To some people logistics is a chore. A necessary part of getting to the fun stuff. The vegetables. To others — me, for instance — logistics is a foundation for the fun stuff. Without logistics in a game, you’re sort of cheating. How did those bullets get into that gun? How did that fuel get into that spaceship? How did that party get its rations for the trip to Evil Wizard Castle? What’s in that caravan you have to escort? How did this tavern get its mead? To be perfectly honest, I’d rather move something from point A to point B than shoot a bad guy, slay a monster, or even build a fort.
One of my favorite things in Master of Orion wasn’t any black hole generator or Darlok espionage mission or huge ultra rich gaia planet. It was getting food from farm planets to the colonies that needed it to grow. This is as good a place as any for a quick shout-out to Star Ruler 2, one of the most lovingly logistics-intensive science fiction strategy games you will ever play. I’m making that chef’s kiss gesture as I type this.
So naturally I’m all-in for resource management games like Anno 1800, which is obviously this year’s AAA logistics game. It exemplifies Ubisoft’s overwhelming design mandate: always keep a player busy with something. Whether it’s an open world festooned with Ubistuff or a resource management game, Ubisoft is terrified that I’ll get bored and go play something else. So Anno 1800 is a frenzied whirl of task management whiplash. These pirates are attacking, that expedition demands my choice from a multiple-choice vignette, this island governor has this mission for me to pick up that ambassador, these citizens need me to set up a resource chain for their silk pajama pants, those houses need more lumber to upgrade to the next level, now I have to decide how to spend my influence on the newspaper for a couple of 5% bonuses, now I’m back to those same pirates, and, look, I’ve just unlocked a whole new tier of citizens and buildings and demands. It sometimes feels more like juggling than resource management. There’s hardly a moment to breathe. There’s hardly a moment to consider if this is really the game I want to be playing right now. Anno 1800’s neediness can be exhausting.
But Transport Fever 2 has no such insecurity. It’s just a lot of chill logistics, hauling stuff back-and-forth across a lovely map, trundling unhurriedly across the land and through the years, from horse-drawn wagons to jet airliners. It’s got some vehicle stats, but it’s not about detailed vehicles. It’s got some resource chains, but it’s not about production. It’s got some traffic management tools, but it’s not about traffic management. It’s got some city development, but it’s not about city development. It’s got pollution and happiness and impatient commuters, but it’s not about the environment, or morale, or a population. These are just bits and pieces caught up in the flow of whatever arteries I’m laying into the terrain. I make a circulatory system. The cities and industries do all the work from there.
It’s nearly as comprehensive as The Colonists, last year’s no-frills, just-the-logistics-ma’am transportation management game with unparalleled tools to set up, monitor, and manage the flow of goods from A to B, and all the way to Z if you’re so inclined to go that far. The Colonists laid bare its brilliantly meticulous logistics and resource management. It didn’t have the production values to be gorgeous, so it opted for intricate and clear. There’s some of that intricacy and clarity in Transport Fever 2. Not as much, because contrary to the title, Transport Fever 2 is chill above all else. But like The Colonists, it wants to give you all the information you need if you want to optimize.
But like many games of this sort — city builders, resource management, transportation porn — there’s only ever as much pushback as I make for myself. With patience, all things can happen. If I let the game run overnight, in the morning I have the money to build anything I want, anywhere I want it. There is no fluctuating supply and demand, just points on the map that spit out and accept resources. The calculation of maintenance and obsolete vehicles doesn’t seem to do anything. My horse-drawn carriages are still trotting along, well after I’ve started running diesel trains and electric trams. The passengers on my airplanes will look down and wave at all the horses plying the roads. Should I replace the horses with trucks? Maybe. It doesn’t seem to matter.
But is this a flaw or a feature? Consider that Transport Fever 2 lets you hang your head out the window of a train and ride it back and forth or round and round. Like Anno 1800, it gives you plenty of tools to watch and admire, but unlike Anno 1800, it’s got all the time in the world for watching and admiring. The scenery goes by, the tracks rattle, the whistle blows, the truck’s engine purrs, the boat drifts lazily downriver, the plane banks and dips toward the runway. No one is pushing me to get out and build new plantain farms. There is no opponent AI whose company might get in the way of whatever railroad route I build later. There is no multiplayer. It’s just me and a map of stuff that wants to get somewhere else, waiting patiently for me to build it a way.
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The best of 2019:
10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3
9. Transport Fever 2
8. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw
7. Phoenix Point
6. Field of Glory: Empires
5. Age of Wonders: Planetfall
4. Void Bastards
3. One Finger Death Punch 2
1. Sunless Skies