OPINION | GAME ON: City-builder ‘Patron’ adds complexity to basic ‘Banished’ model

In the video game "Patron," you survive by building a city, but if you don't also manage citizens' social needs, like happiness, class strife, immigration, safety, you die. (Courtesy of Overseer Games)
In the video game "Patron," you survive by building a city, but if you don't also manage citizens' social needs, like happiness, class strife, immigration, safety, you die. (Courtesy of Overseer Games)

Veteran players of city-builder games have probably played "Banished," and players of that game will immediately find "Patron," created by Croatian developer Overseer Games, to be extremely similar.

City-builders have been around for a long time. I got my start with "SimCity" back in the '90s, and there are hundreds of games in the genre now. Survival city-builders are a slightly different breed, where the goal is more than just building a town to maximize population; there's an initial and primary goal of not letting all your people die.

The first few years of the survival-builder are usually the toughest, with it being possible for your villagers to run out of firewood to stay warm, to starve to death, and to become too weak to work properly. Lack of food can bring poor health; then people get sick; it spreads, and suddenly you have a map with zero residents — forever.

The basics of the survival-builder are pretty basic. First, secure housing for your handful of residents. Then, set them to chopping down trees and gathering food, getting the two biggest, immediate concerns taken care of. After that, start working on production, such as mining coal and iron, making tools and clothes, and expanding city services. These initial stages in "Patron" are pretty much a clone of "Banished."

It doesn't take too long for "Patron" to differentiate itself from its biggest influence, however (although it does so by taking influence from other games, such as "Anno" and "Civilization").

You'll soon notice that you live in a monarchy, and there's a king who occasionally sends edicts your way, increasing the trade fee on various goods, raising or lowering taxes, or sometimes just sending you some extra coin or resources for doing a good job.

There's also a tech tree that must be unlocked, enabling access to production buildings, a more advanced town hall and new policies that can be enacted. These policies, which cost influence (and often coin or resources), will help steer your community in ways you desire, such as boosting production of certain industries.

The other major component of "Patron" is its happiness system. Once your people — all initially peasants — get their basic needs met, they will, like most humans, start desiring more, and the game shows you various gauges to determine their overall satisfaction. Rather than just one lump "happiness" stat, villagers are concerned with health, safety, immigration, loyalty, education, religion and luxury goods. For example, the peasants like to experience luxuries such as candles. (Candles! Such opulence!)

As the game progresses, suddenly class stratification rears its head, as the largesse of a successful society created by the peasants spawns the laborer class, and if production and luxuries continue to develop, the merchant class and finally the gentry — unofficial nobles and the financial elites.

Each of these classes has different wants and needs, and not just what luxury items will make them happy, but different opinions on immigration, loyalty to the king, and religion, for example, and it's your job to try to appease everyone.

"Patron" is one of those survival games where the first winter might be touch-and-go, but after that it's probably smooth sailing, although it does have "challenge maps" (such as archipelagos or cold environments) that will make game-play consistently more difficult than building in temperate, fertile areas with wide-open plains and plentiful forests.

My suggestion is to play an easier map to learn the mechanics and then raise the difficulty as much as possible to always teeter on the brink of disaster.

"Patron" is not the first city-builder to copy "Banished." Perhaps we need to make a new genre category, similar to rogue-like and souls-like. Banished-like. The early stages of the game are pretty much a 1:1 clone, although it does build on the base game-play and offer a lot of unique content afterward.

Overall, I think the game is significantly more complex than "Banished," although probably about the same difficulty as far as survival goes. I like that "Patron" keeps throwing some curveballs as game-play progresses, in that you have to start catering to a new class of resident, which will require making adjustments of design and policy to keep everyone happy — perhaps not perfectly happy, but happy enough — just like real life, I guess.

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