[The following is a guest review of Towns by The Backlog Journey's Colin Brown. Towns is currently available in Indie Royale's Alpha Collection.]

From reading up on future plans for the game, Towns could very well be a thing of greatness. SMP bills it as a fusion of Dwarf Fortress, Dungeon Keeper and Diablo, but I would go so far as to add the Settlers series and Majesty to the list of influences. The idea of Towns is to build a town from scratch in the untamed wildness and on top of a dangerous dungeon. From that description, it sounds to me like a Tristram simulator, which seems like a really fantastic idea. Of course, Towns is currently in version 0.40 which is a long way off from the 1.0 realization of this premise, so how does the game hold up so far?

Unfortunately the dreamy Diablo/Dungeon Keeper aspects are still a ways away, but the rest of the game works very well as a Dwarf Fortress for beginners. The crafting features are already well fleshed out, with a pretty wide variety of tasks and tools for your poor townspeople to use. The big rush at the beginning of the game is to get a steady stream of food into your town, followed by proper crafting resources and then actually constructing your buildings. It's a very regulated progression of economy, with each new improvement you add allowing your people to harness increasingly rare resources and materials to make better improvements. It's not quite deep enough yet; it's not difficult to hit a metaphorical glass ceiling for your town in three hours or so, leaving little self imposed goals to achieve beyond bigger populations and better soldiers. However, it's very satisfying to get your town to a stable position, and from there you can expand across the map, or begin to dig in.

Less fleshed out is the soldier system and combat. After your town finds itself in a stable position, the only real goal you have is to explore downwards into the depths. You can do this by building weapons and armour for your townies, and then converting them into soldiers. However, the Leeroy Jenkins AI exhibited by your unwise soldiers makes dungeon delving slightly tricky. You have absolutely no control over your town guards, and they will simply run and attack any enemy they can access no matter how injured they are, how strong it is or how angry it will make you. The game really needs some kind of off limits command, or the ability to specifically target certain enemies.

Even regular chores have this issue too, due to the fact that you cannot assign specific villagers to certain tasks. Like Dwarf Fortress, it's all automated; you can command your townspeople to do something but it is up to them whether or not they follow up on your order right away. For example, instead of a dedicated mason, the walls end up being constructed by whoever is free if they don't get distracted by anything else. In my first game I watched my townspeople slowly starve to death because they felt like mining a new tunnel would be more fun than baking bread to sustain themselves. Then a horde of spiders gnawed off their starving faces. It may be too late for the citizens of Backlogville, but the next update is already slated to correct some of these problems. Towns 0.41 adds a priority list to emphasize what sort of tasks the townies should do first. It's a fairly elegant solution, which keeps the staple indirect control scheme, but makes it a bit easier to keep your townfolk happy and alive.

There is the promise of much to look forward to in Towns, but I'm already pretty satisfied with what's been provided. Even more impressive is the variety of extra maps and mods being offered by the ever helpful community. With a few more tweaks, a better AI system for the soldiers, that much teased hero system and mod support, SMP could have a solid hit on their hands.

Interested in Towns? Head on over to Indie Royale's page to pick this up and two more great Alphas for a steal.