This is the first part of a new occasional series that I’ll be running here on the website in which I’ll be taking a look in more detail at some of my favourite video games. It’s a lot of fun to review brand-new games and keep up-to-date with all the goings-on in the video games industry, but sometimes it’s nice to step back and just geek out about some of my all-time favourites!
If you’re a regular reader of my gaming content you’ve probably seen me talk about Banished before; it’s a mainstay on my lists of recommended titles whenever there’s a big Steam sale! But despite having recommended Banished on several occasions going back to the website’s first month in operation in 2019, this is the first time I’ve taken a deeper look at the game.
Banished was released in 2014 for PC, and I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about it. The early- and mid-2010s were a mess for me for all manner of reasons, and my memory isn’t great even under the best circumstances! Suffice to say that I discovered Banished shortly after its launch, and for a relatively low price of admission when compared to titles in a similar city-building space, I thought it was at least worth a shot. The fact that I’m still playing it almost eight years later should tell you how I feel about it!
What astonishes me about Banished is that its developer – Shining Rock Software – is actually just one person. A single person managed to create this incredibly intricate and challenging game, one that exists in a pretty unique niche within the overall city-building game realm. I think that’s absolutely incredible, and well worth taking a moment to consider. Banished was a labour of love – and it shows. Maybe it doesn’t have the flashiest graphics or the most complex and numerous in-game mechanics, but it brings a lot to the table regardless. I’d still include Banished as one of my all-time favourite titles even if it had been put out by an entire studio backed up by a major publisher, but the fact that it’s an indie game made by a single person is just mind-blowing.
I usually like to play games on the easiest mode available. Particularly with fast-paced titles like action games and shooters, I find that I just don’t have the reflexes, reaction time, or just the ability to play those kinds of games at that level. This should be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but as someone with disabilities, I really do believe that difficulty options are an accessibility feature that as many games as possible should include. I’ve been playing video games for more than thirty years; if I haven’t “got gud” by now, I’m not going to! But we’ve drifted off-topic.
Banished offers several different difficulty options that can be combined in different ways to customise the experience. The number of families (and individual citizens) that the town has at the start, the harshness of the weather, and whether disasters (like fires breaking out) are switched on or off all make an impact, as does whether the randomly-generated map has more or fewer mountains. Instead of just offering a standard easy, medium, or hard mode, Banished allows players to really tailor the kind of experience they want to have – and I think that’s something more titles in the city-builder genre should try to emulate.
I would call Banished a game that’s deceptively complex. Its relatively small number of buildings and resources makes it seem, on the surface, that it should be relatively easy to get to grips with. Harvest enough resources to keep your small population healthy, happy, and well-fed. That’s all there is to it, right?
But when you get stuck in, there’s so much more to it than that. Balancing your resources so you aren’t over-producing and wasting storage space while also making sure you don’t produce too little of something and run out is like walking a tightrope at times! I’ve ended up in some very sticky situations because I had slightly too much or too little of something important at just the wrong moment – and it can be fatal, in some cases, if you get caught out.
For example, it’s tempting to use all the logs your citizens gather to construct new buildings – especially at the beginning of the game when you don’t have many. But if you burn through your supply of logs too quickly and don’t have enough citizens assigned to chop down trees or work as foresters to replace them, come winter everyone will freeze because there won’t be enough firewood! Conversely, if you construct a woodcutter’s cabin and don’t keep a careful eye on how much firewood they’re making, they can easily chop up all of the logs you have meaning you won’t have any when you want to construct the next new building!
Banished isn’t a game you can set and forget. In order to truly succeed you need to be on top of your resources pretty much all the time. Even though there aren’t that many you need to manage, it’s a balancing act to stay on top of all of them at once. A single disruptive event can completely bowl you over if you aren’t careful, and when citizens don’t have the right balance of resources their health and happiness will drop, making them less productive. In the worst case they can die – starvation, cold, disease, and so on can all spell doom for the residents of your community!
Take a recent game I played as an example! While building up my town I was constantly hampered by a lack of stone to construct new buildings. Even after building a stone quarry this problem persisted for a while, so I prioritised things like building new houses closer to the quarry so I could get more stonecutters. I constructed other buildings in what I considered to be descending order of importance, prioritising things like making sure there was enough food for a growing population, which meant adding new crop fields, fishing docks, and assigning citizens to those jobs. After a while, there was an outbreak of disease – the measles, in this case. But because I hadn’t constructed any hospitals, the disease ripped through the population! By the time I’d figured out how badly I was screwed, half the town was infected. I pulled everyone off their jobs to get a hospital built, which happened in the nick of time. Doing that, however, meant that there was less food as the harvest went to waste as winter set in and the crops were still in the fields!
All in all, the citizens of my town had a very bad time because of a combination of bad luck and bad management on my part! A lot of citizens ended up dying because there was no hospital, and the disease was only stopped because a few hardy souls managed to scrape together enough resources to build a hospital from scratch at the last minute. It took a long time to recover from that!
Like many great PC games, Banished happily encourages modding. There is (or was) a solid modding community, with mods adding in brand-new buildings, gameplay elements, and visual overhauls to name but a few. Shining Rock Software was keen from the very beginning for fans and players to get involved and develop their own mods for the game, and there are some very popular ones that really transform Banished into something different. Playing the game without any of these is fine – wonderful, even – but if you’re ready for a different experience after playing the original version, mods like Colonial Charter give Banished a whole new lease of life.
Returning to the original game, though, there’s plenty to enjoy. There are eight different types of crops, eight different types of fruit trees, and three different types of animals for the town to take care of. These are all different – and the differences aren’t merely cosmetic, either. Some crops grow faster than others, or grow better in different conditions. Citizens are healthier when they have a varied diet – and that includes multiple types of crops, fruits, meats, and the like.
The three different animals (cows, sheep, and chickens) all produce different resources for the town, too, and at different rates. Sheep will produce wool, which is great for making clothes, and cattle will produce leather – but you’ll get an awful lot more wool per sheep than leather per cow! Chickens will produce plenty of eggs! It can be easy to overproduce wool and eggs (in my opinion, at least) once you start building a lot of animal pastures – and this can eat up storage space that could be used for other goods!
There are many strategies that players have developed in the years since Banished was released. I play the game my own way, and I’m sure you can find a strategy that works for you either through trial and error or by looking them up online! The fact that there are so many different approaches to playing the game, and so many different recommendations and suggestions for how to get started, what to build first, and so on is testament to the fact that Banished truly is a complex and deep experience.
Banished is a game I can get lost in for hours at a time. Building up a small town, managing its starting resources, and then establishing a trading post to bring in different crops and herds is a ton of fun. Because maps are randomly generated, Banished feels different every time. Every game starts off in a different location, with a different combination of starting resources. There are some things I usually like to do first – my top tip is to make the first building you construct a school so your citizens will always be well-educated and thus more efficient – but other than that I like to play it by ear, see what resources I have in the immediate vicinity of my starting location, and then decide how best to expand!
If you haven’t tried Banished, keep an eye out for it when Steam sales roll around; in recent years it’s often been heavily discounted, meaning you can pick it up for the price of an expensive Starbucks coffee! Even at full price, though, Banished is a game I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys a richly-detailed and complex city-builder or strategy game. I would caveat that by saying that Banished isn’t a “casual” game that you can absent-mindedly play while distracted!
So that’s it for this time. After having talked about Banished on a number of occasions I wanted to give it its own full article here on the website. This “video game spotlight” series will hopefully be an occasional thing I do going forward, so keep an eye out for my take on a number of other titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years in future! Happy building!
Banished is out now for PC. Banished is the copyright of Shining Rock Software. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.