From indie developer Codebyfire and publisher Mode 7 (best known for Frozen Synapse), The Colonists is a new city building simulation game featuring adorable little robots who want to start their own colonies away from Earth and those pesky humans. These bots are designed to simulate human colonies, so they need food and energy and various other resources, much like humans. Your job is to help them get their fledgling colonies up and running.
Visually, this game is beautiful as well as super cute. The art style is clean and works well for this game. Load times are very short, which is always a nice bonus.
Like so many games of its type, setting up your initial base in The Colonists is delicate matter, as you need to ensure you’ve left room for expansion and ferrying of resources. There are residences, which need food and water to produce energy, as well as various resource collecting buildings like mines, fishing huts, lumberjacks, foresters, farms, blacksmiths and so on. Most advanced buildings need to first be researched at a workshop, and they usually require resources from other advanced buildings to operate.
The game includes a series of missions that gradually add more and more complexity to the game in the form of new resources and buildings, and combat. Unfortunately, the campaign levels all blend into one another after a while, as you’re tossed onto a new map and have to start a colony from scratch, find resources, upgrade your buildings, and take over the enemy base or simply build a monument (in the non-combat missions). There’s no story beyond the initial cinematic, so it’s the geography of the maps that presents new challenges, forcing you to build boats to access resources on different islands, or carefully manage the small area of land where a well can be placed or trees can be planted.
Your initial area of territory is quite small, so you’ll need to build watchtowers to expand. These buildings are quite cheap and don’t have running costs, but you’ll end up needing to place a fair few of them across large maps. They can eventually be upgraded to cover larger areas and install weapons to attack other colonies. This is the only form of ‘combat’ in the game: building watchtowers close to another colony and waiting while the tower shoots arrows or cannonballs at their buildings, until eventually your bots can take over those buildings.
While most of the game is pretty straightforward, the road system adds a layer of complexity and difficulty. To me it felt a bit like playing a puzzle game where you don’t quite know all the rules. Resources are transported between buildings using short roads with road posts at either end. Bots deliver resources to and collect resources from these road posts, but posts can only store four resources at a time. Once both posts are full, a road becomes blocked. In my early attempts in The Colonists, my road system gradually became overwhelmed until my entire colony was gridlocked. This was incredibly frustrating as I had no idea how to improve things, nor could I fix these colonies to allow me to continue with a map. I had to give up on colonies where I’d spent many hours because the road system was a total mystery. Things seem to have improved with some of the regular updates that the developer has made, but bots are still a bit weird about transporting resources, often ignoring nearby storehouses in favour of waiting for a distant resource to be delivered. It seems to be a system that needs some refinement.
While most of the game is pretty straightforward, the road system adds a layer of complexity and difficulty. To me it felt a bit like playing a puzzle game where you don’t quite know all the rules.
I really wanted to love this game. It’s super cute, inexpensive, and has the base for a good city building game. The game has been updated regularly since launch, improving bugs and flaws, and adding a sandbox mode. I look forward to revisiting The Colonists after a few patches to see what’s changed.