Townsmen (Switch eShop) Review
Growing up I always had a soft spot for The Settlers series, a real-time strategy and city builder set in medieval times on the PC. Now, I wasn’t very good at them, but I loved having a SimCity style game where the little settlers would go about their business, and it felt more personal than SimCity because of that smaller scale. Looking at Townsmen initially, it looks like it’s cut from the same cloth as those mobile games that have the word ‘War’ and/or ‘Age’ in the title, in some order. To start with, I’m going to defuse those fears, and can gladly inform you that it’s not like those games. Not only that, Townsmen is a pretty decent game.
Townsmen has two different play-modes and a lengthy tutorial. The amount of content within the modes is surprising. The tutorial itself serves to tell a story, as each scenario within it continues a story about how you were run out of your previous position due to missing funds. Over the course of the tutorial scenarios, you’ll uncover what happened as you also learn how to run a village and make it a town. The village you build mostly carries over between scenarios, so you don’t want to be too messy with your building placement because you’ll likely be dealing with it for some time. The tutorial mode easily took up a few hours and it takes its time to ease you into the game’s mechanics. The bulk of it is building and the chain of different buildings you’ll need to keep everything running smoothly. I very much recommend playing through the tutorial first because of the levelling system. The leveling-up system in Townsmen is interesting because it carries through everything. Whatever level and research you accomplish in the tutorial scenarios will give you a headstart in the other scenarios. Although, over time it’s where I realised that the town levels may have been a way of bottle-necking progress for the F2P elements. You don’t have access to all the features straight away, as you level up more research becomes available, which overall adds more to the game such as the ability to upgrade buildings or increased capacity. The big problem with the level system is that it means you can’t access certain elements of the game until a fair few hours in. If you do the tutorial scenarios you’ll get a good head start, but if you decide to just jump right in or do a Sandbox scenario, it’s a sudden restriction.
The scenarios are where you’ll get the most structured time with the game, regularly having new tasks for you to do so you are growing the town, gaining more resources to sell or keep your townies fed and alive. The scenarios also tell stories within them, nothing big, but they at least try and have a narrative for why you need to do these tasks. It could be preparing for a wedding, natural disasters, sickness or bandits. Once you’ve accomplished your goals you can keep going and see how big you build in the space you have, or you move on to the next scenario. Like the tutorials, the scenario goals will largely inform you what you need to be doing so you’ll never get too stuck unless there are issues with space and townie management. There is also the ‘Sandbox mode’, which lets you pick from a surprising amount of environments to build your own little town. You can even choose if you want to have a military map with bandit attacks or not, which is great if you don’t enjoy that aspect of the game.
Gameplay mainly consists of assigning places for buildings, and ensuring that all the buildings you have are manned and you have a consistent flow of goods. I was taken back to when I was much younger and struggled to play games like Settlers. Townsmen isn’t as complex as that (are we in the age of the Settlers-lite?), but there’s still a lot of moving parts and micromanagement that if left alone could end with your village on fire and raided by bandits. The biggest obstacle to progress is waiting for things to be built. It feels like it takes too long and it might be one of the holdovers from its mobile version, given the currency ‘prestige points’ comes from that game’s IAP. You can either wait for buildings slowly to get built, or you can use the ‘prestige points’ to have it instantly built to save the wait and hassle. While I found the town management elements fun and surprisingly deep, I also found some of those deeper mechanics take a while to truly matter towards running a happy and profitable town. Although, if you’re on the more difficult scenarios it gives you something more to focus on than more buildings and who are working in them.
While Townsmen is all about building your village into a mighty town, there can be scenarios where a military presence is needed as there are bandit camps around before they begin pillaging your supplies. This adds another element to proceedings as you’ll need to build military buildings and have the supplies to arm them, even enough food that will help them to fight better. Again it boils down to the time it takes to build, townie management and the chain of resources required to have buildings made to produce each link in the chain.
Warehouse and merchant restrictions were a pain. If you have a surplus of any item, the ideal way is to sell it to the travelling merchant. They only have so much room for items, so if your warehouses are packed to the brim you won’t be offloading as much as possible. This means if you need to trade to keep money moving through the town, or to make room for other resources. You’re pretty limited and destroying materials is a waste. The only saving grace is that the merchant visits fairly often, their capacity can be upgraded (if only just a little) and you can build additional warehouses (although their capacity is limited the bigger the town you have, and they aren’t small buildings so why do they all store so little?). I guess at the end of the day if you really want to go into the realities of running a town, you do only have so much space to store supplies and merchants can only trade so much or spend a limited amount of money. It just feels that it’s needlessly limiting in this game. There needs to be a way to better manage resources, or at least make it optional for sandbox mode.
If you’ve seen Townsmen on the phone then you’ve kind of seen what it will look like on the Switch. The visuals are of better quality on the Switch, and it’s not a bad-looking game. As I found often enough you’re watching most of it at 5X speed while you’re constructing buildings. Audibly, there are some voices added in for characters who give you goals to meet. There is also a fairly medieval-sounding soundtrack to this game. It’s generally inoffensive in the background the first few times, but halfway into the tutorial scenarios I was already turning it down and putting on a podcast. There is some music in the game that sounds like the Game of Thrones theme (with just enough changes so it’s not), and there’s only so many times you can hear it!
In keeping with its touchscreen origins, Townsmen is playable with the Switch’s touchscreen. It works well but some options are a bit hard to hit on the screen. The physical controls also work perfectly fine once you learn all the shortcuts.
Townsmen is more than competent as a town-builder for those looking to be the ruler of their own little kingdom. It feels like just enough was done to separate it from its mobile origins, and you won’t have to spend a cent outside of the original purchase. If you’re looking for a smaller-scale SimCity or enjoy games like Settlers, then Townsmen can scratch that itch.
+ Settlers for a world without a new Settlers game
+ Works outside of a F2P mobile setting more often than not
+ Tutorial, Scenarios and Sandbox modes will last a while
- Playing the waiting games
- When the F2P mobile origins do slow progress
- Merchants and storage limitation