If you don’t roll your eyes at Towncraft‘s title, you might well roll them at the accompanying images and synopsis. This being an App Store game, and this being an era where Minecraft is the new Grand Theft Auto in the cloning stakes, it would be quite easy to prematurely peg it as yet another tedious social game driven by in-app purchases, and a desire to ride on the coat-tails of a hot indie trend.
“Its closest siblings lie in that loose sub-genre comprised of Harvest Moon, Pikmin, Animal Crossing and, more recently, Little King’s Story.”Here’s the remarkable thing: it’s not. That is, it’s not tedious (quite the opposite, in fact), it’s not a social game, and it’s not a Minecraft knock-off. There’s some item synthesis going on, sure, but were that sufficient to label a game as a clone, why not start pointing fingers at The Last of Us? In searching for its antecedents, we’ll have to look elsewhere.
The medieval, town planning vibe might invite comparisons with SimCity-Civilisation, but those are macro games. This is a micro game, and as such its closest siblings lie in that loose sub-genre comprised of Harvest Moon, Pikmin, Animal Crossing and, more recently, Little King’s Story. It shares with these games an appreciation for the daily grind, an understanding that repetition and the mundane are acceptable (perhaps even hypnotic, or relaxing) elements of game design when directed towards a larger goal.
In the longer term, then, the appeal of TownCraft lies in the taming of land. Starting out with an untouched, densely-wooded area, the goal is to chop wood, mine minerals and, ultimately, develop a thriving township. It’s an open-ended goal, and the pay-offs can, as with all games of this type, be a long time coming. To see the trees come down and the buildings go up is, nonetheless, a satisfaction worth waiting for. With them will come a bustling community, one which – if the right people are hired and the books are balanced – will function as a well-oiled machine. In the shorter term, there are quests to provide some structure, which are mostly centred around the production of a particular number of an item, and serve as a spur to unlock new areas.
Like any game with its heart in the inventory, the experience can grow overwhelming, items piled on items to be combined with other items. Some might see this as an accurate rendering of the bureaucratic process; others will just find it fiddly. The crafting system itself can also prove tricky to navigate, with no guidance beyond a basic tutorial to light your way (there is, thankfully, a burgeoning wiki, if outside help is required).
“The sort of game for which the journalistic cliché “hidden gem” was invented.These quibbles aside, TownCraft is one of the most unexpected App Store surprises of the year, the sort of game for which the journalistic cliché “hidden gem” was invented. To find a game which is so willing to embrace the mundane is great – to find it in an environment where it could so easily have been something more cynical doubly so. Like all open-ended games, it will inevitably reach a plateaux, where the coffers are overflowing and there’s nothing left to do beyond watch the world that you’ve created go by. It’s at that point where you’ll likely be putting the game aside, true – but it’s also the moment where you’re likely to feel most proud of what you’ve accomplished.