There’s nothing quite like a bit of crafting to while away an hour… or five. The simple joy found in sourcing resources, deducing item combinations and crafting your very own world from nothing is one that has firmly grasped onto the minds of gamers everywhere. TownCraft is the latest game to hone in on our craving for creating, this time taking the process one step further by encouraging you to carve out your own little town, complete with shops, taverns and a bevy of citizens.
This enjoyable adventure into furniture making and workforce management is the first title from Flat Earth Games, a Sydney studio headed by brothers Rohan and Leigh Harris. If those names already sound familiar to your gaming ears, it is likely you have come across their work in other areas of the field; Rohan is a contributing writer to Player Attack and BigPond Arena, while Leigh is also known as the founder of the Australian and New Zealand games industry and trade publication MCV Pacific.
TownCraft is an ipad game that mixes an isometric landscape of earthy hues with cute squishy characters and simple but satisfying sounds. As one would expect from a title in which you build up from nothing, the game begins with your character (guy or gal, your choice) alone in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature. A single road runs down the centre of the map, and it is in this location (somewhere in an unnamed kingdom) that you are tasked with harvesting resources to build a village of your very own. There are currently a few different map types available, each with its own unique challenges and town trade requirements; at times you will be surround by water and tasked with creating a flouring fishing village, others are located in a lush field where you must farm and prepare food. But regardless of the destiny of your tiny town, you must first get down to the business of gathering and crafting.
As one would expect from a game with such a title, the process of crafting a town really is the name of the game. Each element you find or create can be used to develop something else; starting with the basic components of gathered little stones and sticks, you must first craft tools before you can even get to chopping wood. As you progress you are able to start making equipment, furniture and buildings that can in turn be used to craft new items, sold for cash, or improve the standard of living in your town. Slowly but surely your little hovel becomes a burg, and you find yourself surrounded by buildings, farmland and mines, with every single element is the result of your hard work.
But there is more to a town than just building structures; a population of people is just as important. In TownCraft teeny tiny folks will wander down the road, and as well as having a humorous tidbit of conversation to share they can either be traded with or hired as live-in workers. Occasionally you will even be offered quest opportunities that require you to source or create items in return for gold or gifts. This money that you earn from trading and quests can then be used to buy more resources and/or pay the daily wage of those you hire to assist you, be you in need of farmers, woodsmen, miners or barkeeps. The more people you have working for you, the more you can produce and the larger your town can grow. Soon you start to see wealthier visitors wandering your streets, shopping at your stores and drinking up a storm in the taverns. The true beauty of TownCraft is that your little corner of the world can be whatever you make of it, and the nature of making and managing a town adds a whole new dynamic to the crafting system we know and love. You will find yourself losing several hours as you try to figure out crafting recipes, source new components, and coordinate the going-ons of your up-and-coming capital.
The nature of crafting in TownCraft is such that it is not only the key component of the game, but one that certainly doesn’t coddle you. Although there is a tutorial that walks you through the process of finding resources and developing your little land, the crafting recipes themselves can only be learnt by experimentation. To build something in this game you really need to think through the components you have (or could create) and the possible combinations that might come about from putting them all together;
“hmmm, I have hops and water, but I can’t seem to craft beer? Maybe I need some kind of barrel to put them in, which I suppose has rounded wooden ends, planks for the sides, and metal bands to keep it together? …SUCCESS!!”
A list of all game objects is also available, so that you may investigate items that can be worked towards, and look up the recipes that you do have so far. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had from figuring out the various objects needed to create something new, but the lack of assistance for when you are stuck is infinitely frustrating. That being said, as with many crafting games there are already fans at work creating a TownCraft wiki full of recipes, quest details and other handy information to assist fellow crafters.
In terms of the interface, many a game for the ipad has suffered the ill-fitting controls and awkward layouts that come from being ported from another system or just plain ol’ bad design choices. Thankfully this is not the case for TownCraft, as this title has been made with the ipad in mind and utilises both intuitive layout design and controls. All the menus you require are right on hand, with buttons located on the edges of the screen in prime position for when you’re holding the iPad. These sections can be neatly scrolled through, items tapped or dragged for crafting, and then swiped closed. The process of directing your little crafter around the map is as easy as tapping on the desired location, and the harvesting process is similarly simple; if you tap on a tree you collect sticks, if you tap on a rock pile you gather small rocks. Even if you’re trying to chase down a travelling merchant or worker, you just need to poke that person and they’ll patiently wait for you to walk on over. The only downfall is that it would do well to have more options for the resource hoarders and big builders out there. Currently only certain interactions (like trading) allow you to adjust the number of resources you use, and even then you are limited to transferring a maximum of 25 items at a time. Worse still the crafting process requires you to tap/pull the lever to craft every single item item, so if you want to build 300 tables then expect to be tapping 300 times. This isn’t a deal breaker though, because if ever you put the ipad down to rest your fingers from the tapping, you will soon be itching to get back to the building process. It’s also something that could be easily fixed in a future update, so here’s hoping (for the sake of my hands)!
One final aspect worth mentioning about TownCraft is that it includes a number of nice features that show the developers were really looking to provide the best experience for players. For example, even though the maps are set up to be unlocked as you progress through each one, an option is available to simply unlock all levels straight away if you want to dive right in. If you want to change the gender of your character mid-game, there’s even an quick option for that. Also in addition to the standard game mode there are challenge maps that test your skills in reaching a village production point in a set amount of time; Flat Earth Games plan to released a new challenge map every few weeks for free, the first of which ‘Swamp Thing’ is out now. And last, but by no means least, there is the wonderful fact that it does not contain a single in-game transaction. It is indeed refreshing to find a game that contains neither annoying advertisements or tons of transactions that cost extras; instead we have a game that sticks to being a game, and a good one at that.
Overall TownCraft is an enjoyable title that promises to suck you in with hours of good quality crafting fun. Although there are a few issues with the management of large quantities of resources, and also some odd character clipping on occasions, these do not take away from the solid gameplay and intuitive controls. If you’re looking for comparisons, TownCraft sits on an interesting crossroad between Minecraft and Settlers, and it is definitely worth a look. I’d recommend checking out the Let’s Play below to get a look at the first 14 minutes of gameplay (as played by its creators, so its a good place to pick up some early crafting tips).
8 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.