If you harvest, craft and build it, they will come!
There are quite a few world-building games available across all platforms these days. There are triple-A games from both Sony (LittleBigPlanet) and Disney (Disney Infinity), but these games tend to not be considered “world-building,” they’re more like traditional “platformers” with some level building aspects. Independent games like Terraria and Minecraft have helped to expand the world-building genre and paved the way for other indies to follow suit. Towncraft is the first effort from Aussie developers Flat Earth Games, so does it have all the right ingredients to keep players interested, or is this a game strictly for hardcore do-it-yourselfers?
Towncraft starts you with nothing. I mean, literally nothing! Once you’ve selected your avatar and your world is generated you’re just a little land baron standing in the middle of a meadow surrounded by a variety of trees and rocks. If you played the tutorial before starting your world, you’ll know that the first thing you need to do is to collect a piece of wood and a rock so that you can craft a hatchet... which can chop down trees... which convert into wooden planks and poles... which turn into workbench. As you’re traversing your world, you’ll start to come across additional items that you can harvest, like coal and rocks with minerals that can be mined, along with wheat and grapes that can be harvested to start your own crops.
The cute and stylish world is easy to explore just by simply tapping anywhere on the screen. Doing so will send your avatar to the exact location you want. Any object you come into contact with can be interacted with in some way. If you’re in need of additional rocks or want to add to your stockpile of wheat, everything is just a quick tap or two away.
Once you’ve collected enough ingredients, it’s time to start combining them. You can take the wheat you’ve harvested to a windmill you’ve constructed turning the wheat into flour, which can then have water added to it to make dough so you can bake bread. As you continue to build up your town a variety of other folks will pass through it. You can then either sell or trade your bread with them. I think you’ve got the idea.
Where things start to get a bit tedious is when it comes time to make something from all the items you’ve collected and harvested. A lot of playtime is already consumed by doing the latter. Then trying to figure out what combination of items makes something worthwhile tends to be a lot of trial and error. It’s borderline frustrating having no idea what can be made and too often I was left feeling overwhelmed by not knowing what to do next. Sooner or later I’d get lucky and figure out the right combination of ingredients. This could very well be a stopping point if you don’t have the patience to try and keep track of what ingredients make what items. An ingredient guide feels sorely missed, but it may have been that the developer really wanted you to figure things out on your own.
The user interface is a double-edged sword. Once I had collected and harvested a lot of different items, I had trouble finding where they went. It turns out that there are several layers/pages to the interface. What you’ve collected and what they've been combined with determines where the items ends up being located. Think building materials on one page and consumables on another. Be prepared to spend a lot of time sifting through these pages at least until you become more familiar with them.
The other issue I had is how much real estate the UI menus take up. In one instance, you end up with a page on the left showing your harvested items. One the right-hand side you have the page that shows you what your combined items will become by dragging or tapping ingredients to it. But with both sides open, you no longer have the ability to see your game world. Fortunately, when you’re accessing the building phase of the game you only end up with tabs that pop out from the left, right, and bottom of the screen. This allows you to see and interact with your game world when you need to build a new item or structure.
Surprisingly, Towncraft has no online functionality. I don’t know if this was an oversight by the developers or not, but it would have been fun to have had the opportunity to visit other towns and trade or buy goods from them, in perhaps an Animal Crossing sort of way. They could have made it so that some of the rarer items would have to have been collected only by visiting a friend’s town.
You'll come away with a deeper sense of satisfaction if you really stick with Towncraft, as the developers provides endless opportunities to be creative and a shiny new world just waiting to be stripped of its resources. It’s a quiet and peaceful world with no threat of danger or destruction of what you’ve created and should keep casual players interested for some time. Players in it for the long haul have the ability to create a vibrant mini-ecosystem provided they’re not discouraged by the monstrous UI and lack of online capabilities.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on iPad version. Also available on iPhone and Mac.