The Lighthouse Customer: 1849

By Christopher Livingston on March 31st, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

No spaghetti in this western, but there is a bakery.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, wild west management in 1849.

How-do, pardner! I know you’re accustomed to a ton of shootin’, lootin’, rootin’ and/or tootin’ in your wild west games, but rarely do they address the real complexities of frontier life. For instance, where did the fabric needed to sew all those enormous calico dresses come from? Who provided the lumber and fashioned the boards to build the O.K. Corral? How did gunslingers acquire olive oil to daintily dip their sourdough bread into? Finally, those head-scratchin’, long-lingerin’ questions have been answered in the early access wild-west management game 1849 from Somasim. Reach for it, cowboy! Not your gun, your sales ledger!

Since 1849′s sandbox mode isn’t yet complete, the only way to currently play is in Story Mode. It takes you across the great state of California, building one town at a time and meeting specific goals in order to advance. In the town of Novato, build a few houses on your settlement, stockpile some hides by building a hunting camp, and open a trade route to import lumber. In Stockton, build a wheat farm for a bakery, a vineyard for a winery. In Sacramento, there’s a certain urgency to pan rivers for precious metals in what could be described as, I suppose, a “rush” for gold. In Live Oak, perhaps the biggest challenge of all: building a town people might actually want to raise children in, with actual decent homes instead of just stinky cloth tents and creaking wooden shacks. Also, discover oil. Olive oil, that is!

Every modern city has its roots in a couple stinky dudes and a wagon.

Building towns begins with placing lots for homes, and as settlers arrive, building places for them to work, connecting those places with roads, and fabricating and distributing goods through the town’s supply depot, all while minding your budget. While towns may produce multiple goods, no town can be completely self-sufficient and trade routes must be opened with other settlements across California. Naturally, as towns grow, problems grow. Your town may produce wheat and lumber, but your imports will include fabric, beer, and trouble.

Personally, I'd put booze in the first column. Priorities.

I’ve been managing Sacramento, which also happens to be the actual city I live in. In the present day I see Sacramento’s biggest problems as our shitty basketball team, a complete lack of movie pubs, and the inability to attract decent stand-up comedians, but it’s a little different in the old west version. My number one problem at the moment seems to be crime. While a saloon is a big draw for a potential citizens, it also introduces a seedier element to the populace: the outlaw. My precious ramshackle buildings are being robbed left and right, and my lone sheriff seems unable to stop them. Even my farms are constantly being burgled.

Robbing a farm next to the sheriff? Gutsy. Weird, but gutsy.

Which raises a question. How does one rob a wheat farm? In a bank robbery, enough loot can be stuffed into a bag with a dollar sign drawn on it. As heavy as gold is, a moderately-muscled robber could still carry off enough in his arms to make it worthwhile. But wheat? How much wheat, logistically, could a robber carry? Enough to make a loaf of bread, maybe, after all the backbreaking labor involved in stripping the grain from the stalks and grinding the grain into flour and mixing the flour with yeast and all the other steps I just found on a children’s website about how wheat gets made into bread. Why not set your sights on the end of the production chain and just rob the bakery, making off with a saddlebag of fresh buns? Oh, wait, my bakery has been robbed as well.

The people have spoken, and they want ham.

Perhaps as the result of the great wheat heist and bakery score, everyone in town is raising angry ham icons above their homes to signify their hunger, and despite adding another sheriff’s office, the robber continues to play his own game of wild west management that is superior to mine. Finally, I tear down the saloon completely, hoping that will give the Wheat Bandit nowhere to trade his illicit, handmade dinner rolls for whiskey.

I've spotted a woman! And she's a school teacher, not a prostitute!

Buildings can do more than produce goods and get robbed. They can also be upgraded. Some, like houses, grow bigger on their own in the right conditions, and some can be improved with money or materials. To meet my wine quota in the town of Live Oak, for instance, I need to build bigger vats to store my wine, meaning I need more boards to build the vats, meaning I need to improve my sawmill to produce more boards, meaning I need more lumber, requiring improvements to my logging camps. This complex, symbiotic dance is a good reminder that the wild west activities we all know and love, like shooting an outlaw off the roof of the general store or making love to a prostitute in a brothel’s old timey bathtub, required strict management of an intricate supply line. Remember this the next time you watch Once Upon A Time In The West. That signature harmonica took the collaboration of eleven different industries before it could reach Charles Bronson’s mouth so he could play Ennio Morricone’s haunting notes.

