Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
January 2007

1701: A Fine Year for City Builders

The big release games of 2007 are still months away, yet while you are waiting for Supreme Commander, Spore, Halo 3 or whatever else, there are still a few quality smaller titles that can keep your gaming hours entertaining. Last month's fun with Sid Meir's Railroads! got me in the mood for more historical fantasy, so with that in mind I picked up 1701 A.D. (aka Anno 1701), a city builder / strategy game.

Before I go any further, I have to warn you, this game is not a simple fast-paced fix. If you are looking for something to play for just a few minutes, flee from 1701; this game takes some serious time dedication.

So what is it with Germans and their crazy complicated games? I remember first watching Settlers of Catan and thinking, wow, this doesn't even look manageable, let alone fun. Of course, once I actually got into the game it turned out to be a ton of fun and take a lot more brain power than 90% of board games out there but still, it isn't the kind of thing you play in a hurry.

OK, so maybe you are thinking Settlers isn't that complicated. Well, take the resource-gathering / colony-building base of Settlers, throw in the city building of Sim City, the tech and politics of Civilization and the trade routes of Railroads and you have a pretty good idea of what 1701 is like.

Needy and Greedy

So the year is 1701 and you are an up and coming sea captain who through a load of luck has been given a ship and a command from the Queen to sail forth to the New World and stake a claim for the motherland. After finding a suitable coast on a wooded island you set up a warehouse and begin forming an outpost. From here on, life should be easy, right? Just sit in the sun while the gold pours in? Not hardly. Expect to spend the entire game darting about trying to fit the ever-growing needs of your population. Being a captain isn't all its cracked up to be!

Advancement in your civilization is based on meeting the needs of your population. Your people begin as "pioneers" who have but simple wants: a little food and a place to gather. Thankfully, these resources are all renewable and cheap and before long, you'll find that your people are now "settlers" Settlers, and each civilization advancement, provide more gold for your coffers but also require you to fill more and more needs. Settlers won't be happy without a place to worship and some clothes to wear, which again, isn't too hard to provide.

Greenpeace might not approve of some of the citizens' needs.

Things really start to get complicated when your people become "citizens." To put it simply, citizens are greedy: in addition to the basics of life, they also want alcohol, tobacco, and education. Think they're being too needy? Want to try prohibition? Good luck. Let your citizens go without something they want and they will go on a riot, burning down everything you have worked so hard to build up. Yes, advancement comes with a price.

Beyond citizens, there are two more advancement levels, each requiring a greater number of resources--and resources that are much more expensive and more difficult to find. When you combine these demands with the balancing act of running multiple colonies with their needs you can see why this game gets so complex.

Being King Ain't Easy

All of the farms and factories you build don't run for free and after not too long (well, five hours is not long for this game) I found myself running out of cash. While the Queen and other colonizers were kind enough to give me some cash, I couldn't understand why I was hemorrhaging so much gold.

Looking closer at where my money was coming from and going to, I saw that my "build some of every pretty building" approach was costing far more than it was raking in. Building resources only drains money; the only way to gain money is by having more tax-paying citizens. With that in mind, I changed strategies, and after building some massive housing projects I found myself back in the black.

Building tons and tons of houses started to really bring in a load of cash and I realized that rather than manually hauling resources from island to island, I now had the money to let the "Free Trader" do my dirty work and just pay him for deliveries. The Free Trader is a neutral third party that sends his ships around to buy and sell resources. It is the one break this game gives you, and using his services can save you a lot of hassle. Despite the cost, I found it a great deal easier to let him do the resource deliveries while I worked on housing and a few specific materials.

Overseas trading is essential to keep your economy running

The Free Trader not only removes some of the hassles or resource-gathering but he also provides much needed distractions in the form of side quests. Now, these quests are probably the most mundane quests I have ever seen in a game (sail to this point on the map and pick up a survivor or go attack this pirate ship…) but still, the break is nice and the rewards can stimulate progress.

As you go about on trades or errands it isn't too uncommon to run into Pirates who want nothing more than to rob you of your booty. The sad part is, these scallywags don't even have enough firepower to stop your trade ships, let alone your war vessels. Pirates end up just being an annoyance and rarely cause much of a disturbance.

The pathetic Pirates bring up a constant theme of this game. The resources and needs system was thoroughly designed, but just about every other interaction of the game is rather bland and shallow. Combat is decent, diplomacy is rather dull, and quests leave much to be desired, yet because the game shines where it aims to (city and civilization management), they don't ruin things too much.

Eye-pleasing Icing

Despite a few rocky areas in gameplay, the developers at Sunflowers have done a terrific job of giving 1701 a great look and feel. Even on my aging machine, the graphics are fantastic, with gorgeous water, buildings, and citizens. You can smoothly scroll from a cloud-level view right down a street-level scene and it stays gorgeous throughout. The houses and buildings are a little cookie-cutterish but they look so good you won't care. Game play is smooth and crash free (which is a huge relief after the hours you pour into your colonies) and the menus are, for the most part, intuitive. Sounds are pretty good and are appropriately located around whatever noisy building or land feature you are near. Music is fine but not memorable, and that may not be a bad thing considering how long you'll spend in front of the game.

I've never played such a polished looking simulator.

My favorite way to play games is working cooperatively with friends, and 1701 wins major points from me for including a cooperative multiplayer mode. Of course, there is also a competitive mode as well but that isn't as uncommon as co-op in strategy games. Multiplayer should provide a lot of replayablity but it also has the same drawback that pulling out the board game Risk does. After playing the game for three hours, do you really care enough about winning to finish it?

One Game Does Not Fit All

Some reviewers have claimed that this is a game for every one of all ages. Those reviewers are wrong. This is not a game for people with little time (after 10 hours on one game I didn't even feel half way finished). This is not a game for people who like fast-paced action or have a hard time managing details. This is not a game for people who like military strategy. This IS a game for people who enjoy city builders, and I can certainly say it is one of the best city builders I have played.

If you enjoy city builders and resource management games, you are going to love this game. The graphics are phenomenal, the finances complex and the colonial setting is fun. This really is a fun game, but know yourself before you buy it. If not, you won't even make it through one game.

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