimes ore and gold). Others can be grown on all of the islands: grain, wood and wool.
[Mr Creosote] And completely by chance, these are the three 'raw materials' which are required for the first few steps: wood to build, food to survive and wool is the first 'luxury good' which the citizens demand for.
[Tapuak] Wool is processed into cloth. If that's delivered to the citizens, they are promoted to a higher class. Then, their needs change. You now have to take care of providing these additional goods.
[Mr Creosote] There's a basic distinction between buildings which produce raw materials and those which process these. For cloth, that would for example be sheep farms which deliver wool to weavers. Buildings which produce something have to be connected to a market place by a system of roads to have their goods delivered. Apart from building these roads, there's nothing you can do about the internal logistics.
[Tapuak] Other raw materials don't have to be processed any further: spice and cocoa. Spreading the goods isn't up to the player. Once they arrive at a storage, they're automatically delivered to the citizens all over the island.
[Mr Creosote] The order of these needs is fixed, but on the first try with the game, it's totally unforeseeable. In my very first game, it caused great frustration that exactly THE one single good which was needed (alcohol) couldn't be produced on my island either by growing sugar or wine.
[Tapuak] At this point, the asked for goods have to be imported either from a competitor or a free merchant, or you can found a second settlement on an island on which these respective crops can be grown.
[Mr Creosote] The point of getting citizens to higher levels is obvious: higher population density and therefore a larger overall population. Once you cross certain population limits, you can create additional buildings which are again needed for even more growth.
[Tapuak] And more citizens also mean more income via taxes. Almost everything has to be financed by them. Only by exporting unneeded goods, you can earn something in addition. Promoting citizens isn't just a question of available goods, though. Additionally, you have to provide public places like churches, schools and doctors.
[Mr Creosote] Such buildings always have an 'area of influence'. Only residence buildings which are in this area have the chance of promotion, so you sometimes have to build several of the same time on each island.
[Tapuak] And that's the cause for not all citizens being promoted at the same time if a needed good is available on the island. When all criteria are actually met, you still need enough construction material (wood, tools, stone). Once many citizens have reached higher classes like merchants or aristocrats, it gradually gets more complicated to ensure the supply of all goods, of course. That is why you have to be careful about enemies snatching all islands on which a certain raw material can be grown. Furthermore, you have to build additional ships to establish trade routes which deliver goods to the cities.
[Mr Creosote] I'll say it bluntly: It sounds well thought-out in theory, but unfortunately, it's a complete mess.
[Tapuak] Only if your economic abilities are bad and let it become one.
[Mr Creosote] Let me explain this a little: Some buildings have to be connected to the roads to have their goods taken away. For others, such a connection isn't necessary, but you have to build a 'processing plant' nearby instead. In the first case, it doesn't matter how far the 'factories' are located. There's non pattern, it's completely random.
[Tapuak] Which buildings do you mean? It never occured to me, because I always connected them all with roads.
[Mr Creosote] In the (very sparse) tutorial, you're taught that sheep farms have to be located in the area of influence of a weaver. Then, the shepherds will deliver their wool automatically without a road. Grain, which has to be processed just the same, is different: Mills can be located anywhere, they always get the grain. But the farm has to be connected with a road.
[Tapuak] I think if for example the wool from a sheep farm is brought to a market place, it becomes part of the overall stock of the city and it's available on the whole island.
[Mr Creosote] That may be an alternative, but it's still sometimes an advantage not to build roads to a farm (more space to grow / feed) and the transport works nevertheless. On the other hand, sometimes not. And that's extremely irritating.
[Tapuak] If it is like that, you're of course right that it's rather random and can't be explained logically. But I think it's easy to accomodate to these situations, and it doesn't cause problems with the game. I didn't even notice. What I consider far more important is that the economic model works on the whole - if done right.
[Mr Creosote] Apart from that, the economy is, to say it neutrally, very clear. Everything's organized in a completely linear way: raw materials become goods and that's it (apart from one or two exceptions). There aren't any branches where intermediate products are required for other finished products again and so on.
[Tapuak] Of course the economy is very simplified, but that's exactly what I like. You don't have to care about the internal workings. It would of course be even better if the complexity of the economy could be adjusted by the player. What I like in addition is the fixed schema of needs of the citizens. According to their class, they need the same goods. This enormously increases the ability to plan ahead.
[Mr Creosote] A simplified model is certainly not always bad, but this one is too simple for my taste. Possibilities of influence are severely lacking, e.g. to set what goods should be primarily used for if there's choice. For example, is there a way to set whether iron should be used more for swords or cannons, or is this really completely random?
[Tapuak] That would indeed be an improvement. As a workaround, I shut down some factories temporarily. Unfortunately, there is no way to limit the consumption of certain goods, e.g. to have enough left for export. A little more microsettings would have helped.
[Mr Creosote] What's completely lacking for me is influence on transport. Trade routes between islands with ships is done well, and they really put some effort into this. On each individual island on the other hand, it's completely non-transparent and automized. If something's not working (e.g. if some goods from some building are never taken away for a long time), it's hardly clear what's causing this, and there is practically no way to do anything about it. It's just this aspect which has been solved in a superior way in The Settlers, for example. There, building an efficient system of transport is crucial for success.
