For Christmas this year my brother-in-law bought my wife and I a huge pack of independently produced games.  Among these games was a game called simply Towns.

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Towns is another in a growing field of sandbox games. The basic premise is that you’re trying to build a successful town. That’s really it. However, the gameplay is so much more than that.

Like a city sim, you have townspeople who have basic needs that will need managing; hunger, sleep, and happiness. To fulfill these needs you’ll have to develop automated production chains to keep a constant supply ticking over.

For instance, one of the simplest production chains is for bread. You plant a wheat field and set your villagers to harvest wheat as it gets ripe. From there you build a mill to turn it into flour. To build that mill you’ll need a carpentry shop. Once you have flour, you’ll need to bake it into bread. This requires a baking table and oven, which in turn require that carpentry shop and a masonry shop. Once you’ve got all that built, you can then put in an automated bread queue that tells your village to always keep x number of bread in stock.

Now, I’m sure that sounds like a lot of fun. The sandbox portion of that whole chain comes into the actual design of the town aspects of these tasks. The town design is extremely modular. First you place a room type (which can be something like carpentry, personal room for a villager, barracks for soldiers, etc) of whatever size you want, then you build walls around it… again of whatever type you want (Provided you have the materials). Add a door and some windows, maybe a few floors, and then you have yourself a building.

Once you’ve got yourself a small, self-sufficient town built and have attracted some new villagers, then you can start thinking about exploring the dungeon. You see, under each town you build is a procedurally generated dungeon. Starting around 2 levels below the surface is a randomly generated warren of monsters. By tapping into this warren, and building a swanky tavern, you can attract heroes to your village who will begin to explore the dungeon. They’ll kill the monsters, loot whatever they feel like keeping, and leave the rest down there for your town to collect for themselves.

As you dig deeper the dungeon gets harder, and you’ll need more infrastructure above ground in order to support the heroes and soldiers that will be needed to plumb the depths.

The game is extremely open-ended and the influences of games like Populous, Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, and Dungeon Keeper (to name a few) are very apparent when playing the game.

Unlike a lot of the more polished games you’re likely to play, Towns will feel kinda lacking in the graphics and animations department. Battle, villager actions, and even the landscape will feel a little underwhelming. However, once you get into the meat of the game, this lack will feel rather minor. And, with everything being very sand-box style, there’s no right or wrong way to play. Really, if you don’t care about the dungeon exploration portion of the game, there’s nothing to say you can’t just play it as a city sim game and build the best town possible.

Another shining spot of the game is that it’s modder friendly. There is a large variety of mods already out there, and instructions on how to begin modding the game yourself. That’s where real sand-box gaming starts to shine. The game itself becomes a fluid creature, changeable to your desire, and the changes shared with others.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

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