Since a couple of days I am hooked to Banished, that was on sale (for a limited time) for half the price at gog.com. According to its sole creator it is a city-building strategy game where you control a group of exiled travellers who decide to restart their lives in a new land.
The objective of the game is to keep the population alive and grow it into a successful culture. Options for feeding the people include hunting and gathering, agriculture, trade, and fishing. However, sustainable practices must be considered to survive in the long-term.
Although this sounds like Settlers II meets Sim City 2000 the game is utterly appealing and quite addictive. What I certainly consider a plus is that Banished is completely violence-free, if you don't consider fishing, hunting and slaughtering livestock for food. (I did find a few forum threads about a vegetarian village, although you have to ethically cheat a bit to make it viable.). Unlike Settlers II and its popular remake Widelands you don't need military camps to add some territory. That is a huge plus, for me at least it is. With only one village in the game there can be no conflict between separate regions and thus there is no need for a multiplayer function. Finally, I would say! It is my general believe that multiplay is hopelessly overrated, except for racing cars or shooting pool perhaps.
Banished is about people and families who look for shelter in an undiscovered country. As an enlightened autocrat you need to guide them to cut some trees, look for food, and then build houses to survive the winter. If they feel warm, well-fed and are happy enough the Banished will hopefully start to procreate, something they are rather reluctant in. Getting the balance right between production and reproduction is the most difficult part, especially in the beginning of the game when rations are scarce and famine is a realistic fate. When your community starts to grow you need to make sure there is a constant flow of children, otherwise you can suddenly have a downward spiral towards total annihilation. After a while you can't help caring for your people and I remember thinking, 'Hey Brie is a student now, I still remember the day she was born'.
This is one of the few games, another one I can think of is Sims, where population growth is achieved by good old humping. Widelands, Settlers II, Age Of Empires and a bunch of others do not even have women and new folk are miraculously (or by parthenogenesis) generated in warehouses or army camps. But here you can only hope for young people to meet and make babies what is more difficult than it looks like. In Banished the people's heart is where their home is, so you need to make sure there are always empty houses available, for newly-wed couples to live in, but not too many, as you don't want grown-ups to lead a bachelor's life either. Educated Banishers roughly have four life-stages: child (0-9), student (10-17), sexually active adult (18-39) and sexless adult (40-80), which coincidentally looks like the miserable life I have led so far. When there are no schools around, the inhabitants will skip the student phase and become a sexual active adult worker around 12 years. Their productivity, however, will be low and in the end the population does benefit from sending them to school for 8 years. When your citizens are older than 40 to 45, they will stop making babies, but they will continue to live in their houses and go to work, until the last day of their life. Ideally they live until 80 - 85, but freak accidents do happen ('Anjelica died falling off a ladder') and there are even some maternal deaths, leaving a house with a lonely widower. The mortality rate rises considerably after 60, but there have been cases of workers getting into their nineties. After a few decades you will see houses with only one old-aged person inside. Managing the housing problem is an ethical decision: you can either let the old folk stay or kick the elderly into a boarding place to make room for a new race of fertile people. The Kim Jong-un approach so to speak.
Which brings us to the more philosophical aspects of this game. Who are these people and what have they been banished from or banished for?
While the game is not set in a certain time-frame or geographical location there are certain elements that place it in a colonial pre-industrialised North-American context. As explained by historian Dr. Paul B. Sturtevant the houses look roughly 18th-century and some of the crops and trees originate from America, like potatoes, maize, cucurbita, pecan and pumpkins. Trees and plants can only be bought from a passing trader (at least when playing the hard level) and it would be rather strange if these would be sold in Europe. Of course there are exceptions like potatoes, well introduced in Europe by then, but the same can be said for cabbage, imported by colonists from Europe, but already very common in 18th-century America.
It is an educated guess that the Banished are plain people, Christians who live a simple life, separated from civilisation, close to nature, excluding modern technology like firearms. That the group has Christian roots is proved by the chapel and the presence of a cleric, who can be female, by the way. Obviously they are not pagans who congregate in the nude around a circle of stones, like in The Wicker Man.
