November 28, 2012 2:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each of the games in the latest bundle from IndieGames' co-created site, Indie Royale.]
There are a handful of genres that we just don't see very often in the indie scene, with one of the most obvious examples being the city building sim. Indeed, there hasn't been a full fledged city builder in any Indie Royale bundle to date, with the one possible exception being Towns. This changes with Children of the Nile, an Egyptian city sim from developer Tilted Mill, who later acquired full ownership over the game and thus were able to package together an Enhanced Edition to incorporate modern advancements like higher resolutions.
Placing you in charge of building an ancient Egyptian empire on the backs of your population, Children of the Nile takes a fair amount of influence from the Anno series and the classic City Building Series from Impression Games (which Tilted Mill contributed to and Children of the Nile was technically part of upon the original release). However, they also throw enough twists into the formula to make it relatively unique and rather fun to play.
The big twist in Children of the Nile is that those titular children are essentially your main form of currency. There are traditional resources you need to pile up like food and bricks, but those resources are so easy to acquire thanks to the Nile's benevolence. Instead, your main job is to build a complex hierarchical society to support the industries that refine these items and keep your city growing. Farmers grow food thanks to the flooding of the Nile, but only so many farmers can work before you need nobles to manage them. Nobles like pretty things, so you'll need to provide shops and shopkeepers to satisfy their rampant consumerism. Of course, these shopkeepers need to be paid in food, so you'll want more farmers. This is a pretty simple slice of what becomes a complex management challenge when you throw in military, religion and the Egyptian focus on afterlife, but it's all very intuitive and supported by a very helpful UI that lets you track down problem areas and solve major issues easily.
The one thing that struck me about Children of the Nile is how it encourages you to not only build cities, but also plan them. Even as a big Anno fan, my cities generally looked like I wrote a first year university exam on urban planning, in crayon, with a massive hangover. There's little incentive to go for aesthetic, which is something that gets reversed in Children of the Nile. While making a beautiful city has no tangible reward beyond a smug sense of self satisfaction, the game offers the tools to do it without impacting gameplay. Roads, paths, trees and plazas don't cost any resources, simply offering cosmetic enhancements to help you plan out a blueprint of your city ahead of time. For the first time in a game like this, I was consciously planning out distinct districts ahead of time, laying down roads and trees long before my bricklayers started whatever project I was cooking up next. Normally screenshots are an afterthought in the games that I cover, but here I took dozens of vanity shots simply because I felt so proud of my well designed, amazing layout.
So if you like city builders, Children of the Nile is a fine choice and the Enhanced Edition does a great job of bringing it up to modern standards. It still definitely looks like a game from 2004, but city strategies can be a timeless genre if handled right and Children of the Nile definitely does that. With plenty of complex systems to experiment with like an intriguing map based diplomacy system and an economy based on population, not material wealth, Children of the Nile is a fresh take on a genre that certainly deserves to be held up to the level of my much beloved Zeus, Emperor and the other Impression Games sims that originally inspired it.
[Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Puzzle Agent 2, The Dream Machine: Chapters 1-3, Children of the Nile: Enhanced Edition, and Adventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery are available in the Stuffing Bundle on Indie Royale.]