I now believe all city planning games should include a brewery.
A port of a 4-year-old mobile title to Switch: everything about that statement makes me cringe. It’s certainly not the type of game I expected to be playing 20 months into the life of a Nintendo console, but here we are. Setting my own bias aside, Townsmen, a city-building strategy title from THQ Nordic subsidiary HandyGames, produces an objectively entertaining experience. It may have the look of a generic mobile game, but it plays like a fun, medieval SimCity that feels right at home on the Switch.
Mimicking the strategy foundations of SimCity, Townsmen adds its own twist by changing the setting to medieval times. Instead of water reservoirs and water treatment plants you get wells and ponds. Police are represented by royal guardsmen; the role of firefighter is filled by the villager who owns the largest available bucket. The large number of different professions and the complexity of their interconnected roles is quite impressive. In order to produce clothing, you’ll need a tailor supplied with fabrics from the weaving mill, a building that requires a steady stream of wool from the local farmer, which requires the construction of a sheep pasture. No revolutionary new ideas are added to the city building formula, but Townsmen does a great job balancing development and making sure that no role goes to waste.
Trying to jump straight into village construction would be a lofty endeavour with all the complex systems. Thankfully, a tutorial mode does an excellent job of introducing all aspects of village life. Over 6 campaigns, all of the different professions and buildings are slowly introduced through objective-based gameplay. As you learn how to effectively use hunters and goldsmiths and utilize the marketplace, the backstory is told of how your character went from the royal court to managing a small town. The tutorial lasts about 3-4 hours depending on how quickly you can get through the scenarios, and by the end you’ll have a firm grasp of all the fine details.
The full game can be played in one of two ways, either by choosing one of the scenarios or in open sandbox style. Maybe my imagination is suffering from some intense atrophy, but my preference was far and away playing one of the 26 scenarios. Starting off with a partially developed village, you’re given a clear objective and it’s up to you to complete it. I found having a clear goal created a sense of urgency and provided a focus beyond simple growth. If you’d prefer to create your own fun, 24 different landscapes are available to be developed, all with unique areas and attributes. Lush green pastures filled with ample supplies of water lead to easy development while barren wastelands devoid of plant life present a much greater challenge to success.
I myself am guilty of looking at the box art and screenshots of Townsmen and writing it off as a mobile game unworthy of attention. The visuals are certainly generic, but it’s what’s inside that counts, and that’s a wonderfully complex city building system with a well designed UI that allows you to implement your grand vision. Veterans of city planning sims won’t find anything revolutionary in the gameplay, but what they will find is a pleasant, engaging experience.