Banished: A Tale of 15 Cities
The end of 2014 brought with it Steam’s annual Winter Sale, the magical time when I ritually spend tens of dollars on games I’m never going to play because they’re On Sale.
This year, in violation of tradition, I actually played one.
Banished is a resource management sim. You’re given a group of travelers that have been exiled from their homeland and an extremely limited stockpile of resources. Your job, as a benevolent god (you have to be benevolent or everyone dies, sadly) is to help this small group of nomads settle and grow into a thriving metropolis.
This, as it turns out, sounds easier than it actually is.
The first fifteen times I played Banished I did it with the difficulty set to medium. (The difficulty setting determines how many resources you start out with.) This was a mistake. I made a lot of those.
Attempt #1) Planted a lot of crops. Too many crops. Everyone froze to death.
Attempt #2) Built a shelter. Set up a forestry station. Planted one field of crops. Everyone starved to death.
Attempt #3) Planted one field of crops and built a shelter. Set up hunters and gatherers. Lasted one year, ran out of firewood, everyone froze to death.
It started to sink in that my resources were really, really limited, and that I didn’t have the luxury of building a chapel when I didn’t have a blacksmith. I had to plan ahead to meet the next immediate need of my budding community.
Attempt #4: Crops, built a shelter, hunters, gatherers, firewood: I was on a roll. Ran out of tools. Built a smithy. Ran out of iron, but still didn’t have enough tools. Forced the people to dig a mine with what I’m assuming were sticks and their bare hands. Built a market. Started to build a chapel. Everyone died of old age.
“What, what?” I said.
It turns out that people are a resource, too, and apparently when everyone is living in one house and eating nothing but cabbage there’s not a lot of boning going on. The villagers had stopped having babies, so there wasn’t anyone to take over their jobs when they died.
Attempt #5: Crops, shelter, hunters, gatherers, firewood, mine, blacksmith, single family homes… crop infestation. Apparently it’s a bad idea to have all of your fields laid out side by side with nothing between them. The infestation spread from one field to the next, wiping out all of my crops. Everyone starved to death.
Attempt 6: The building everyone was living in caught fire. With no nearby wells, they weren’t able to put it out. Everyone froze to death.
Attempts 7-11: These villages all died out in the first year because the randomly generated terrain was inhospitable. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Attempts 12-14: Quit immediately because I decided that the randomly generated terrains were inhospitable.
Attempt 15: Set the difficulty to easy because fuck this. Started out with a variety of available crop seeds, cattle, and a few single family homes. Put wells next to the homes. Discovered that I could harvest wood, iron and stone from the surrounding area without setting up foresters, mines, or quarries. (Yes, it took me this long to figure that out.) Grew a thriving community with active trade centers, bustling markets, widely spaced fields, adequate housing, and a shitload of wells. Welcomed a group of nomads into my town. Those fuckers gave everyone dysentery.
But I was prepared. I had already built a hospital. No one died.
SUCK IT, NOMADS.
That town is still going strong, although I’m starting to run out of room for new growth. I’m interested to see what happens when I have nowhere else for people to build and no way to increase resource production.
I failed a lot while playing Banished, but I learned something new from each failure and was able to apply that to my next attempt. This made failures less frustrating and successes more satisfying; I wasn’t succeeding because I pressed buttons in the right order, I was succeeding because I learned from my mistakes.
I like Banished. It’s frustrating as hell, but if you’re persistent and adaptable, it can be incredibly rewarding.
Update: After I wrote this, I welcomed 40 nomads into my town. Then my town experienced massive die-offs because of measles, followed by tuberculosis, followed by starvation.