A cute, yet challenging management game
We have all played RPGs where you control a hero in search of people to save and treasure to loot. When all the bad guys have been killed, we go back to town, grab some supplies, have a rest, and then head back out again for more adventure. We are taking the town for granted. Think about who is running the town, and all the effort that had to be put in to build the tavern for you to sleep in, and all the food that is ready for you to eat. Towns is a game that turns the tables on a classic dungeon crawler. You build the town, maintain it, and ultimately you want heroes to come and use your facilities. It is a game that is constantly being updated by developer SMP, and has found some success on Steam Greenlight. This Minecraft-like update cycle has drawn some complaints from people who expected to be buying a full game. However if you go into it knowing that the game is evolving, there is certainly enjoyment to be had.
When you start up a new game, a randomly generated map is created for you, and you are granted a handful of townsfolk raring to bring some civilization to the area. You control the action from an isometric viewpoint, and it is your job to help these people survive the hostile environment, and to build a successful town. You can move between the altitude levels in the world using the scroll wheel, going down into the earth as well as upwards. The graphics and sounds are very basic (the entire game download takes up a mere 19 Mb on your hard drive). There are two very short audio loops which are addictive at first, but later just become an annoyance. However pretty visuals and epic soundtracks are not what games like this are about. The concept of Towns will be familiar to anyone who has played Dwarf Fortress. Through commands and production queues, the townsfolk will go about their business without you having to micromanage. To start with, the most important thing you will have to think about is food. So, choosing the gather command and selecting an area of fruit trees will set your people to work. Then you might want to start tilling some fields and planting some wheat. Next you will want to make some buildings - perhaps a bakery to make some bread out of the wheat you just planted. Choose the chop command and select some trees, then map out an area for your bakery, and your settlers will oblige.
Soon enough, after you have worked your way through the clunky menu system, you will have a functioning food production line, which can be automated so that when people notice that there is wheat to be harvested, they will do so, and turn it into bread. Once food is sorted out, you can start making tools and new buildings like masonries, and bedrooms for your townspeople, as this will be important to keep them happy. Once you have got this early game sorted out, it is quite relaxing to set out tasks for your people, and then watch them happily go about their business. Watching your town grow in exactly the way you want it to is quite satisfying. However, getting to the point in the game where you really know what you are doing takes time, and brings me to the weakest part of Towns.
The in-game tutorials are next to useless. They give you just about a basic knowledge of what is going on, but it is never explained why you are doing these things. One tutorial told me to build a certain utility, but did not tell me what the steps for building it were. Most things in the game beyond a few of the basic commands you have to figure out yourself, or check online for. It is easy to see how people have become frustrated with the unfinished nature of Towns, as I certainly do not want to spend hours reading wiki pages or watching tutorials on YouTube after spending money on a game. That is precisely what I had to do though, and I learned a bunch of new stuff that made sense, that had simply not been explained to me by the game itself.