Settlement Survival - title

As my frequent readers probably know, I am a sucker for city-building and village-building games. I buy a few new ones almost every year, and ever since the release of Banished, the medieval village sim has been all the rage. Though it looks like post-apocalyptic settlement builders are also becoming a hot sub-genre -- probably as a result of the popularity of the settlement-building in Fallout 4. Anyway, last year, Chichian encouraged me to try out a then-Early Access title called Settlement Survival. I was hooked on it for a couple months, and then set it aside with the intent to come back to it later. In the meantime, the game saw its official Steam retail release, which encouraged me to go back and give it a second go (and formal review).

Time to plan

Settlement Survival is one of the more addictive and challenging city-builders that I've played. It features a complicated web of production chains and resources, which can be a real challenge to plan and manage. Trying to unlock and use everything in a single village will take a lot of time, effort, and planning.

Settlement Survival provides a handy-dandy timeline in the top right corner of the screen which shows when all the seasons start and end, and which also shows icons for important upcoming events. Everything from the arrival of a merchant ship, to incoming immigrants, and even disasters or other random events will be forecast a whole year in advance. This gives the player plenty of time to plan ahead, and avoids the problem of the player feeling un-prepared to take advantage of an un-expected boon or to mitigate a disaster.

This timeline is the core gimmick of the game, as it enables long-term planning.

There are also random events that are not forecast on the timeline, and they often require that the player have certain resources or tools on-hand. But these are rarely destructive, so worst case is that you miss out on the opportunity to get some free bonus resources (which you may or may not have needed anyway). Nevertheless, it does put a pressure on the player to build up a surplus stockpile of many goods in case one of these events pops up. Tools and beer being the most common items used for such events, based on my experience.

This timeline helps to create some medium and long-term planning and reward structures that really makes the game crazy addictive. There's the short-term goals for things like building the next building. Then there's the medium-term goals like completing the next harvest season. And then there's the longer-term goals like accumulating goods to trade to an incoming merchant ship, or waiting for the next batch of immigrants to give you a labor surplus that can allow you to go on the next wave of building infrastructure. There's always some milestone right over the horizon, and then another right beyond that, and I find myself playing longer than I had planned, and long after I should have gone to bed, because I want to get to that next harvest, or trade opportunity, or make sure that I get through that next disaster.

This also means that random disasters don't feel as annoying because you have plenty of warning that a disaster is coming, and can prepare accordingly. Further, the disasters themselves rarely kill population directly. Rather, they usually impact your resource-generation for a period of time. So most disasters are mitigated simply by stockpiling the affected resource ahead of time.

There are also random events that do not appear on the timeline.

The timeline also discourages save-scumming. Disasters are forecast a whole in-game year ahead of time, so re-loading to before the disaster would require going back more than a whole year. And that might not even necessarily save you, since I've noticed that the disasters still happen at the same time, even if I go back to a save from before the disaster shows up in the timeline. I'm not sure how long in advance they are generated, but the fact that I know that I can't avoid it by simply reloading and re-rolling a die means that I'm more inclined to batten down the hatches and just roll with whatever happens.

The end result is that the gameplay ends up feeling more organic, and the challenge of surviving and growing your fledgling settlement remains relatively high. When I do save-scum, it's usually to undo some mistake that I made, so that I learn from my mistake, fix it and do better; rather than to outright cheat by undoing some random event that the game threw at me.

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