It’s a silly subtitle, I know, but I like to be upfront about my own biases. I have a tendency to “read” video games, looking for significances and meaningfulnesses. Banished is a peculiar little game which I bought because of the hype surrounding it, thinking that it was a grizzled veteran already, but it was brand-new, and I think, still, without a patch. It doesn’t really need a patch, other than a few UI gripes. Those gripes I will forgo, leaving that to those nerds more uber than I. Besides which, when one scours for significance and meaningfulness, one can just plain be wrong. I might even be mistaken about the mechanics of the game! Oh, well. On to the meaningfulnesses.
Single Player Networking Game
A barn, a stockpile, a marketplace: there’s your network interface. To be exact: those are your network interfaces; that’s how the game “works.” The game is otherwise quite rudimentary: one must build houses for shelter and build farms for food; that’s about it. As soon as you have those two things accomplished, your citizens sigh a sigh of relief, and then get down to the business of making babies. Grr…Can’t they wait for two seconds before getting busy? Now there are too many mouths to feed!
Quick! Build more farms! But we have only one seed crop! Well, I guess we need meat to fulfill our nutrition needs. Having full tummies is one thing, but a tummy full of squash is not going to build an immune system worthy of the coming winter, which at 1x game speed, is hurtling toward you. The bastards sure did take their time building their houses. No wonder they were banished.
Okay, okay, calm down; take a deep breath. This water source has fish in it. We can build a fishing post. Or a gatherer’s hut in the nearby forest. Or a hunting lodge. Actually, if we play our cards right, we can build a hunting lodge and a gatherer’s hut adjacent to each other, the one for meat, the other for nuts and berries.
What? We’re out of logs? And stone? You people went straight for the pleasure of procreating, but you couldn’t bother to–what’s that? A forestry lodge? You need a forestry lodge? Where can I put the forestry lodge?
Well, needs be says that I should put it out here, away some distance from the original settlement; otherwise, any inevitable expansion (all those babies) will consume the renewable resource of logs, making it unsustainable.
If you do so–if you put that building (forestry lodge, gatherer’s hut, hunting lodge) any distance removed from the central settlement, i.e., your barn and five houses, you will surely fail. The network, at that point, even this early in the game, has been stretched so far that your builders will spend all their time walking to and from the construction site, doing minimal labor on the building, then returning to the barn for construction supplies, then to their homes to supply the home, again, in preparation for the impending winter months.
You may survive the first winter, but the second winter will destroy you. They will never, and I mean never, finish the construction project in time for you to re-supply for Winter 2. What’s worse, you’ll survive the actual winter, giving you a false hope of survival, but your food supplies will be so diminished that your citizens will starve to death while planting the next crop in Spring 2.
To prevent this demoralizing failure, build a little 5×5 stockpile immediately adjacent to the construction site. As soon as that stockpile is completed, resume the construction project. Laborers will then carry supplies from the barn’s stockpile to the construction site’s stockpile, and your first network hereby benefits you by cutting construction time in half. Builders are free to work, and they will return home only to eat.
A little light will go on in your head, and you’ll quickly learn to compromise some of the renewable resource (logs, hunting, gathering) to build a house adjacent to the building. Why? Well, it is likely that the professional you assign to that task will take up residence there. As soon as you do that, another light will go on: build a barn! If you build a barn nearby (a further compromise), the professional will have a very short distance between work and supply, and he or she will never have to return to the central barn to resupply. Laborers, instead, will do the work of moving logs, meat, and gatherings from the barn and stockpiles to the central barn and stockpiles, and, on the return trip, they will bring supplies to the outskirts.
And so you’ve survived two winters: you have a fishing post (usually right in town), a forestry lodge, a gatherer’s hut, and a hunting lodge. Your citizens have plenty of vegetables, meats, and nuts and berries, and they are well-supplied with the main resources. Now those resources must be processed: logs must be chopped into firewood; leather must be sewn into coats for winter, and iron must be shaped into tools.
A woodcutter, tailor, and blacksmith will do well to remain centralized, which will test the limits of your early network. Can laborers get the resources back into town efficiently enough for the professionals to resupply necessities for the survival of the next winter?
Within a few years, you will not only have survived, but your citizens will have reproduced so much that you are forced to expand in all directions, exploiting your renewable resources to their maximum. At this point, a marketplace will be most helpful. Vendors (professional marketeers) will scour all of the stockpiles and barns of a wide radius, which reinforces your network infrastructure, creating more efficiency.
