As you may know, Electronic Arts publishes one of the worst citybuilders you can play, and one of the best. I’ve been heartily enjoying the latter now that I’m no longer playing the former. SimCity: Societies, a 2007 game created by the folks at Tilted Mill who know citybuilders like no one else, takes a unique approach to the genre. Love it or hate it, you haven’t built a city like this.
Many citybuilders are based on a “gardening” model. You stake out rows for particular crops, make sure the conditions are right, and stand back while they grow. It’s an organic and arguably realistic approach to how cities develop. But SimCity Societies is nothing like planting a garden. It’s more like fitting together unique pieces to create elaborate clockwork systems with unique personality. And one of the game’s strengths is how much personality you’ll find in the different pieces.
After the jump, let me tell you about one of the pieces. Bring your knitting needle.
Here’s the agricultural expanse that constitutes to northern part of Crow’s Landing, a burgeoning community that’s in no danger of butting up against a border anytime soon. Crow’s Landing is an actual place I know only from the exit sign on Interstate 5 on the way to the Bay Area from Los Angeles. I have no idea what it is, but it’s a cool thing to name a city. I’ve maintained my city’s identity by limiting myself to buildings in the “small town” category. I make most of my money from sprawling farms, compact orchards, and tiny chicken coops. Most of my citizens live in homesteads and farmhouses. Sometimes I build a hacienda, an upper class house that cashes in on my community’s prosperity. Literally. Prosperity is one of six values represented by a pool of points available to spend. I don’t have a lot of prosperity, which tends to come from skyscrapers and malls. But Crow’s Landing gets a bit of prosperity from its savings and loan office and bank. I can use that prosperity for fancy houses. Such as the $1800 hacienda.
But $1800 isn’t always $1800! One of the workplaces in SimCity Societies is this modest cabin called a quilting circle.
It’s a small building. It’s easy to fit into a cranny where you might otherwise drop a chicken coop or a gazebo. Five people can work here to earn a bit of money for your city. It has a very low maintenance cost. But the main value of a quilting circle is its special ability, called a volunteer drive. After being staffed by 12 workers with a high level of happiness, a green border will flash around the cabin. This means I can click on it to declare a volunteer drive, which makes my next house cost only 10% of its normal price.
My next $1800 hacienda is only $180.
Micromanagement? Well, yeah, if you’re used to just watching buildings sprout like flowers in the spring. But that’s not how SimCity Societies works. You choose the pieces, and sometimes you manage them directly. It’s pretty easy to notice the flashing border when a quilting circle fills up. If I want, I suppose I could cheese out by building a block of quilting circles to support new home construction. Basically, an army of quilt makers paving the way for ridiculously cheap housing developments. Is that balanced? Is a 90% discount too much? Is this a foolproof strategy I should include in every city every time I play? Should I include quilting circles in my polluted urban dystopia so that I get cheaper stacks of sleeping tubes? Frankly, I don’t really care whether SimCity Societies is balanced so every strategy is as valid as every other strategy. I’ll take personality over balance any day.
Up next: think of the children