It should be noted that most of the games I’ve played recently I didn’t go out to discover myself. Mostly I discovered them due to the persistent badgering of my friend Ris. I have a very love hate relationship towards gaming because it is very counterproductive. If you’re sitting down and playing games, then you can’t write, think about your plot or do any sensible kind of work. I’ll confess it was one of the reasons I liked having a Tamagotchi as a child because although you were constantly aware that you were ‘playing a game’ you could also put it into your pocket and forget about it while you busied yourself with school work.
I didn’t think that this sort of experience existed anymore until I was introduced to Banished.
Developed by Shining Rock Software, Banished is an indie game which makes you responsible for a group of villagers who had had to leave their birth place, most probably under suspect circumstances. You have to make sure they have lodgings, food and sufficient resources not only to get through the winter but to expand their population as well. You don’t have any direct control over the villagers, rather functioning as an omnipresent power that works as the inspiration as to where (or whether) they should put up that Brewery… You can decide how difficult you want your starting positions to be and you can decide whether your villagers can be affected by natural disasters or not so the game provides a fairly decent learning curve (though the training wheels fall off eventually, so be warned).
And, you can simply leave the game to run by itself.
It’s one of the reason’s I’ve clocked so many hours in it, because I set up my village and then leave to see how my new developments affect my people (or whether they bother completing it at all). I’ve had the game running in boardroom meetings, during NaNoWriMo, over weekends. Apart from trying to figure out how village expansion rate vs food resources, the game requires very little mental processing (if you’re not me that is, I went obsessive, set up an excel spreadsheet and tried to beat the game with pure mathematical statistics). You can simply set it up and let it run.
Apart from World of Goo that I played with its release, Banished was the first real exposure that I had to indie gaming. Originally, I had resisted playing the game simply because, like a badly advertised self published novel, I didn’t think that it would be worth my time. But, the persistence of a friend won out and I was proven delightfully wrong. The mechanics were solid, the graphics delightful and the attention to detail (such as needing to maintain a reasonable hunting rate, lest one depopulated the deer) was a marvel. And, it’s not as easy as it first appears, especially when you realise for instance that your population can become too old to reproduce.
It’s not action packed, it’s not emotional (thought you can get pretty emotional when you see a hurricane happily make its way through your village) and it doesn’t have a story. (Or, your village might not but I make a point of taking note who is born and what they achieve in their lifetime. Especially the child named Demon…) But, it is fun and that is the basic building block, no, the foundation of games. And, it was developed by a single person, so you have to give him kudos for that.
It’s a game that feels as if it has been specially designed for myself. My obsession with numbers and predicting the statistical outcome of resource procurement, combined with my tendency to zone out in front of the computer without the need to think, made this the perfect game.
Ultimately, it’s the kind of game I’d comfortably recommend to anybody who needs a distraction without being completely sucked into another world. It’s reasonably priced and if you consider how many hours of gaming you can get out of it (as well as replay value – there’s something very exciting about starting up a new village, because you don’t know whether they’ll make it…) it’s certainly an economical buy.