1849 is a gold rush simulator brought to us by SomaSim, a studio founded in 2013 by Robert Zubek. Their goal to rekindle the love for classic simulation games is apparent in their design choices. This is a retro-design with a touch of modern concept. Influenced by games such as Caesar, Civilization, Railroad Tycoon, SimCity and the Sims … 1849 attempts to bridge the gap between simple design and modern expectation.
The game design can be summed up by the developers themselves:
“We imagine our (much) younger selves, used to sitting in front of enormous Pentium II towers, basking in the glow of a CRT monitor waiting for a CD-ROM to load. We wonder what they would think of playing a game like Caesar III on a handheld device that weighs just over a pound. Since we’re still them, just (much) older, we think that sounds pretty fantastic.”
1849 does not attempt to create the most beautiful scenery, develop the most complex AI, or draw out the most advanced graphics modern machines are capable of pushing. This game provides a simple simulator that feels like it was designed with tablets in mind, while extending the opportunity to traditional PC players (available on Steam).
The game offers a few options. You can either dig into the campaign where you manage a series of micro-towns with specific economic and trade goals, or you can drop into the sandbox mode that lets you pick any spot on the map and build up your miniature empire.
Although the building process focuses on limited tasks, there is some depth to the simulation process. Your goal is to establish enough production of raw materials (wheat, grapes, hides, meat) with enough industry (bread, wine, food) to maintain and grow your town, while trading the excess to continue expansion.
The population will be determined by the number of housing spaces you place. If your housing is insufficient for the demand then tents will start to pop up across the map, leaving a sore sight for any who pass through. Building new homes not only provides these folk with a place to live, but it also generates population growth. With the increase of certain materials (wood, food, hides) and the placement of nearby “key attractions” such as the saloon or church, the small shacks you’ve established will grow into homes and eventually larger complex buildings. A larger population will generate natural taxes and increase the size of your wallet or purse. However maintaining the more advanced housing buildings requires a steady generation of raw materials. If there are insufficient hides or lumber to “maintain” the higher ranked buildings, then the houses will “downgrade” and the population will be affected, essentially reducing taxable income. Your large townhomes will often and frequently downgrade to a shack if the materials are not available to “maintain” them.
While the design to downgrade homes based on natural resources is a strange one, it works in stemming speed growth and it provides a money/resource sink for raw materials. This doesn’t stop clever folks from generating vast amounts of income within a short period of time however. Certain designs (production to housing ratio) will generate tens of thousands of dollars within a relatively short period of time. At one point I left my town while I went to make some food, when I returned there was no “damage” done to my town, but I was sitting on a healthy stash of over $90,000 for doing nothing. There is little to deter or cause the player to “fail” at the game, making it a great casual experience.
Hardcore simulator fans might find themselves turned off by 1849. Resource management is simplistic, there are no significant threats that can’t be prevented with adequate placement of buildings (enough fire stations will prevent any and all fires for prolonged periods of time). There is also zero management on the population itself, meaning there is no military/combat experience (ie: Ceasar/Civilization), individual simulation (SimCity), or significant interaction between towns outside of standard trade routes. Micromanagement is eliminated in favor of macro-growth.
For those seeking a casual simulator experience, 1849 is a simple and traditional simulator that will keep you entertained for short periods of time. We spent our time with the PC version and built up dozens of small towns into thriving cities while spending relatively short periods of time with each one. Our impression is that the game is designed and optimized for the tablet/mobile experience, and the PC extension was just an added bonus.
While 1849 doesn’t break any ground with new revelations, it does pay homage to classic simulators that many in our generation grew up with. It’s a nod to simple, fun and honest gameplay without the complex intricacies that often create overwhelming experiences. Hardcore gamers will likely take two steps back from this title, but anyone that is looking for a casual simulator on a mobile or tablet device will find a happy medium here. It’s a simple game, and it’s an easy game … but you can dig into some of the complexities of trade on your own time if you so desire.
This review was evaluated using a Steam key provided by SomaSim. You can read more on our ethics policy here.