Banished is a distillation of what a lot of city-building fans missed from newer SimCity games. It’s a smart, fun twist on the concept -- instead of ruling over a metropolis through a mayor’s lens, you play a more intricate role in the development of a small colony. Every citizen is somebody you can see and control (though not directly), and your role is to see that your citizens are well-fed, happy, and warm through the long winters. The result is a more nuanced and satisfying game than the EA flagship franchise which inspired it.
Every Banished game starts on a randomly generated map, where you control a small band of settlers (about 10 adults and 10 children) who have ostensibly been banished from wherever they came from. You have nothing but the minimal supplies they carried with them, and the resources of the land around you. Your first objective is to survive the coming winter, which you can do by building houses, creating a source of food (a fishing dock or gatherer’s hut would do), and a source of heat for winter (firewood). All of these things require resources such as lumber, stone, and iron, which your citizens can scrounge from the land around them.
After the first winter, your options explode. The basic idea is to increase the population of your town by building homes, while balancing the basic needs of the citizens with the resources required for those needs. Every citizen in your town is a resource as well; the player personally assigns jobs to accomplish every task, and must make sure their labor force is well balanced and not spread too thin. Should the population dip and you no longer have enough farmers, for instance, the consequences can be dire.
All of this may sound a little daunting, and it can be, but Banished provides a helpful tutorial at the outset to ease the difficulty curve a bit. I was able to get rolling with my city and survive my first winter with its help. The mechanics are satisfying and relatively deep, although after 20 hours or so I found myself finding a groove and more or less following a formula for increasing the population of my town. It was still fun to see my town sprawl across the map (which can be sizeable), but the gameplay got a bit tired.
Banished does come with robust mod support and for those who find themselves growing tired of the gameplay, there is an extensive library of mods which breathe new life into the game. Colonial Charter is a large mod which adds an incredible amount of new content and greatly extends the life of Banished. It’s great to see mod support for a game like this, and it’s a shining example of why we should see more mod support for games going forward.
Overall, I’d recommend Banished to anyone pursuing that city simulation itch, but finding themselves disappointed with recent EA offerings. Populations of your city won’t rocket into the millions, but the level of control and visibility into the workings of the simulation is very satisfying. It’s a game which, while probably inspired by games like SimCity, does plenty to establish itself in this genre with new ideas.