Banished is about the only title this year so far that’s literally gotten the words “they sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore” out of my mouth. Somewhere between Anno and Patricians, there’s Banished, and for fans of micromanagement city-builders, Banished is certainly worth looking into… for 12 hour binges at a time.

No money ever exchanges hands, it’s all about looking after your own. 

Every city builder has its own way to ruin your progress. SimCity had supernatural disasters, Anno encouraged you to develop too quickly until your empire tumbled, and games like Patricians or Tropico screwed you economically. In those games, you usually get out of these situations unscathed if you’re a good player, but with the relatively more intimate Banished, there’s something ghoulish about watching your 12 hour old town burn to death, your citizens unable to throw enough buckets on the fire to stop it from spreading.

It’s a little upsetting, but in a way that shows you just how involved you are in it all. Banished isn’t about plopping down houses and watching the residential numbers go up, it’s about creating a sustainable economy within the confounds of your own little Henry David Thorean paradise. Or M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Or one of those US survivalist establishments. You pick. No money ever exchanges hands, it’s all about looking after your own.

It's not about growth, it's about sustainability.

It’s not about growth, it’s about sustainability.

After playing the 5 part tutorial (which is wholly necessary), Banished sort of throws you right into the fray. An arrogant city-builder of yonder might think he know’s what he’s doing, but it’s key to remember that in this particular city-builder, keeping an eye on the townsfolk and their gainful employment is more important than anything else. If you don’t pay attention to what the game wants you to do, you are in for a frustrating time.

It’s not unusual in Banished to have up to 50% of your population farming land. It’s absolutely imperative that you produce enough food to be stored in warehouses for the winter months, since fisherman, hunters, and gatherers produce an incredible amount less than the farmers. On you first few runs, your town will likely starve to death. There is a sense at first that Banished is against you, but once you learn the five or so unspoken rules the game is actually a cake-walk up until the moment where a natural disaster takes you back around 7 or so hours work.

Repairing the aftermath of this fire would cause most of my population to die of starvation, it's quicker to start over.

Repairing the aftermath of this fire would cause most of my population to die of starvation, it’s quicker to start over.

You can play with natural disasters off if you want for a more pleasing sandbox experience, but they do add to much needed depth. There isn’t a whole lot of content in Banished, and it’s more about expanding and working closely with what there is. Once things do become clockwork, it gets a little old… but that’s after 12 hours. Smaller disasters such as an infected crop or diseased paddock are fun to recover from, and not too difficult.

There’s a huge amount of depth for the asking price

For example, you can’t conjure up animals out of nowhere, but you can breed them. Laying down paddocks for live-stock is therefore a matter of placing the paddock in an area where livestock already is. If a paddock becomes infected, you can split the paddock so long as you have another in your town and they will be herded into the unaffected farm. That’s a nice touch, and considering the game is built entirely by one guy — incredibly, actually — named Luke Hodorowicz, there’s a huge amount of depth for the asking price of around 11-15 quid.

The farm to house ratio might seem strange, but it's just right.

The farm to house ratio might seem strange, but it’s just right.

It’s much easier to keep your townspeople happy than it is alive.

In the top right there, you’ll see all available jobs for your townsfolk, and each townsperson will default to laborer. Laborer’s will be anyone otherwise unemployed, and children or students who cannot work. If a townsperson dies, a laborer will automatically take their place which is handy given the amount of death that happens. In Banished, townsfolk can die of anything from being crushed by giant stones, to sickness or old age. They have have work accidents, or freeze to death. They can, and will, starve. It’s all pretty realistic, actually, withing the confinements of its own rules.

Juggling who does what is the meat of the game, and this changes with every season, or to meet the demands of what you people need. Banished is not like Anno, in that their happiness does not relate to things. They’re happy if they’re fed and healthy, and to do that you can create a small village doctors, or collect herbs to create medicine. You can also brew different kinds of tasty alcoholic beverages, although that uses up all important apples for food. It’s much easier to keep your townspeople happy than it is alive.

Resources can be collected, but you've to be careful what you use.

Resources can be collected, but you’ve to be careful what you use.

You can quickly farm the enormous area you have for building quickly for resources. Wood, iron, stone, and game can all be killed by your townspeople by selecting the tool and dragging the area you want cleared out. This is very fast, much faster than the buildings designed to do this, but it isn’t sustainable. For instance, the logger will replant trees he knocks down, but he’ll do it slowly. Mining stone and iron out of the ground with a quarry and mine is also much more sustainable, but they can use up to 15 manpower each, which is a huge amount. My town had 240 people in around 9 hours of game time. 93 of those were farmers.

If you run out of tools, you cannot build, or farm, and everyone will starve. 

However, this method of clearing the land is much quicker during the winter months when wood for fires runs out — and it will run out — and your townsfolk start freezing to death. Another thing to watch out for is the amount of tools in rotation. You can create either iron or steel tools, but steel requires coal which requires a mine dedicated to coal, not iron. Iron is a more widely used resource, so if you stick to iron tools, which wear down easier, you might find your blacksmith gnawing his eyes out from over-time. If you run out of tools, you cannot build, or farm, and everyone will starve.

Churches will improve overall happiness.

Churches will improve overall happiness.

Their lives are ever held in a delicate balance.

There aren’t a huge amount of buildings in Banished, and there isn’t a tiered unlock system like in other city builders. You can build anything you want from the start, and this makes progression feel a little less exciting than other games in the genre. That said, it is more important to focus on the well-being of your people, and their lives are ever held in a delicate balance. It is very easy to lose your entire town because of one bad winter. For instance, if you don’t dedicate enough farmers to your fields, they won’t harvest crop in time to stock for winter, and everyone will die during the season.

Most buildings can have more than one person working in them, and it’s better to put more than one in a resource building before building another one. Especially since these people both farm, fish, hunt, etc, and transport their goods. You can build dirt and stone roads, stone being faster, but it uses up a hell of a lot of stone. Again, one of the many careful choices you’ll have to make in Banished.

The quarry and mines take a long time to deplete, but when they do, the land is screwed.

The quarry and mines take a long time to deplete, but when they do, the land is screwed.

Banished is gripping. It’s also pretty creepy.

There is trading in Banished, although I seldom use it. It’s much better to focus on sustainability. That said, you’re unable to make leather/wool clothing without the right equipment, and if you can’t find sheep, you’ll have to import wool. Wrapping your townsfolk up allows them to work longer in winter, otherwise they’ll be running home early to warm up, or alternatively to crawl into a ball and die.

Banished is gripping. It’s also pretty creepy. I couldn’t work out why it was given the relatively dodgy title of Banished, until I looked at the year of my town and saw it was year 97. That’s almost 100 years of struggling through harsh winters with no technological investments. Playing on 10x speed for 90% of the game, when I slowed the thing down to the normal game speed, I watched them ghostly traverse my altered plain, and I pondered wondered to myself… what am I doing? I looked at the clock, and it was 1am. Banished hooked me, and I’ll hook you too. It doesn’t have the depth of other city builders, but what depth it has, it has in completely different places, making it well worth owning, even if the one man team could have used a handful more for a little spit and polish. Strangely, what I loved most about Banished was that at no point did money ever exchange hands…

I can tell a lot of people are going to complain about Banished, claiming their townsfolk are starving to death for no reason. There is a reason. You’re starving them.