Have you ever played a RPG, or any genre of game for that matter, and wondered; Where do the people in that town that gave me all my quests get their food from? Where do they sleep and who made their buildings? I bet most NPC towns you have traveled to have more people than rooms and apart from the token cow or picturesque stream have absolutely no way of sustaining themselves. The appropriately named Towns lets you correct the ongoing abuse of non-story-vital NPC’s and puts the focus on the little people of adventuring ; the simple town folk who decided to their build houses on top of dungeons.
Towns is a RPG town simulator. Not as in it has RPG elements and is a simulator, but a simulator of the typical RPG town. That town closest to the dungeon, surrounded by monsters and constantly beset by drunken heroes. The town with the tavern that every level 1 party meets for the first time. Think of it like Roller Coaster Tycoon but instead of attracting children to go on rides, your attracting wizards and warriors to clear out goblins for you. When a hero comes to your town you have no direct control over them. They are free to do as they please, eat your food, steal your items and harass the locals just like in a real RPG but if you’re lucky (and if you smartly built the tavern next to stairs heading down below the ground) they will set to work trouncing any enemies they find. Heroes accrue EXP to level up and having a healthy cast of powerful adventurers roaming around your town will allow you to clear out the lower levels of a dungeon where the rare materials in the game are. Said wizards and warriors will leave your town though, if there isn’t enough food or they get bored. So if they clear a dungeon best get to work digging down to a lower level for them.
But there I go again, giving all the attention to the loot hungry wanderers and ignoring the real heroes, the town NPC’s. The townies (as the Towns online community calls them) are also without direct control. You as the deific town planner give orders and the townies are free to get around to them whenever they feel like it. You are given control over a priority list which can be tweaked to nudge the townies into doing certain jobs first and in general the townies are a pretty subservient bunch but Towns is quite a “hands-off” feeling game. This is where a lot of the challenge in Towns comes from, wrangling with the priority system and breaking down major works into small and quick jobs for your townies to focus on before they get distracted by something else.
The other major challenge of the game is the fact that there isn’t a good feedback system and this means it’s very easy for your hapless townies to meet an untimely demise before you can do anything about it. Early in every game you will need lots of wood chopped so you will select an area to be chopped and then let your townies go to work. If while chopping, a Tree spirit (a treant of sorts that looks like a tree and dislikes being chopped) attacks your townie and your off on another screen you’re not going to know about it until you hear the death gurgle from either your townie or the tree spirit (nine times out of ten it’s going to be your townie that carks it). There is four little notifications icons at the top of the screen that will be flashing red and detailing the combat but if you’re concentrating on planning out the world’s greatest wheat field you’re not going to notice until it’s too late. Even if the combat was taking place on-screen, the animation is so spartan (two sprites weirdly bumping into each other) you still may miss it. Some options to turn on an auto-pause or pop-up notifications could have been the remedy to this but the lack of direct control and sheer suicidal over confidence of the townies means you can’t pull them out of a fight they are clearly going to lose.
This lack of direct control requires you to approach Towns differently than most games. Your essentially instructing incredibly stupid people, that have to be reminded to eat, how to build a town and care must be taken that your instructions won’t lead the little townies to their deaths. They will take your instructions very literally and without any thought to their own personal safety. If you set up a stock pile area for bricks and the only brick left is at the bottom of the dungeon filled with goblins your townies will happily get killed by goblins to get that one brick. The most important thing to townies is to have their own room, to be fed and to be happy. Fulfilling these things will bring more cheerful semi-retards to your town. Happiness is the hardest aspect to manage and is derived from townies not working and being surrounded by decorations. Not working your townies isn’t as simple as it sounds as there is no stop work button, meaning you have watch how many projects your queuing up and keep the workload realistic. The game’s system isn’t explained at all in-game, and the tutorial fails to even show you how the UI works, so expect to consult the wiki. But once you do work it out you discover Towns is very much a game of setting efficient paths and areas for your townies while providing them with order that won’t get them killed.
Even once I had a good understanding of how the game works underneath the hood I was still confronting with a number of irritating occurrences. The second a hero gets hungry they will stomp back to town and eat in the tavern, even if they were in the middle of fighting five monsters. This means the hero will “train” the monsters into your town where they will go berserk while the hero enjoys his sandwich and watches on like the twat he is. Then there is the fact that the hands off approach means townies are allowed to (priorities allowing) decide the order they do things. So when I promoted some townies to the guard (to deal with the horde of monsters the hero had brought back on his lunch break) I asked them to equip some weapons and armor. Instead of equipping said items THEN attacking the monsters in the town my guards ran into combat naked, half of them dying in the pursuing melee, and only once it was finished did they go back and equip themselves.
There’s also the utterly bizarre obsession with flour that townies have. I think it may be a bug, but townies will completely of their own accord spend most of their free time making bags of flour. This doesn’t really have any practical downsides other than a town filled with bags of flour but it’s disconcerting and annoying to see your flour fetishizing townies endlessly bag the stuff up rather than do something useful.
I think Towns is definitely a niche game, but if the idea of running a town that hosts the heroes you normal play appeals to you it’s definitely worth taking the time to get to grips with the slightly wonky interface and learning how the game works. The pacing isn’t the best and you will often spend huge amounts of time just watching your townies rather than actually doing anything but the core experience is strong enough to overcome the games shortfalls. Towns is getting 3/5 fantasy simpletons.