Towns Review for Mac OS X

You are responsible for managing a small colony, trying to build a town above a dungeon filled with evil creatures. To do this, you assign tasks to your townsfolk (there’s no direct control over them here) and let them get on with it. This means getting them to chop trees, harvest plants, till fields and construct buildings. With these raw materials and buildings in place, you can then construct tools with which to build more advanced items, food, decorations and armaments. Each citizen can be outfitted with weapons and armour, and in fact doing so is essential to ensure they aren’t all wiped out by critters roaming around the map. Citizens can be converted into soldiers, at which point they’ll no longer do any work and instead stand around waiting to come to a citizen’s aid (you can also put them on patrol or have them “supervise” citizens’ work, in which case the citizens will become more productive but less happy). The happiness of your townsfolk is one of the most important things to manage. Having a happy town will cause new immigrants to join your town, thus making it bigger and able to produce more stuff.

You can also attract “heroes”, who cannot be influenced at all and will just hang about in your tavern and eat your food, but will occasionally go and scout out unexplored areas for you, attempting to kill any hostile creatures in the process (and gaining experience and levelling up). Levelled-up heroes gain extra abilities, so looking after them is essential for being able to dig into deeper dungeon levels. They’ll also help out with the periodic sieges, where a bunch of monsters will swarm your town.

Though billed as a city-building and management game, I don’t think anyone would argue that Towns is an attempt to make Dwarf Fortress for the masses. I found I couldn’t stop playing. I wanted more, more, more. I wanted to dig to deeper depths of the dungeon, craft better items, attract more heroes. Building and decorating the actual town took a back seat to all of that. The art style is cheery, and although the animation and sound quality are about as basic as possible, they’ve succeeded for the most part in building an interface that’s easy to use, for the most part.

For the most part. There are some annoyances, but given the continued development of the game, I suspect many will get ironed out eventually. For starters, although it easy to find out that members of your town are unhappy, it’s never clear why they’re unhappy. It’s usually through having too much work to do (or not enough decorations in the town), but it would be helpful to see a detailed breakdown. On my latest playthrough, my entire town got wiped out at the beginning, save for two survivors, who were miserable for around 30 days of game time, meaning that no new immigrants would come to replenish the deceased until they cheered up (in the end, I just stopped all production until the happiness meters rose).

There are also some other irritations. Queuing a task, whether it’s building a wall, paving a road or placing an item, draws a blue square around the tile, which remains until the task is completed. You can cancel any of these later, but there’s nothing to tell you what the task is that is waiting to be performed. There’s also nothing to indicate why the task hasn’t been performed already. On a similar note, you can change the speed of the game, but the maximum (and default) speed often doesn’t feel fast enough. You can prioritise different kinds of tasks, but you can’t assign individuals to a specific role. And so on.

The game does provide a tutorial, and whilst it is extremely basic, it does a good job of teaching you the mechanics, not least of all because you have to repeat everything you’ve learned from previous tutorials, however some things, like the use of scaffolding , are not explained and so you’ll likely have to look up things on the unofficial wiki. Mining and digging seem unnecessarily fiddly, and you’ll lose townsfolk to falling into pits, which although a perfectly reasonable mechanic, makes you hate the interface all the more. But my biggest personal bugbear is accidentally deleting a “zone”. When you delete, say a bakery zone, the building and all its contents remain, but you can’t then build the zone back. The reason this is annoying is because the menu to delete an item in the square you’ve clicked on is about 2 pixels away from the one to delete the zone. Then there’s the highly annoying “ghosts of past heroes”, which spawn repeatedly over human corpses. Citizens will try to collect the corpses, and get killed, creating another corpse and another ghost, ad nauseum. Unless you either disable the collection of corpses (as well as anything else in the vicinity) or manually destroy everything in the area (by right-clicking on each one), they can end up whittling down your entire township and provide the fastest path to failure.

The most unforgivable design flaw however, is the inability to save multiple towns. When you start a new game, you have to delete the previous one (unless you switch to a different map type, but each of those are more challenging than the basic map). I can understand the rationale behind only allowing one save slot per town, but not allowing me to save the town and start a new one to try something out just seems like utter madness on the part of the developers.

Although each person in the town has a set of stats, none of those will influence anything other than combat. So it doesn’t matter who does a given task, they’re all equally skilled at everything. Though this does simplify matters to some extent, it does add to the idea that these people are completely interchangeable. All of these design decisions add up to an overarching issue with the game: none of the townsfolk have any personality, and I simply do not care about any of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, the game itself is utterly enjoyable, particularly if you enjoy the crafting aspects. But forget about there being any emergent gameplay. The game as it is doesn’t have any elements that give rise to any sort of storytelling, at least not beyond “remember that time that all of the townsfolk got stuck in a hole?”, and it seems like this is something it absolutely should have. I want my citizens to react to events, and be distinct in what they do rather than what they wear. Instead, I fear we’re left with something that lacks the approachability of The Sims, the scale of SimCity, and the stories of Dwarf Fortress. You can certainly have a great time with it, but you’ll ultimately come away wanting more.

Performance & Quality

The game area scales to your resolution, so at higher resolutions, you simply see more of the map. The game has a very unpolished feel to it, with low-resolution icons in the interface and spelling mistakes in the text. The music is lovely, but is played on a loop. After several hours of listening to it, I had to turn the sound off, which is a shame because doing so means you can miss some important audio cues.

Gameplay Video

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