Most graves in the graveyard have no symbols, but some come with a Celtic cross, which could mean some families have Irish (or perhaps French) ancestors. Others have a plain cross and there are some shaped as an obelisk, which was very common in the nineteenth century. The obelisk has no direct link with freemasonry, as is sometimes believed. It just happened there was an Egyptian revival for memorial art in the mid 18-hundreds. Perhaps the bigger gravestones mean that the deceased person had some official or religious function in society.
While the game creator, Luke Hodorowicz, claims that the group of travellers has been exiled from civilisation, it could be closer to the truth to say they deliberately left on an exodus to an undiscovered piece of land to avoid the growing temptation of the modern world. They're quite an archaic lot.
The Banished are certainly not Amish, but some Judeo-Christian sect with their own social and religious particularities, rules and taboos. There seems to be no individual ownership as all property, including food and fuel, belongs to the community. Pig farming (and eating) seems to be forbidden, as they stick to chicken, cows and sheep, which is quite unique for a Christian sect. Perhaps they have accepted Muhammed as a prophet, next to the Christian ones, as some children are named after him. Alcohol, on the contrary, is not taboo and while the game tells that the end-product is beer, the ingredients suggest that the brewer is mostly making alcoholic fruit beverages, like wine or cider, instead. The statistics screen of my current game says that 145 kegs have been consumed by 90 adults (77 labourers + 13 students) in one year time. With one keg being 58.67 litres this means that each adult citizen has about one glass of beer (or wine, cider) per day. They drink with moderation.
While there is no police or military force in the congregation there must be some kind of politico-religious ayatollahs who lead the population with a firm hand. This isn't a democracy by all means. All civilians will join a parish without any exception and there are no free-thinkers allowed. Neither did I see any same-sex marriages, although you'll never know what these lumberjacks really do in the forest. Occasionally one reads that a person has been murdered or that (s)he has been banned from society. This is a practice known as shunning and often used by Anabaptist sects to get rid of unwanted elements. The orders of the elders are strictly obeyed and I witnessed one winter how people were literally starving, while there was an abundance of food in the trade office. I know this is a game mechanic and that you first have to move the stock from the trade centre to the market (or the warehouses), but it came as a shock when I saw these people slowly dying in front of a building filled to the ceiling with food. Yes, you really start caring for your little ant-people.
But the greatest difference with other plain groups is their orthodox view on sexuality. During their sexual active years Banished households seldom have more than two to three children, opposed to an average of 6.8 for the Amish. In other words, Banished do not fuck for fun. On top of that there seems to be a taboo to have sexual relations when other adults are present in the same house, even if they are their own children. Perhaps they should think to sound-isolate the bedroom. Inhabitants who have lost their spouse also don't look for a new partner, unless they are literally pushed outside by the religious leader, which is of course, you, the player. It makes the game rather difficult, especially in the early years, as children will only arrive sporadically. At the different forums there is plenty of advice though how to get rid of this prudishness. All it takes are some dirty tricks.
One of the clever points of the game is that actions you take today can and will have consequences two decades later, when the children have become adults. (There is a huge difference between a calendar year and a human year as citizens age 5 times faster than the seasons.) You need to think proactively instead of running after past events, like politicians should learn to do.
Banished are often illogical. One thing their silly religion obliges them is to eat their sandwiches at home, and not somewhere else. If a labourer leaves home and has to walk several miles to the nearest forest, (s)he better had breakfast first or (s)he will immediately return home without cutting a single tree. It's utterly unproductive and rather annoying, but that's how the game works and it forces you to always expand and to build houses near the working place. On top of that the citizens like to idle a lot at the cemetery. I bet their explanation is they are admiring god's creation because for all the hours I have played, I have not seen a single one of them going to to church.
Bunch of weirdos. I like them.
Banished home: http://www.shiningrocksoftware.com/game/
Banished Wiki: http://banished-wiki.com/wiki/Main_Page
Tags: 99. adult gaming