Banished Review – Civilization Simulation of the Year
Civilizations massive sphere of influence, both in the realm of strategy games and in the realm of gaming, in general, continues to grow. The success of the Civilization franchise has spawned a series of spin-off games that deal one way or another with building a Civilization and lasting the test of time. Some of the most successful Civilization spin-offs are Tropico the island civilization game and Banished which is a new game and newcomer to the civilization simulation arena.
Now as a person interested in gaming, let alone online computer gaming, its a safe bet that you have many modern conveniences at home. These probably include electricity, central ac, cable tv, internet, phone, and most likely a small cache of computers and portable devices. Well, what would you do if the government kicked in your door, grabbed you and your family, perhaps your neighbor and their family, and hauled all of you out to a deserted island and left you there? Well, in a nutshell, this is the premise of Banished.
How would you, your family, and the other families, that have been banished from civilization survive? How would you collect food, keep warm, build shelter, and thrive in the harsh wilderness? How do you think you would fare? Do you have an inner Ron Swanson that would be fine or an inner Tom Haverford that would likely die in less than 24 hours.
Banish presents you with this very scenario. The game starts off with a half dozen social outcasts who have been banished from civilization and are forced to survive in the wilderness and guess what they have elected you as their leader. Congrats.
On the surface, this sounds easy enough right? Just chop down some trees, plant some gardens, catch some fish, love balls, and build houses so people can make babies. Easy-peasy… right? Well, this ain’t your momma’s civilization game.
The developers of Banished have done a masterful job at making this simple game into one of the most challenging puzzles you can imagine. They accomplished this by making the simple aspects of resource gathering into a complex feedback loop where every single action has a reaction, and more often than not the reaction is negative and based on the real world laws of nature.
For example, each game starts in spring, and you have until winter to clear enough land to build a shelter for your people, plant some gardens, collect firewood, build tools, and build a make-shift fishery. Needless to say on your first turn you will barely have time to do any of these tasks. Once winter hits you are crippled as Atlanta in a snow flurry. Your only choice is to hope and pray that nobody freezes or starves to death.
While other games like civilization put an emphasis on money, food, and resources equally, in Banished people are the primary key resource. If your population dips below a certain amount you won’t have the manpower to get firewood, mine for resources, collect food and basically survive. Unlike other games, there is a huge emphasis on providing for your people and protecting them from the environment which is unforgiving and very harsh. Your people will need homes, food, clothing, tools, medicine, spiritual guidance, and even emotional support. Every mechanic of this game ties into other parts of the game, which in turn feeds back normally in a negative manner.
For example, let’s say you build a mine out in the woods, and its too far from your city then it will take your miners extra time to transport the mined resources back to the city, which increases their exposure time and the likelihood they will die. Also, mining is very hazardous and it’s not uncommon to have a mine shaft collapse and kill 5 to 7 miners at a time. Losing 5 to 7 people will severely handicap your city, especially if its expended its wood resources. Again all resources are finite and eventually run out.
At first, you will be dependent upon wood for building materials, once you have chopped down all of the trees you will need to start digging some mines to get stone. When you deforest your area your population loses the ability to get medicinal herbs, which can only be found in old growth forests. Even if you replant the forests it will take years before they can produce enough medical herbs and game animals to sustain your population again.
In addition to the complex network of negative feedback loops, this game also has a series of random disasters that will test your towns ability to survive. These disasters include tornadoes, fires, and diseases. While tornadoes are a pure act of God, fires and diseases can be brought on by your people. Again if you over deforest the surrounding wilderness you will run out of medical herbs and your population will get sick and die. If you build too many houses it increases the chances that someone in your village will catch their hut on fire during the middle of winter. And don’t forget about winter, which is a disaster in itself.
Given the complex playstyle of this game, and its unique still of play, Banished has done what few other games have been able to do. It has redefined the gaming format for civilization simulations by creating the first ever survival civilization simulation.