[Tapuak] Something not being transported only happend to me, when the storages of a city were completely full. There's also the option to appoint additional carriers who get the goods from the buildings. I never used that, though. In general, you can plan ahead by building enough market places near the other buildings. The goods are then taken there.
[Mr Creosote] Especially at the beginning, it occured several times that I couldn't build anything, because the lack of wood - in spite of the luberjacks' huts being filled to the roof. It was just that nobody came around to deliver it to a storage. Later, it worked for some obscure reason without me changing anything.
I don't want to talk bad about everything, though. No island working independently, because some raw materials are always lacking (making imports and exports crucial), is a good idea.
[Tapuak] This element of the game forces the player to expand. And there's also a certain time pressure since the competitors aren't sleeping, either. I really like that: If the overall balance is positive, i.e. you're earning money, you still can't just sit back and watch until you're a millionair. Because of the competitors, you're forced to act at some point.
[Mr Creosote] Also, in my games it always developed in a way that 'residence islands' and 'production islands' were seperated in the course of the game. That way, not every island is built the same way which is nice.
[Tapuak] That was my strategy, too. Strict seperation between jobs always pays off. In most cases, I have a capital where all threads are coming together. On my other islands, I have monocultures and deliver goods to my capital
[Tapuak] That way, the capital is of course completely dependent on a working trade network. Unfortunately, it is sometimes disturbed fromt he outside, i.e. by pirates or enemy competitors.
[Mr Creosote] For a start, I'd like to mention that my version of the game has an obvious bug concerning this: Even on difficulty levels which are labelled 'no pirates', they do turn up
[Tapuak] So you always have to deal with pirates. Personally, I consider this game element irritating. The pirates are attacking randomly which is quite tedious. Especially at the beginning, because you can't build cannons to defend yourself then.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, they're bugging me, too, but I still see some cause for them: You're forced to keep the military branch in mind right from the start of the expansion. Not being ABLE to build cannons at the beginning is a serious design flaw, of course.
[Tapuak] Ok, that would be the only positive effect of the pirates, then. The interesting thing about the competitors is especially that they're both trade partners and potential enemies.
[Mr Creosote] What I like about the computer controlled players is that they aren't overly aggressive. They are keen on expansion, but primarily in a peaceful way, i.e. settling on unoccupied islands. They don't immediately set out for war which is extremely irritating in such games.
[Tapuak] Yes, I reckoned they'd strike earlier, too. The pressure to build weapons isn't that high, so that you don't have to spend everything as soon as they become available. The pressure's just there below the surface, with no cause for panic. In most cases, I am the one who finally declares war.
It can also happen that certain products aren't available anymore to you, because the only source for this raw material is used by another player. I'm mainly thinking of gold which is quite rare, but it's required to produce jewelry. In such a situation, to avoid being dependent on imports from the outside, you have to pick up the weapons.
[Mr Creosote] Same for me. The way it is, war is more of a matter of form to end the game than central point which is very pleasant. The designers don't seem to have wasted too much thought on this war, either. You just load the four kinds of soldiers into your ships, sail to the enemy's island and land there. The fighting starts, and the one who can produce more soldiers with his economy wins anyway.
[Tapuak] I also like this economy better than the war, but attacking and defending can be interesting, too. Because war always breaks out only in the later phase of the game, all sides are already equipped quite well. The computer players are always starting to build fortifications on their islands quite early; that is why it isn't all that simple. I only seldomly manage to conquer a whole island at once. Mostly, it takes longer. You have to send supplies: build battleships to attack fortifications and transport your troops to the enemy island. I like that, because it means you always have to have an eye on the economy during war.
[Mr Creosote] What troubles me about the fighting is the lack of clarity. Once your own soldiers mix with the enemy's, you can't do anything specifically anymore.
[Tapuak] That's right, there isn't much tactics in the battles. You just have to take care of the frame, i.e. the supplies. To actually conquer an island, you have to destroy all watchtowers and markets. Then, the island is vacant again and you can settle on it to use it for your own purposes. If a player loses all his islands, he's out of the game.
[Mr Creosote] There isn't much more to say about war. Rather unspectacular, which is (apart from said details) good in this genre.
[Mr Creosote] One aspenct of the computer controlled players is very disappointing: The rules don't seem to be valid for them. Computer controlled cities flourishing in spite of apparant lack of goods / raw materials can't be explained with anything but cheating - something like that would be impossible for human players.
[Tapuak] Yes, I sometimes had the feeling that the cities of the computer are better equipped than the supplies would allow, too. It doesn't produce some goods, but the citizens are still promoted quite quickly. That means the computer would have to import all lacking goods which would be very expense on the long run.
[Mr Creosote] I've sometimes seen isolated islands with only wool and cattle farms which were still inhabited by merchants. Nobody can have enough money to import all the necessary goods for that.
[Tapuak] Well, to prove this cheating, we would have to take a look at the source code. I have this impression, too. It's of course not a good solution, but the advantage is that the computer players can keep up with the humans for some time at least.
