I’ll admit off the bat, I haven’t historically been a fan of city management games. Oh I played Sim City 2000 as a kid but that was mostly so I could use god mode and see how many disasters I could spawn at once. So imagine my surprise when I booted up Colonists, a cutesy new city building game from new developer Codebyfire and publisher Mode 7 (best known for Frozen Synapse) and got hooked immediately on it’s charming soundtrack and relaxing-yet-challenging pacing.
In Colonists you control a group of self-assembling, self-replicating robots looking to set themselves up on a new planet and prove they can live without the humans bossing them around. Each mission starts you off with a single ship and bot and it’s up to you to bootstrap your way to an industrial society.
The game starts off relatively straightforward; you need wood for houses, you need energy for the wood cutter, you need houses to produce energy, you need food and water for houses, etc. Where Colonists really changes things up is in transportation. Buildings are connected by roads or paths laid down on the game’s square grid; each road section goes from one road post to another and must be between 4 and 6 tiles long. Building roads doesn’t cost you any resources itself, but it’s easy to quickly end up tied to a flawed road network; I had to restart the second mission several times because I got to a point where I couldn’t get resources where they needed to be.
You see, each section of road has it’s own carry-bot who moves resources from one post to another. That means that if you want to, say, move one unit of Food from the fishery to a house it has to be picked up and moved one post at a time. If enough resources are moving down a single section of road, they can start to jam up as the poor little carry-bot struggles to keep up with demand. If a road post has 4 resources sitting on it already then nothing can be dropped there so the carry-bot for the neighboring section might get stuck waiting for the jam to clear up and now things are piling up at the other end of THAT section and suddenly half of your network is jammed up, nothing is moving in either direction, and the only thing you can do is start removing items from the network or (if you’re like me) just restart the level from scratch.
Paths can be used in some places as an alternative to roads as they don’t require posts and can be any length. You can use them to connect groups of buildings that you want to be able to quickly move between; I tend to build neighborhoods of Houses, Wells, and a food since the Food and Water only ever needs to go to the houses and that way it doesn’t jam up my roads.
This is where the game goes from cute and seemingly shallow to very deep very quickly. Each road post can have a set of whitelisted and blacklisted substances, allowing you to tweak when given materials are allowed or blocked from any given post. For example if you have all of your houses on one side and all of your industry on another you might want to block Food and Water from going to the other side, freeing up any road capacity that may have been wasted moving those resources to distance storage. You can dig into the Transportation Priorities menu and set the priority of any given resource relative to everything else, such as making sure Logs are always given priority by every carry-bot.
To be honest I haven’t even come close to wrapping my head around the depths of the transportation systems. Research can be done to upgrade roads to cobblestone or brick to increase movement speed between posts, you can use boats and trains to set up more direct transport on certain maps (each with their own blacklists and whitelists). There’s almost certainly more tricks I could learn about planning my building layouts. But while the depth of options in the transport system can be overwhelming the game manages to stay approachable thanks to it’s artistic touches, soundtrack, and level design. Sure I screwed up and had to start level 2 over like 6 times, but each time was only 10-15 minutes so who cares?
I haven’t yet dug in to the levels marked as containing combat because it’s just not what I want to do when I start up Colonists. There’s also a sandbox mode that allows you to pick any map and tweak settings like resource consumption and combat to make the experience you want after completing the campaign. The campaign itself isn’t very long with two introductory missions that branch into 3 non-combat and 3 combat missions. Still, the developers are actively engaging the community and I expect we’ll see more additions in the weeks and months to come.
Soundtrack & Graphics
The soundtrack and graphics compliment each other very well, and make the game more approachable to people who may not have city building games in their resume. Though the game can be very complicated regarding the transportation systems and setting up the colonies, the soundtrack and graphics keep it very light-hearted. It’s also adorable to think of little robots such as these Wall-E ones emulating human needs outside of their ‘robotic’ destinies. While the soundtrack and graphics add to the game, the mechanics of the city building game make up for a large portion of the play, and honestly matter the most in my opinion.
Look, I play a lot of shooters and strategy games and RPGs. But sometimes I just want to sit down, relax, and not worry about some four-armed alien or crazed grenade-wielding Australian sneaking up behind me. Colonists is just about perfect for those times.
The Colonists is currently available on Steam now for $24.99 USD.
*This review was penned by Courtney’s husband Chris*