A couple of months back we had the opportunity to interview two of the developers of the recently released city builder 1849. I hadn’t heard much of the game before then but knew instantly that this was a game that I had to try. There has been a sincere lack of city-builders in recent years, and this one seemed to be one that draws heavily on the classics. So does 1849 have what it takes to strike gold?
As mentioned, 1849 borrows heavily from city building games of the past. However, though the core mechanics will be familiar, the scope of the experience is a much smaller scale. Playing through 1849’s campaign mode will have you going from one Northern California city to the next, each with different goals. At the start of each city you’re given three different starting options. One is usually just a lump sum of money and the other two options have a variant on capital and pre-established industries. From there you’re given a few goals that you’ll need to accomplish to move on to the next city. The goals for each city can range from mining enough gold to trading enough wine with a nearby city.
The core mechanics of 1849 are great. Each building you have has a few upgrade paths that you will need either money or resources in order to upgrade. You will also need to ensure that your cities have the necessary public services as well (Police, Fire, School, Church, and Saloon) in order to recruit and maintain a working city. Don’t have enough police presence? Your local businesses will be robbed. Short on fire fighters? Expect many of your homes and business to burn down. The first couple of cities I went light on public services and noticed that I couldn’t get my population up above a certain level, limiting how much I could expand my businesses. So public services are a big key to success in this game.
From a gameplay standpoint I think 1849 hits a really nice balance for a city-builder. There is an initial grind to get each city started, but once you get the wheels turning things start to move a lot quicker. This also is one of its biggest pitfalls. Because of the game's less restrictive approach you will hit the barriers of the small cities quicker. Within an hour of any city you will have maximized the very small grid in which you’re given to build in. By that point you will have upgraded all your businesses and started building profitable trade routes. And then it’s time to move onto the next city which, after five or six cities, starts to feel like rinse and repeat. The cities never get bigger, and the goals for each city are almost identical.
Even with all of this being said 1849 is a great experience. It absolutely nails the mechanics for a city-builder and makes it super easy to jump in and build a great city. The game’s biggest drawback is its scope. Because of the setting and the small scale of cities you won’t spend more than an hour on any city. And for that I’d still recommend 1849 to anyone craving a city-builder just don’t expect the massive scale of other city builders on the market currently.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.