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Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Colonists - The Settlers, but with robots!!


The Colonists is the first game developed by the one man team at Code By Fire and was published by Mode 7 (Frozen Synapse, Tokyo 42).  The game was released on Steam on October 24th 2018.

The game sees you take control of a team of autonomous robots.  They were originally developed by humans, but have now decided they want to BE the humans and have settled on a distant planet.  The game features a number of scenarios covering bot military and economic goals.  There is also an endless sandbox mode which was added post-release due to player feedback.

When you first start a scenario you have only the ship you arrived in and an associated 3D printer.  This printer will generate new robots for the various tasks of your colony as it expands.  Your ship also produces a small amount of wood and simple batteries to power your first buildings.  This also makes it impossible to completely brick your colony, at least in the early stages, as you always have the supply of those items.

Humble beginnings - our colony ship printing a new carry-bot

As with most of these games, your first job is to establish a supply of that most basic resource, wood.  The first stage in that process is to build a lumberjack who will chop down available trees to make logs.  To do this you will need a supply of logs and energy (from the replicators in your ship) and some roads to allow the bots to get to the construction site.  Similarly to in The Settlers, when you place a road a carrier will be created and deployed to shuttle resources between these posts.  Once complete, your lumberjack will automatically chop down trees as long as they have the available energy.

This is only the first step in this supply chain however.  You will also need a forester, to replant trees and ensure a ready supply, and a sawmill, to refine the logs into planks, to enable you to build some of the later buildings.

Slowly building up - our lumberjack is now gathering wood to grow our colony

Like with the logs, the rate at which your ship produces energy will not sustain your colony for very long.  You will need to build residences and provide these with food (robots eating sheep and bread..?) for the bots to produce energy for use by the production bots.  As with the supply chain for planks, you need to complete the steps for creating energy.  To do this you need to supply the houses with food and drink, either fish or sheep and water to begin with.

Sometimes you will want to gather resources which are not within your territory.  This means that, similar to The Settlers, you need to expand your territory by building a watchtower.  In the economic scenarios this is their main role, however they are also vital for offence and defence in the military scenarios.

As you progress through the game you will need to work your way through a tech tree by carrying out research at a workshop.  Once constructed you can select which item to research next.  To conduct research, you will need to ensure your workshop has a plentiful supply of energy.  Each branch of the tree opens up new buildings or benefits, such as mine shafts or faster construction.  After a while you will need to upgrade these to provided the more efficient Level 2 (and later level 3) Energy.

Examples of the tech tree showing available advancements for transportation and Construction

When you have buildings which require higher level energy it is very tempting to just upgrade all of your residences, however, this will result in not producing level 1 energy, or having level 2 residences which cannot work due to a lack of resources (water won't cut it for these residences).  As mentioned earlier, due to your colony ship producing logs and level 1 energy this doesn't mean game over, but it does make things a bit more tricky due to the rate of production.

Once you have established your higher level houses and their relevant supply chain you will now, hopefully, be generating both level 1 and level 2 energy which will help to sustain, and grow, your colony.  The level 2 energy will also be required by some of the advanced resource buildings.  These include level 2 surface mines which allow you to mine coal, iron and clay surface deposits in addition to stone and shaft mines allowing you to mine underground deposits.

An advanced area of colony with level 2 housing, orchard, cider press and supply chain for Iron production

As your colony expands you might find yourself in a situation where your carrier bots will be unable to transport your resources.  This may be due to the distance between buildings making it inefficient, or due to expanding across multiple islands.  Luckily the developer has been mindful of this and given players a few options.

For transferring goods across land, the first of these options is simply to build a road layer.  This bot will then use stone mined from your quarries to upgrade your roads into cobbled roads. This allows your bots to move slightly faster.  The more advanced, and efficient method, for transport across land sees your colony reach the industrial revolution with steam trains.
Left - Our colony has sent out an expedition and expanded onto a new island.  Right - a train delivers coal and iron ore from the mines to the blacksmith

For transporting goods across water, you can utilise cargo ships by building harbours.  These also have 3D printers, preventing having to move your bots across water too.  You can also set routes to limit which harbours each ship will visit.  These ships also allow you to colonise and settle on the new islands by sending out an expedition.

Upon launch there were 10 scenarios in the game.  This led to some negative feedback on Steam due to the perceived absence of a sandbox mode.  The developer clarified that whilst there were 10 missions, these were open ended and you could play for as long as you wished, to develop your colony, after completing the objectives.  He did, however, also respond by very quickly starting work on a sandbox mode.  This went through testing via users of the Discord server and was implemented for all players earlier this month.  This also brought an additional WIP map available only through the sandbox mode suggesting that more scenarios and content are planned.

Sandbox mode customisation options

After initially having a bit of a knee jerk reaction to the (seemingly) low number of scenarios and lack of sandbox, I am glad that I managed to speak with the developer briefly on the Discord server.  This helped put my concerns to rest and I'm glad I took the time to give the game a shot.  The game is not simple by any means and has deep systems to allow you to optimise your colony and supply routes, such as preventing them to go along specific roads.  There is easily 25+ hours of play available in the game without carrying on beyond the end of your scenario objectives.  There have also been a number of regular updates fixing bugs and paving the way for future additional content.

PROS:

  • Excellent graphics and animations
  • Familiar, yet innovative gameplay
  • Challenging yet fun

CONS:

  • Currently only has 10 scenarios in campaign play
  • Cannot play military campaign maps on sandbox without enemies
  • Limited number of buildings - so resources are not used within game but can only be traded through a space port


The Colonists is available now as a full release for £19.49 on Steam.

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