1849 is a game where you need to manage one city, leading it to prosperity in a very unique setting! As the name suggests, it's set in 1849, during the California Gold Rush. Your main focus, as you can guess, it mining for gold, as well as other minerals, and building full cities out of it (seldom self sustained; lots of trading with other cities is involved).
I'll make it clear right away that I have never played a city management game before, so my standards may be different from yours, as I have nothing to compare it to.
But I've found the setting to be interesting, and the game's aesthetic seemed to add to it well enough, so I bought it, and finish it. Here are my thoughts. Presentation
As you can see from the screenshots, this is no Tropico or SimCity with full 3D graphics, weather, and the sort. Not at all. As this is from a small team, they've opted for a more old school graphic style, with prerendered backgrounds and sprites. It may make the game seem very static, but each building has a sprite associated with a work-phase, and the townsfolk are also animated and walk around the city, delivering materials, going to the saloon, etc.
I think it looks really cool, and certainly not something you see a lot of. Everything seems to fit the setting (although I'm nowhere near an expert), and gives the game an unique vibe that works very well with its limitations. One problem is how blurry the sprites look when you zoom in a bit too close... Then, it looks a bit too rough. But you never need to zoom in as much, and it ends up looking great, for the most part! Well done here.
was good, but at the same time, a bit too repetitive. I like the western country it gives, adding to the atmosphere, but it's the same few tracks over and over again... Yeah, it ended up feeling too monotonous for me. What I ended up doing, was googling some other western country music (similar to what I heard in the game), and I stick to that instead. Unfortunately, I didn't find a lot from that time, which is a shame. It would be great if the developers could give the player some directions regarding finding other music, improving the overall experience for sure!
The sound effects
were good for the atmosphere, but always ended up going overboard, leading to a cacophony of work noises or general gibberish. It can be annoying. I believe that each building played a sound, which lead to lots of different sounds being played at once, in busy moments... Since it felt like the same clip over and over, it wasn't very pleasant for me... But it's not too bad, you can turn it off easily.
Just another issue here, is the fact that there are no audio sliders of any sort. It's just SFX and Music On/Off (separately).
The game was clearly designed for an iPad, and the interface shows that a lot, creating problems that should not exist in a PC game...
Now, about the game's structure
. You have a campaign with 20 different missions, each consisting of a city. In these missions, you have a checklist of 3 different objectives needed to succeed. As you play, there will also be 2 "surprise" comissions from the Mayor. These are optional, but generally provide you with a small benefit, in the form of upgraded buildings for free (although only in that particular level). There should
be achievements for these, but the only ones who work are in the last level. All the others don't register, so there's that...
At the start of each city, you'll also have 3 starting options, depending on your playstyle. Some give you more money, some open more trading routes, more food, mines, etc. etc. All things considered, they only seemed to affect the very beginning of each mission. Once you're set, they all play very similarly.
Different cities will have different trading routes, and different types of buildings you can build. This could have been great for variety, and increasing strategy, but it's flawed. First off, you have no infomation about it when you choose your starting conditions. This is BAD
. Very bad. So many developers give the player uninformed decisions to make...!
Then, there are the comissions. There's also no information about these beforehand, which means that you'll be caught by surprise, usually with very little money, and having to change your whole approach if you want to meet those requirement. Why? Because the comissions usually ask for materials you have no use for! Half of the time you can't sell them, so you just build structures to get them in time, and then it's just wasted space. All for a few building upgrades... In hindsight, I probably would have been better off not doing them! Oh well...
The limitations imposed to you regarding the farms you can use also seems very arbitrary. There weren't any radical terrain changes to justify these, which means that it just felt a way of forcing you into different directions. The same with trading routes, I have no idea why I can't create more flexible paths to make perfect use of my resources... Maybe it makes sense from an historical standpoint, but that's never explained. barely anything regarding the Gold Rush is explained actually, which is disappointing!
Then, you have the Sandbox Mode. This sounds fun, right? Just building you city, endlessly expanding! ... Well, not quite. You see, you'll be able to choose different areas on the map, some larger, with more coastal area, more minerals, etc. But they're all pretty limited levels. And there's no objective at all. I understand what Sandbox means, but even some comissions would have been very welcome! There are not even random events that can happen to throw you off guard (at least none that I've seen)... So, it ends up being very laborious. You simply repeat what you've done during the campaign, but this time, with no goal. Just mindlessly clicking things, reaching for infinity... I really do think this was a missed chance. Comissions would have helped with variety, perhaps some bandits would increase robberies, earthquakes, I don't know... there are lots of possibilities, but I've seen none of them, so yeah.
I'd stick with the campaign, and no more.
Aside from all of this, the game just lacks challenge, as well as options. First, there's no automated trading. Which means that you'll have to buy everything manually (and selling), making it hard to keep a constant economic balance. Then, even if you want to check your stock, you'll have to open another menu to see that, with more tabs and clicks than it needs (because I'm playing this on a mobile device... Oh, wait.)...
Each road must be built one by one as well, as well as every building. I think it would have benefited a lot from a selection method to construct more than one at once. Or even giving shortcuts to the different buildings. I have lots of buttons on my keyboard, and none of them seemed to do a damned thing! There's a lot of clicking through menus here, unnecessarily so.
The lack of challenge comes mostly from the lack of good objectives, and monotonous progress. There are no events to make your life harder, you just keep building until you're infinitely rich! The only difficulty was in the comissions (mostly due to omission), and maintaining a large mansions at the end. That's because each requires a plethora of different resources that you'll have to constatly keep trading for. Without automation, it's very easy to let things slip while you're doing something else, and then everything downgrades because they're lacking shoes... Or newspapers... Because that's what defines a mansion.
Sorry if I couldn't explain the mechanics all that well, but I've tried to focus on the negative points that I've found. I did not enjoy the game very much due to this lack of input from the player. It's just managing time and money, with no risk or reward. It's not awful, but not a great game!