There are many titles out there filling out the genre that was created by the monumental success of Minecraft. These games often have the key features of Minecraft like building a world from scratch or a simplistic art style. Towncraft takes the strongest influence from the “craft” part of the equation while smartly leaving behind several other elements of the genre to create an experience that feels distinct yet still manages to scratch a similar itch.
The main idea behind Towncraft (unsurprisingly) is to create a town. You play from an isometric perspective in a beautiful 2D animated world, a far cry from the usual blocky ugliness. It’s medieval times (the age, not the dinner show) and you start alone in the countryside with a single road going from one end of your “world” to the other. Starting with just your bare hands, you must create tools, erect buildings and eventually create your own little village.
The early parts of Towncraft feel very Minecraft-esque, such as punching trees and rocks in order to make your early stone tools. Those items will lead you to create a logging bench and crafting table, which is the backbone of your crafting. Base items like lumber and iron can be turned into different components based on your need. A log can easily become sticks or planks just like raw iron ore can be turned into several items such as iron sheets or miscellaneous tool bits.
Towncraft is also the type of game that tells you very little about how to craft items. Each recipe calls for different bits and for the most part, these combinations are quite smart. For example, a door calls for wooden planks and two doorknobs. Why two? Because you need one for each side of the door. Once you figure out how the game needs its components to be arranged, you’ll be able to figure out most things fairly easily. Of course there are still things that will send you running to the internet. Luckily a Towncraft Wiki is already full of every recipe. But there is still fun in figuring out how to make everything.
Building actual structure, conversely, has been simplified to only being able to create small four-wall buildings. This minimization of how buildings work leads to emphasis on the “town” aspect of the game. Instead of massive dwellings, you will end up with a bunch of small buildings, perfect for all the workers and shops they will end up housing. That’s right: workers and shops are a major component of Towncraft as well as the main differentiator from something like Minecraft.
Perhaps the biggest thing Towncraft has going for it is the ability to hire workers to do most of your dirty work. You can build farms and mines – the latter provides unlimited amounts of whatever ore you place it next to – that you can manage yourself. But why bother with that boring work when you can hire an NPC to do it?
Of course if you have to pay workers that means that money becomes necessary. Traders will travel through your world and you can either buy from them or sell to them, provided they have the coin. Again though, why would you bother tracking down traders every day if you can hire an NPC to make money for you? Place a bar and tables in a building and suddenly you have a tavern that you can stock with food and beverages in hopes of turning a profit. You can also create a shop to sell whatever miscellaneous goods you desire.
The system of actually managing your town’s economy is the main gameplay draw and by far the most fun and unique aspect of Towncraft. Getting your tavern up and running is a lot of fun and tasks you with making sure you are not only keeping your tavern stocked, but also researching and creating new items to fill out your menu. A shop is an even greater challenge as you’ll need to fill it with both cheap and expensive items to keep people coming.
Beyond all of the base mechanics and town management, travelers in your world will also give you quests tasking you with acquiring various goods. Some will be simple, such as crafting iron swords (easy if you have an iron mine) while others can force you to change what crops you’re growing or figure out how to make a new item. It’s a fun system that makes sure you always have something to do.
What is perhaps most impressive about Towncraft is its depth. You might think that $5 is pricey for an iOS app but unlike many of the cheap $1 and $2 apps, Towncraft provides a deep experience that can offer hours of entertainment. You will also not find the drudge you experience with most apps these days. There are no in-app purchases or ads to be found here.
Towncraft is also a universal app and while it works fine on the iPhone, it shines brighter on the iPad. There are a lot of menus and a ton of things to tap on, which get squished on the iPhone’s small screen. Also Towncraft doesn’t necessarily seem ideal for picking up to play for a couple minutes at a time. Instead, a longer session of ten minutes or more – more akin to an iPad – feels ideal. For the most part, the controls are perfect. Although sometimes the limitations of tap rear their head, such as scrolling through your menu and placing an item in the world using almost exactly the same motion.
The only real issues I have with Towncraft come in the late game. Once you get used to having workers do all of the ugly stuff for you, some things you have to do manually start to drain you. For example, you brew things like ale by mixing items in large barrels. This requires several buckets of water worth per batch, which can only be refilled one at a time by clicking on a well. It gets tedious once you are churning out loads of mead, cider, wine, etc. to stock your tavern. It feels like more could have been done to automate things so that you could focus your efforts on bigger and better things.
Also not everything is explained as well as it could be. While expected in a game like this, it still needs to be mentioned. For example, many of the tool tips imply that you can build a tavern and man it yourself, but no one showed up to buy my wares until I hired someone to run it. There will be things that you will just need to look up to figure out. For example, I could just not figure out how to make a bucket.
Towncraft is a fun game that is clearly aimed at the Minecraft crowd. Many of these entries in the genre offer their own unique twist and the town-building aspect is one of the most interesting, unique and fun ideas I have seen so far. The crafting system is smart and the same challenge of figuring out how to make each item is cool. Still the most fun is going to be had by building and managing your town as you grow it from single, crappy shack to a full-on village.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10
A code for Towncraft was provided to Pixel Related for review.