Somewhere between “SimCity” taking a year to finally reverse its always online requirement and the flood of casual city building games on Facebook and mobile devices, fans of city building games wished they could go back to a simpler time. Ideally, it was a time when the only headache from these games usually came from their simulated citizens rioting in the streets after forgetting to feed them for the umpteenth time.
At first glance, it looks like new video game developer SomaSim took that wish of a simpler time for city building games a little too literally by slapping the typical casual city building game with a Western motif (before deciding to turn into an uncreative nod at the classic “The Oregon Trail”) and hoping that Zynga doesn't sue for copying their ideas. But after some playtime, it's clear that SomaSim does bring back the simpler times of city building with its first game “1849” by focusing on city management during the California Gold Rush.
“So how was SomaSim's '1849'?” people ask me.
“I don't know,” I reply. “I spent the weekend playing '1849'.”
As the title implies, SomaSim's “1849” is set in 1849 during the California Gold Rush. The objective of each level is to manage a city that is each named after one of the main cities that was part of the California Gold Rush like Sacramento and San Francisco. Reminiscent of classic city building games like “Caesar III” and the original “SimCity,” players will develop each patch of land to feature roads, housing, and resource-producing buildings in order to attract citizens and business. They will also manage each city's finances by making sure citizens have jobs and income to pay taxes in order to maintain buildings. Resources and materials are produced to upgrade the city or traded off to other in-game cities. Succeeding in each city leads to more cities to manage while the California Gold Rush continues its course.
SomaSim brings a lot of charm and challenge in “1849.” Watching the settler housing grow from tends to apartments while citizens of all walks of life wander the streets doing their jobs indicates how successful I am at this city building game. Inversely, my mismanagement results in fleeing citizens and degrading buildings. In either case, the Western music goes well with the rustic backdrop that really immerses me into the California Gold Rush setting. It's a constant game of management and attention to detail that will keep players on their toes. Unlike city building games of today, there's no online feature to annoy other people with so the triumph or failure truly rests in the player.
“1849” has a few game play faults. Resource usage is constant within the game. But the resources tend to get used quickly and it's hard to tell what's being used and how much is left until after those resources are gone or by checking our each building to see what's being used. This gets more hectic when working on big cities.
Another annoyance of “1849” is its lack of any educational flavor text about the California Gold Rush. People who play historically set games tend to want a few bits of historical trivia thrown at them to reinforce their interest and younger gamers trying out a game set in a historical period tend to absorb whatever historical lessons included in the game. Missions could have shown the historical time line of the California Gold Rush from discovery to booming towns to statehood. In the end, the period set up is simply window dressing and “1849” misses a chance to be an iconic game in school like “The Oregon Trail.”
SomaSim's “1849” is available for iPad and Android tablets for $4.99 as well as on desktop for $14.99 on Steam, GOG, IndieGameStand, GamersGate, and SomaSim's website. The desktop version includes an open-ended sandbox mode. Whichever version you choose (ideally the desktop), “1849” brings players a challenging city building game set in simpler times.