Banished by Shining Rock Software is a recent addition to the city-building genre nestled somewhere in the gaming galaxy between the Sim City and Farming Simulator franchises. It takes a special kind of patience for this game; not just the patience to slowly cycle through various building locations or meticulously lay out a farm, but the kind of patience that can handle hard winters, poor crop yields, inevitable death, and catastrophic tornados. If this sounds like your idea of a fun Friday night, you really don’t know what you’re missing by not owning Banished.
While Banished reflects the pitfalls of a start-up village in the middle of nowhere, it isn’t exactly the most pleasant game to behold. This really isn’t a criticism; the game’s focus isn’t on pretty graphics, and you get this impression early on. I note it here, though, because aesthetic is an intrinsic quality of most city simulators. Part of the point of constructing a city, after all, is to sit back after construction and lord over your peasantry, basking in the beauty and splendor of your city à la Ozymandias. You can do this in Banished, but don’t expect to get swept away in the intricate details of eloquent city life or stunning cityscapes.
Your people are simple folk, banished from some far away land for some unknown reason. I suspect that reason is that they are a slow, idle folk that get their basic needs confused all the time, but I could be wrong. I still, for example, have no idea why some of my people started walking around randomly in the middle of the forest when they got hungry. I had food in the houses, I swear!
This leads me to my next point about Banished, though: it’s a little rough around the edges. As of writing this, the game is still being consistently patched and debugged. In no way should this deter you from purchasing the game, though, because it really is a lot of fun. Its bugs and mechanical pitfalls are small and the game itself works well doing what it does best, which is to provide a challenging survival experience. In this sense it really isn’t a city-builder. You build a city, yes, but the point isn’t to build a city, but to help one survive.
Survival isn’t easy, either, but Banished gives you plenty of choices for how to accomplish the goal. You can construct farms and grow various crops. Each crop has its own characteristics, which makes it worth planting. Corn takes longer, for instance. You can have your workers fish for their food or hunt game, too, or even trade for food when resources are scarce.
All of these tools, though, are for naught when your city is pitted against the terrors of chance. There is nothing more depressing than watching your people die in droves during a harsh winter when you couldn’t get enough firewood prepared (in my case, it was because they happened to be too slow in building a lumberjack hut, but I’m not judging!).
The mechanics of Banished are solid, but they’re a bit difficult to navigate at first. It is absolutely imperative that you play the tutorial; if you don’t, you’ll be as lost as the people building your city, and you don’t want to ever be that lost. The controls, though, while not necessarily intuitive, are certainly easy to pick up. The perfunctory operations are automated, like harvesting crops, but Banished requires you to think ahead, planning out your winters and your summers. I had to start several different cities, each time trying out new plans for building a city. One time I started with a fishery, another time with a farm. Eventually, these initial steps would lead into a more elaborate plan, and like a good chess player, I began to see strategies behind the building plans I would pursue.
Overall, Banished is a quality, if a bit atypical, city-builder that requires patience and skill to master. It’s easily earned its score, but don’t go into looking for a game that’s got the polish of the Sim City franchise or the grand, complicated scale of the Anno series; it’s fantastic, but has its limits.