I admit it, I’m a bit of a sucker for building games. Long-time readers will not be shocked, given how often I’ve written about Minecraft in the past. So my fascination with Shining Rock Software’s Banished really shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Banished casts you in the role of leader of a band of banished settlers out wandering the wilderness. You’ve decided to put down roots and start building yourselves a new community, and it’s up to you to see that it not only survives, but thrives.
Many of the challenges you’ll face appear to be obvious, like rain and the winter months, the need for food and shelter, having to make clothing, etc. But what struck me was that while initially the game felt pretty easy, as you go on playing you really start to get a sense of what a razor’s edge your town is actually balanced on.
Many of the resources you’ll rely on are finite. Deer are an excellent early source of not only food, but also of leather. It’s well worth it to build one or even several hunting cabins on the outskirts of your settlement. You might want to cut back their activity later once you have other sources of food set up though, because you CAN over-hunt and run the deer into extinction. Likewise, the waters of your town map can be overfished to extinction.
Stone and iron, invaluable building materials, are both often plentiful on the land’s surface, but the longer you rely on surface collection, the farther your villagers have to go to collect it. Eventually you’ll have to begin quarrying and mining, and those are among the most dangerous jobs your villagers can perform in Banished, often leading to deaths among the workers.
You have no direct control over the inhabitants of your town. You tell them what jobs need to be done, and they’ll figure out how to get them done, and when they’ll be done. The best you can do is influence these things by assigning the individual villagers specific jobs, and by giving them a general sense of which areas of work are of higher priority. All of your villagers can perform all jobs adequately, and if a villager is educated, they’ll perform whatever job they’re assigned to that much better. There are also no equivalents to a technology tree; you have the capability to build any structure you need for your town right away, provided you have enough workers to do the work and enough resources to create the structure. You don’t have to wait or unlock anything first.
There’s a lot to keep track of, and if you lose track of anything too badly – for instance, if you let yourself get distracted away from building new housing for your population – you can find yourself in a population crash that will end the game. New houses allow adult villagers to move out on their own and start new families, providing your town with vital children and students to become next year’s laborers. If your quarries and mines claim too many lives and there are no kids to replace them, you may find that you’ve spent several years building a lovely ghost town.
The sense of balance is very beautiful, and keeps you remarkably engaged. I found while playing it that I was constantly looking over my village, planning the best way to run it, whether I needed to strip out parts that weren’t useful any more, looking ahead to where best I might expand to. I was always feeling the pull of the game, always connected to it, and found that my town really started to feel like a real place. I really cared about it.
This is helped by the wonderful aesthetics of the game. It’s a thing of beauty, from the visuals to the atmosphere created by the music and even the weather effects. Despite the feeling that you could plunge the town into disaster, it still manages to feel like a world you’d want to escape to for a couple of hours in an evening to get away for a while.
Banished is a real treat of a game, one I can’t recommend enough. It’s available for Windows on Steam for $19.99.