Hopefully, all the hunting and mining and quarrying, combined with your strong network, will create a surplus of supplies, especially tools and coats. Now it’s time to network with the outside world. After all, your citizens are beginning to tire of squash. Perhaps someone will sell us seed corn, or walnuts, or apples, or livestock (yes! livestock!) or poultry. There are seventeen domesticated food sources in addition to the one seed crop and the one orchard crop your citizens are allowed to keep when they are banished. If you do not build a trading post for the express purpose of purchasing more food sources, your citizens will grumble against you, and they will grow unhappy, so unhappy that their production will plummet, and they will begin to die. Just like in real life.
They keep making babies nonetheless, even if they can’t keep them alive. If you do allow them to prosper in happiness, you will exhaust their ability to maintain a single, centralized network. A second town will become necessary, complete with its own dedicated renewable resources, professionals to manage them, laborers to distribute them, and traders to centralize them. Moreover, it is important to maintain contact with the original centralized network, which has, by now, huge stockpiles at its behest, which will help the new outpost maintain high efficiency, which, in turn, will produce more babies.
All those babies will need an education, so you build a school. Everyone catches cold, too, so you create an opportunity for quack herbalists. When their efforts are exhausted, you create an institution for a well-educated scientifically-minded physician to open a practice.
Well, now, a few generations in, your citizens have forgotten how happiness comes merely from survival and prosperity, and they will begin to grumble against you, this time for no reason at all. It will be wise to allow them to create sub-networks: wells for town gossip, breweries for drowning sorrows and easing heartaches, chapels for transcendental meditation, and graveyards for remembering the good ole days.
The Game That Plays You
It’s not so much that you have anything to figure out beyond that first “aha!” moment, when you build the stockpile in the outskirts, adjacent to your first major construction project. Your citizens will tell you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, what they need: more housing, more professionals, more beer, more outside contact, etc. They will tell you that the network is failing and that you need to do something in a hurry.
For example, if your food storage is ample, but you have a hole in the network somewhere (remembering that the network is, essentially, the paths your citizens take to find food first, then warmth, then supplies, which is to say, invisible), mass starvation will descend upon them. You’ll think to yourself, “Why can’t they get to the food?” A barn burned down, perhaps, or a crop went bust. Perhaps you built several houses too many paces from a stockpile, or perhaps your common laborers are too thinly distributed.
Very frequently it is this last one. If it is, you will glance at the numbers: adults/students/children, and you’ll notice that too many children seem to be enjoying the benefits of a formalized education for an awfully long time. You will exclaim, “I need an adult! I need an adult! Else you will all starrrrrrrrrrrrrve!” The game log will, at that very moment, glibly inform you that your professional woodcutter has died of old age, and that there are no laborers to replace him. You made the age-old institutional mistake of making someone indispensable who should be dispensable. Then the game log will inform you that yet another baby has been born.
You’re out of food, out of firewood, and the population keeps growing.
The centralized bureaucracy informs you that upwards of thirty nomads are envious of your settlement, and they earnestly desire to immigrate.
Adults! Sweet merciful heavens, adults! Yes, dear God, yes! Come on in!
“Where’s the food?” they ask.
Immigration Strains the Network
Immigration is inhumane, both to the immigrants and to the settlement, if the network is at all taxed. If, at the end of every winter, you are not blessed with great storehouses of food, a sudden population increase of about 10% will starve everyone before the subsequent summer. Moreover, immigrants need houses, tools, coats, breweries, et. al., just like everyone else, and they need it forthwith, which empties all your stockpiles, which overwhelms your renewable resources, which creates a spiral effect as destructive as a tornado. Even more than that, immigrants bring a susceptibility to disease, an outbreak of which will likely overtax your herbalist and physician. It’s a nightmare.
Great discipline is required in your immigration policy: it is a heart wrenching thing to say to those energetic opportunity-seekers that they cannot settle in your midst. Alas! Instead, prepare the way for them. Outline a ghetto for them. Perhaps integrate them by leaving a number of houses only partially built in the older parts of your settlement. They can thus take advantage of your networks without having to create entire new ones.
Stockpiles, Barns, Marketplaces
It’s as simple a game as that: your citizens are at their most productive when they travel the least. Without so much walking to do, they have plenty of time to reproduce. Reproducing makes them happy. Healthy networks keep the price of reproduction low.
At this point, I could veer into a discussion of price flexibility versus rigidity, which is featured in the game, but I think I’ll leave that to those who have a vocabulary for it. For now, enjoy building networks!