Tweets sure were wordy back in the day.

During lulls in my fast-paced life of buying and building, it’s enjoyable to sit back and watch the tiny citizens go about their business. If you don’t have enough industry, unemployed workers will wander the streets, looking for jobs. Order supplies from another city, and you’ll see a wagon roll into town with your goods. The farmer works in the vineyard, his employee pushes a cart to the winery, the winery delivers full vats to the depot, and the depot inventory gets updated. It’s not just a clutter of citizens to make the town look busy, they’re actually doin’ stuff! Except the sheriff. He walks around uselessly with his eensy gun, oblivious to the constant burgling.

At least it'll take people's minds off the ham shortage.

There are also little events now and then. A commission comes in from time to time, usually to stockpile certain resources or to trade with another town for a set amount of goods. There are natural disasters like fires and earthquakes which will have you scrambling to clear rubble or hurriedly building that firehouse you never bothered with.

How The West Was Funded.

As with all management games, I struggle to stay afloat because I always want to build all of the buildings all of the time, immediately. Give me a selection of five different buildings, and my choice is yes. Stockpiling goods is also tough: upgrading requires loads of resources, and it can be hard watching townsfolk clambering for booze or lumber when I’m trying to fill out my wine cellars or sell wood to Stockton to meet a quota. Other scenarios involve building canneries for tinned meat, distilleries for whiskey, orchards for fresh fruit, stone masons, carpenters, cobblers, tailors, and a host of other old-timey businesses to be run, presumably, by a balding fellow with round spectacles, muttonchops, and a filthy smock.

Just leave that gold lying around everywhere, dude.

A soothing, twangy soundtrack has recently been added, and sound effects are slowly being patched in (when I played, my towns were silent as a tombstone). There’s unfortunately no way to rotate buildings, however. While it doesn’t hamper gameplay (as long as a road is touching a building it’s usable), it would be nice to swivel things around a bit from an aesthetic standpoint. Apparently, the old west had strict building codes along with its insatiable desire for ham.

1849 is available for early-access purchase on IndieGameStand and is a part of Steam Greenlight.

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33 Comments »

  1. BTAxis says:

    Getting a verrry Caesar 3/Zeus vibe from this. And that is good.

    • Zankmam says:

      Maybe I should read the article or watch some gameplay – but the images make me think of Anno.

      • luukdeman111 says:

        As does the title

      • Aninhumer says:

        Aren’t Anno and Zeus almost identical in terms of game mechanics? The only differences I can think of are that Anno has islands and Zeus has Gods.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I really liked Caesar II as a kid – you also had control of a province, and battles were fought on a separate map with simple formations. Eventually when you completed your goals you could embezzle all the province’s income and run away with it to the next province.

    • secuda says:

      looking at those pictures with the meat dingling in the air over the houses give me some sort of Tapfarm feeling over this, please correct me if i am wrong :/

    • oyog says:

      I never got into the Anno series and I have no idea what Tapfarm is but I played an early version when they first started their TIGsource devblog and yeah, it definitely reminded me of Impression’s games, minus the clunky combat.

    • anaemic says:

      Im getting a very clear ‘Simpsons tapped out’ vibe from these screenshots, which is worrying.

  2. RPSRSVP says:

    Reminds me of Banished.

  3. Hunchback says:

    Sounds nice, but i am bit worried it’s a browser-game++ ?

  4. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    OH CRAP! AN
    EARTHQUAKE!

    • Bluerps says:

      Ok.

      • Gap Gen says:

        All is well, indeed. No need for alarm.

        Butler, would you fetch the lord his opium? I fear he is quite out of sorts.

        • Philotic Symmetrist says:

          Alas m’Lord, I regret to inform you that our storeroom, the apothecary and the poppy farms have all been pilfered; local production of angry ham has risen eightfold though whether this would be of any value in alleviating m’Lord’s malady I cannot say.