[Mr Creosote] A very sad method to achieve this. Watching something like this is just another cause of frustration for me, because I have to spend my time dealing with details which don't seem to be important for the competition. It's of course right that we can't prove anything, though.
[Tapuak] The controls require some time getting used to, but work quite well once you've learned them. There are a few exceptions which can't be learned intuitively.
[Mr Creosote] It reminds me of the company's earlier game 1869: Random, confusing combinations of keys and clicks which are totally impossible to guess. In the training missions, the controls aren't explained seriously, and quite a few functions of the game aren't documented within the game at all. I don't have anything against keyboard shortcuts, which are often efficient enough, but from a game of this (relatively young) age, I expect everything to be icon-driven with tooltips hinting at alternative keystrokes 'on the fly'.
[Tapuak] Well, almost everything is mouse-driven. Basically, there's a simple rule: left button to activate, right button to deactivate. The only really absurd example is loading troops on ships (Ctrl + left mouse button).
[Mr Creosote] What about equipping battleships with cannons? First, you have to shove those into the ship's storage, and then click back and forth to put them to use. How is anyone supposed to get this idea? And even if you know it, it's still unnecessarily complicated. Compare sending ships to another port in; that's similarly stupid.
[Tapuak] Battlships can also be used for trading which I'm sometimes doing because of pirates. That is why it's right to have cannons put in the storage first, because you sometimes have to transport them.
[Mr Creosote] Being ABLE to put cannons into the storage is of course necessary, but this procedure is sick. There are a lot more examples, but I'd just like to add a last one: On the one hand, there are different modes (building, fighting, diplomacy), but on the other hand, they're sometimes switched automatically, for example when clicking on a soldier. What's the point of having different 'modes' at all, then? It all seems to be put together quite incoherently.
[Tapuak] Okay, I've aready confessed that the controls need a little time to get used to. They're not perfect, but they aren't an obstacle in the course of the game. At least they're efficient enough to make full concentration on the real gameplay possible. I only looked into the manual once because of the controls (in the described case), and I can live very well with that.
Game Modes / Limitations
[Tapuak] I like the continuous game better than the missions. It provides more freedom and requires planning on the long view, which fits the game's concept (slow building) better. The missions are limited to achieving small goals, e.g. reaching a population of 200 citizens and a positive balance. They mostly end when it gets interesting.
[Mr Creosote] I fully agree. I've spent only very little time with the missions. Mainly because they're basically just badly constructed pseudo tasks.
[Tapuak] After a certain amount of time, the free playing repeats itself, too, of course. The maps are always different, but they resemble each other very much.
[Mr Creosote] What's still completely unclear to me is why it always have to be islands. This way, each 'world' looks totally identical. No different 'landscapes', continents etc.
[Tapuak] Islands have the advantage that the spheres of influence of the players are kept disctinct. They play the biggest role in warfare. Islands make attacking difficult. You first have to build battleships, getting supplies to the front is more difficult. It's not enough just to send an army to the next city over flat land. Furthermore, the islands have different shapes. It's also important for the production of raw materials. The fertility of the land is determined per island.
[Mr Creosote] Options for setting land size and shape would have made whole new strategies possible which would have brought some change into the game. The way it is, the scheme is always the same. Differences in island size and shape are tiny and not relevent in my opinion. And the question of raw materials could also have been solved with a 'region' model. Especially concerning fertility, I would have prefered a more realistic model than the rough scale of just three different stages (grows well, grows mediocre, doesn't grow at all) valid for whole islands.
[Tapuak] That's right. A map editor like for example from Sim City would have enriched the game, and it would have made completely different settings possible. Like two big land masses seperated by a river. Additional methods of laying out the maps would also have been interesting for multiplayer mode, to predefine certain spheres of influence.
[Mr Creosote] I considera typically German game, just consider the theme. Its concentration on building up a working economy is a positive aspect. Unfortunately, it suffers from typically German (especially typical for the company) phenomenons: quite complicated to use and each game follows the same scheme (i.e. almost no variety) which makes everything very dry on the long term.
This scheme is way to easy to see through, making longterm motivation impossible. Compared with similarly themed competing products (especially the previously mentioned), it looks like a cheap imitation which fails to copy the strengths of its role models. Very mediocre on the whole, but because of some embarassments like the cheating AI and the frustrating controls, it falls down on my scale even more. I give it a rating of 2.
[Tapuak] What I like best aboutis the focus on long-term development while setting short-term goals at the same time. The needs of the citizens of the different levels are clearly structured and they build upon each other. This simplification of the economic necessities make it unmistakably clear what has to be done for the citizens next to have them promoted even more and to develop the city further. This causes a good balance - on the one hand, you have to build to fulfill the immediate needs, on the other hand, you have to keep an eye on the long-term perspective and plan ahead of the moment.
The competitors put you under pressure not to get lazy and just to let a profitable city run by itself. Considering the future, you have to continue developing. This aspect setsapart from e.g. in which expansion is an end in itself.
On the negative side, variety is limited. The maps resemble each other too much to force the player to develop completely new concepts in a new game. Once you get teh hang of it, the game loses some of its charm. Rating: 5/6.
Translated by Mr Creosote