TownCraft Review

There’s a town. Or at least there will be, once you get around to crafting it in this gentle town building simulation. Updated: Now with thoughts on the new Mac version.

TownCraft: On the plus side

Update note: Developers Flat Earth games have expanded TownCraft from its iPad original to cover iPhone and Mac. I’ve been spending some time lately with the Mac version, but it is much the same game. Update thoughts specific to the Mac intertwined with the original review are below
There’s a very simple word to describe TownCraft’s core gameplay.
That word is “chilled”. TownCraft isn’t a game about high pressure decisions, ravening monsters or even competition with others. It’s a very gentle, terribly relaxed town building simulation that takes you from thumping trees to gather logs all the way up to building up medieval civilisations, firing workers and discovering all sorts of new building recipes along the way.

Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp...
Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp…

There is a storyline of sorts — I’m still working my way through it at a very slow pace — if that kind of thing interests you, but just like about any game with “craft” in it in the modern age, it’s more about the experiences and choices you have made along the way to building your town that really matter. Passing people drop hints, trade goods and can be hired to cover menial chores as you grow in scope along the way, so you’re not stuck simply chopping down trees day in and out. Unless, that is, chopping trees is what excites you, in which case, go for it.
Hey, TownCraft started with the Python jokes. Don't blame me!
Hey, TownCraft started with the Python jokes. Don’t blame me!

It’s completely free of social media leaderboards or multiplayer play of any type, so you’re only ever competing against yourself. There’s no IAP at all; anything you can do with this game can be done from the outset, with no nagging to buy extras at any time.
Update: The interesting thing with the Mac version is that it’s one of very few games that I can think of that’s made the jump from mobile platforms to desktops, rather than the other way around. This gave me pause for thought for a while, because while there are challenges in making “full” games into “mobile” ones given the limitations of touch interfaces, the reverse hasn’t really been tried all that much.
The Mac version, however, gets this mostly right, with clicks replacing taps and some very handy shortcuts, such as using the Tab key to quickly close menus. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s a better way to play the game.

TownCraft: On the minus side

Like most crafting games, the joy is in the hunt for resources and the recipes used to create new tools. That’s fine as long as it excites you, but it also creates a slight problem in a game this laid back, as there’s not a whole lot to guide you along the way in the early stages of the game once you’ve gone through the tutorial.
There’s an obvious point of comparison to that other game with “craft” at the end of it, and if you went into TownCraft expecting the make-nearly-anything aspect of Minecraft, you’re likely to come away disappointed. The recipes are set, and it’s up to you to sort them out as you go along, making this (and it’s quite intentional, according to the two-man team behind the game) more of a throwback to ’90s games of the type.

Craft things to make a town. That's what you do... and it's all you do.
Craft things to make a town. That’s what you do… and it’s all you do.

TownCraft also isn’t without its bugs. Sometimes during play it’ll simply crash, but there are smaller tweaks that would help as well; I found that often I’d try to talk to people by tapping on them, only to walk through them as though they weren’t there at all, repeatedly. Unless my town is haunted, and nobody told me, I don’t think that’s quite right.
Update: The Mac version still has some of these bugs, although it has benefitted from a few months worth of additional content work. Still, it’s sometimes annoying to click on a item to interact with it, only to have it detect the square next to it, wasting time.

TownCraft: Pricing

TownCraft costs $5.49 for iOS devices. It’s a universal app now for both iPhone and iPad.
On the Mac side, it costs $9.99 through the App store.
In both cases, the developers have committed to not developing paid DLC; any content upgrades for TownCraft are free of charge.

TownCraft: Fat Duck Verdict

TownCraft won’t be for everybody; it’s a game with a deliberately relaxed pace that some may find infuriating, because there’s not much in the way of rapid progression or multiplayer interaction to speak of. You won’t get that here. Building your town takes time, patience and the willingness to experiment in order to find out how things fit together.
So what you get is a town building game with plenty of charm if what you want to do is drop down in front of your iPad or Mac for a few hours just tinkering with raw materials to build something greater than the sum of its parts.
On reflection, if you were going to buy a version, I’d buy the Mac version. It’s an ideal little diversion of a game, and one that you can leave on your desktop in-between more serious tasks. Not that I’d ever be guilty of that, naturally.

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