Mobile games have that look about them that make them instantly recognisable as soon as you see them. That cutesy cartoony look that Walt Disney would have put aside for lacking realism. I say that as someone that didn’t even mind the look of Civilization VI.
I’m sure the look is fine for some and perhaps it even appeals, but there is something about the style that instantly puts me in the mind of clicker games and time wasters, filled to the brim with microtransactions.
When first seeing Townsmen – A Kingdom Rebuilt, I didn’t know the origins of the game, but I thought it a safe bet that it would have originated from a pocket-sized device. Looking up the game after playing a little while, my suspicions turned out to be correct. Although it manages to avoid some of the worst trappings of those games, it remains a game that could easily be described as a time waster.
Townsmen takes place in the Medieval times. You will recall from your school history books that this was a time where towns were run by benevolent lords, just trying to satisfy the needs of their townsfolk, and rapscallion bandits would occasionally pop by and need their heads banged together. The land was greener back then and all was mostly merry, besides the occasional fire or avalanche.
This accurate city building representation of these times, allows you to play either through a fairly brief campaign (or, more accurately, a long-winded tutorial), a selection of scenarios or an endless mode. For the most part, those first two appear to play out in much the same way, with the only real difference being that the campaign stays in the same town, whilst the scenarios play out on different maps. Both see you following a series of tasks given to you by a range of “whimsical” characters. As with most of these mobile games, this really is surface level whimsy, with character dialogue being direct and to the point, only presenting any real character through the cartoon illustration. Following their tasks will give you a small reward and then lead you on to some more tasks. These tasks mostly boil down to “build a tavern” or “build a church”, occasional branching out into achieving a satisfaction percentage or making a certain amount of money from tax collection or trade. There is little to no agency in how you achieve these goals, with your placement being the only real choice you. You can do some other bits before going for those goals, such as building some additional townhouses or another resource building to get material quicker, but that just allows you to save some time on the waiting game.
Perhaps exposing its mobile game roots, Townsmen will likely have you ready to join Homer in a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos though. Money in particular, comes in very slowly, with the main source either being through taxes or trading at the market, if you have one built. The latter option is only available at certain times, before the trader disappears off to other towns or is delayed by weather events. The game does offer a quick way to build buildings, through a sort of prestige option that builds them instantly. Thankfully, any form of microtransactions are removed from this PC version of the game, but it feels as if the mobile version would predominantly have you earning this prestige through payment with real life cash. Instead, you are able to earn this through some of your objectives. During those campaign/tutorial missions, you can normally build almost half of your buildings through this means, but otherwise it is waiting for the material to be delivered by your handful of workers and with only 2 able to be assigned to construct at a time, this can drag the building process out for a very long time. This is particularly true when you start running out of money and you are left waiting for taxes to come in to pay for the building. Perhaps the game intends you to be more prepared for constructing each building required for the task, but everything is so directed that it doesn’t feel like that is the case.
Along with all that waiting for money and resources, there is also a cluttered map that you are fighting with to get your buildings plopped down onto. You can thankfully delete most of the decoration items, but there are hills that you are unable to construct on and no way of levelling out. The endless mode I briefly attempted actually made a point of there being limited space, so the game seems to treat this as part of the challenge, a Tetris-esque addition to your city builder. Encouraging buildings to be logically together is certainly not unusual for this genre and forcing the player to adjust to the geography they have to work with certainly part of the challenge, but this takes it to an extreme and becomes frustrating more than anything, as you are forced to put buildings down in illogical places simply because a small hill got in the way.
All this is a bit of a shame, as the core game hidden away underneath all this nuisance and poor balancing actually demonstrates some promise. Fundamentally, this is a streamlined and simpler version of the Anno games, requiring to create chains of buildings in order to construct goods that meet certain needs. Create farms that contain wheat, that go to the windmill to be made into flour, that goes to the bakers to be made into bread. Much like the Anno games, you can make efficiencies within your supply chain to speed up production. For example, your sawmill might require two pieces of timber to make one plank of wood, so having two woodcutters to each sawmill would produce the planks quicker. Alas, the game doesn’t really encourage you to think along these lines and it is only from digging into the confusingly laid out stats for the buildings that you can get to this information. The best the game does in mentioning efficiencies is an offhand comment about it being a good idea if you place certain production buildings near each other, so that goods can be delivered between quickly, something that is normally hampered by the claustrophobic map. There is also little urgency presented with the game, where hitting zero money just means you have to wait longer for things to be done. Occasionally a bandit might come and attack you, but there isn’t really much damage to be done by them and they are simply dealt with by watchtowers dotted about the place. Similar, I had an avalanche occur, which just meant I had to spend time repairing some buildings.
So, there isn’t really much to recommend Townsmen on. The game obviously doesn’t come close to offering the interesting choices that series like Anno does, with its added complexity. Even if you are looking for something that is a little more straightforward (not that the Anno games are particularly complex, when compared to others in the genre) there is always the likes of The Settlers series that can scratch that itch. I would imagine that compared to other similar mobile games, Townsmen can probably be seen as a good choice for something to play on the move, but when it comes to PC to join the big fellas it is trying to mimic, it falls drastically short.