  5. Smashbox says:

    This is quickly becoming one of my favorite features on the site. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  6. sinister agent says:

    Sounds quite promising, particularly the part about townsfolk actually doing stuff, and carts coming in when you order things and so on. It’s that kind of “sit back and enjoy watching it live” aspect that a fair few of these sorts of games overlook, to their detriment.

    I still enjoy watching the original Settlers go about their business after the initial flurry of orders. I like a bit of relaxation in my management games.

    • SillyWizard says:

      You should really check out Banished.

      • Philotic Symmetrist says:

        I though Banished was more along the lines of “sit back and enjoy watching it die”? Typically at least.

        • Seyona says:

          It’s really only like that until you get the hang of it. Just like every city building sim, there’s a learning period. Around my 6th city, I got the hang of it, and lasted for 50 years on that play through. The sense of accomplishment is really nice.

  7. xfstef says:

    Well someone beat me to it. I had envisioned such a game for years now. If I go ahead and do make it, I will forever be remembered as “that guy who ripped off 1849″. FML.

    • Shiloh says:

      Actually, I think you’ll find *I* was the person who originally had this idea. I used to love the Sierra city builders and often wondered why they’d not “gone West” – the setting is perfect for it. I even went so far as to mention it literally all over the internet (or Ceefax as we called it back then).

      I’m very pleased to see my idea has now finally borne fruit.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Well, my father invented the Question Mark

      • xfstef says:

        Well it obviously doesn’t matter who came up with the idea first, but rather who had the money and experience to start making the game first.
        I will still probably try to make such a game and I’ll probably need a whole army of internet monkeys to combat the massive “ripoff” backlash that will occur.
        My only other chance is that these guys screw up and the people are left with desiring a better game within this setting and genre.
        We’ll just have to wait and see …

        • Shiloh says:

          Hi again, well if I were you, just make “Caesar III in the Wild West” and you’ll soon be coining it in. I’ll help as well if you like – I’ve the entire tech/upgrade tree mapped out on the back of a fag packet somewhere round here… and mine has the Iron Horse in it, bringing prosperity, whiskey and outlaws to your town in no particular order… as well as Gold Rushes, whoopin’ Injuns and buffalo… lots of buffalo…

  8. Henchimus says:

    Is this like the Impressions city building series? Is there any game that can match that glorious series?

  9. SillyWizard says:

    It would be interesting to play a game along these lines in which, instead of having the player improve the lumber mill to affect a growth of the winery, the AI is capable of recognizing these opportunities for growth itself.

    The player then could take the roll of the town council, and attempt to keep the market vital and on an upward trend by legislating/enforcing economic policy, rooting out corruption, attempting to make your town attractive for investors/companies to move to, while at the same time being mindful of social justice.

    A reins-on-capitalism sim, if you will. (At either spectrum, obviously, you could have lassaiz faire evil or an Ayn Rand Hippytown where nobody can tie their own shoelaces without gov’t assistance.)

    • oyog says:

      And heck, while we’re at it lets have an option for the AI to play the city council while we play as Hagbard Celine/the bootleggers, finding a niche in the black market and taking advantage of it while avoiding The Authorities.

      Man, that has to have been done already. It sounds too good to not have been done.

  10. racccoon says:

    This is not too bad a game by the looks of it :)
    How about you guys at RockPaperShotgun knock on the door of this guys title that’s 10 year further than this one here Frontier 1859 http://frontier1859.com/ this has been in and around the net ehh production…for donkeys years, I think 2002 was the earliest post i saw…

    • chiefnewo says:

      I went and checked out the site for Frontier 1859 (mmorpg), but it looks like there is nothing playable at this time, and there are no plans to develop something playable in the near future. I think it’s unlikely they’ll get covered on RPS until it is more than just a pipe dream.

  11. mr.black says:

    Strong reminder on Caesar/ Zeus franchise (RIP!)
    Well, if they manage to depict stored goods as strongly as was the case in magnificent Caesar 3, I’ll be not just interested, but very interested!

  12. freedomispopular says:

    I’m loving this little resurgence of (decent) simulators that we’re getting now.

    I’m eagerly anticipating the day when some small studio comes up with the SimCity that SimCity failed to be.

  13. guygodbois00 says:

    Dr Livingston, I presume?