May 19, 2014 4:45 PM | Lena LeRay
When gold was first discovered in California in the 19th century, it spurred people to move clear across the continent and develop the area from backwater to economic powerhouse. That's the inspiration for city building sim 1849, the first game from SomaSim. It asks players to go from town to town in California, building them up one by one. Available for both PC and tablets, 1849 has a good balance of freedom and rope to hang oneself with.
The game starts off slow, teaching you the interface and the basics of building a town that won't instantly collapse on itself. It gives you all the tools you need, tells you basically how to use them, then goes hands-off and lets you learn how the systems work on your own. It's nice. Learning which strategies are viable and which aren't is one of the joys of playing a sim game, and this game has plenty of that. It adds new things at a pace you should be able to handle and continues to take a relatively hands-off approach to letting you grow your cities up from a depot in the middle of nowhere.
1849's pace is slow, even if you have the game running at double speed. That gives you plenty of time to observe your systems in action. Farms and the like are animated when worked, with all the graphics, animations, music, and sounds seeming appropriate for the theme and the era in which the California gold rush took place. It gives you plenty of time to buy and sell goods to other towns via trade routes, though you can pause the simulation if you really need more time.
The biggest downside the game has, and it's not even that bad, is that you can't see how much a building costs to upkeep without placing it first. You'll have to remember the costs as you get farther along in the game. It's not really a big deal, as given types of buildings all basically have the same costs, but it can get annoying. There are a couple of other minor user interface issues that are irksome until you learn to work around them, but they're nitpicky things that really don't have a big impact on the game.
You get essentially the same experience on PC and on tablets, with the biggest difference being that the PC version has a sandbox mode. It starts by showing you the same map of the California area seen in story mode. You can choose any spot on the map and it will show you some information on the climate, terrain, and metals to be found there as well as tell you how big a lot you'll get to play in. The game then starts. The sandbox mode is available as soon as you install the game and doesn't require you to play to unlock it, but it also doesn't give you any hints or anything about how to play. The reason sandbox mode wasn't included in the tablet version is that tablets can't handle the simulation for very large cities.
The touch controls in the tablet version work just fine for the most part. It would be very nice if you could confirm a building location before it was built, but a bit of practice takes care of that problem. The game seems to have been built with cross-platform usability in mind from the start, though, and translating the all-mouse interface to tablets worked very well.
All in all, 1849 is a neat city builder which works well within its theme and is quite satisfying to play if you enjoy city-builders. If you don't already enjoy them, it might not convince you, but it would be worth a try. The PC version is available for Windows and Mac for $14.99 and the mobile versions for iPads and Android tablets are both $4.99. The Google Play page game information indicates that the Android versioin has in-app purchases, but the reviews indicate otherwise and the iPad version does not have in-app purchases.