It’s time to test just how good of a capitalist you can be with Anno 1800, the new 19th-century city-building game from Ubisoft that debuts in February 2019 on the PC.
Anno 1800 is the seventh game in franchise, and this time developer Ubisoft Blue Byte is focusing on the Age of Industrialization. That means you get to start building a small village on an island and try to grow it into a bustling industrial metropolis. In this rags to riches story, you start with nothing but a handful of resources, a sailing ship, and an empty island. I got an early look of this game at a Ubisoft pre-Gamescom event in San Francisco.
The game is a system. So you don’t have to follow a set path. You can start building out your village with farm houses, a dock, lumber yards, warehouses, and other buildings. If you connect the buildings with roads and create work opportunities, people will move into the houses and your town will grow. I started out with a blank island and a ship at a dock on a beach. Then I began expanding.
After I did a short stint on city building, I loaded a prebuilt city that Blue Byte had created. That showed me what you could have after many hours of gameplay. Over time, you have to create a number of production chains, which take something like lumber and turn it into finished goods that you can ship across the ocean. You do well in the game by building a profitable network of trade routes.
The time period reflects a lot of interesting things happening in the world, such as the invention of trans-ocean travel, steam engines, railroads, and factories. There are five civilization tiers, and you can progress through each one of them over time.
You can go on story expeditions, sending your ship off with specialist characters. They go to another place to fulfill the quest and go on an adventure. It’s not something you micro-manage. Rather, you send them off and find out what happens later. The expeditions may return with rare relics for your museum.
You have to deal not only with industrialization — and things like strikes and unionization — but also diplomacy and discovery. You have to drive technological innovation and deal with conspiracies, secret societies, and shifting allegiances. Sometimes war will be the best means of diplomacy. You’ll have to decide if you are going to exploit, innovate, oppress, or liberate.
In the core gameplay loop, you have to make sure your citizens are happy, said Marcel Hatam, international brand manager at Ubisoft’s Blue Byte, in an interview with GamesBeat. You have to find resources beyond what is available on your island. You can oppress your workers as you wish, but there are consequences for virtually enslaving your population.
The game will have a story campaign, a sandbox mode, and multiplayer. It’s highly replayable, and you can choose your level of difficulty. AI opponents will build on the same map as you, and if you run afoul of each other, combat or economic warfare can ensue. After all, what’s capitalism without competition?
The previous two games were set in the future — Anno 2205 and Anno 2070. But the 19th century is something that fans have been asking for in the past decade, Hatam said. It’s not historically accurate, but it does take inspiration from history, and the 19th century was a period of huge change in the world with huge industrial sectors with black smog everywhere.
Hatam showed me one world with some huge cityscapes in a European city, as well as plantations in a South American setting. You’re workforce matters. There are five citizen tiers, each with separate roles. You will always need farmers and factory workers.
If you build a zoo, you might get tourists on your island. Hatam showed me a zoo where there were some exotic animals like lions and domestic ones like deer. The deer exhibit didn’t have many people looking at it, while the exotic exhibits were more popular. That’s a pretty intense level of simulation.
You can’t assign your farmers to work in factories. You can’t advance and grow if you don’t have enough of the right workers on your island. If you click on a farm building, you’ll see the happiness level and the needs of your workers. Up to 10 people can live in a house. If their basic needs are met, more people will move into the house. If the house is near a factory, the bad smell could make them sick.
You can’t make progress if people hate you. They may go on strike or burn down your city in a riot. Or they could have celebrations in your honor. I found that once I had a sawmill, then I needed a warehouse, and so on, to complete the production chain. As I built more of the chain, more buildings became available in it.
One cool feature is you can move forward in blueprint mode, where you can give orders for what you want built. If you don’t have the resources available immediately, the production line will queue up and it will be built later as the resources come in.
I think the graphics look beautiful and the features are great, but it seems like you have to cram an awful lot of stuff into your relatively small island. It feels like you’re trying to cram a city like London into a space that’s much smaller. You can expand elsewhere, of course, but it sort of makes me wish I had a whole continent to explore, or exploit.