I have always been attracted to games (or simulations or digital toys or whatever you want to call them) that let me set up a world and then watch to see how its inhabitants managed. The Sims is a popular and addictive example, of course. And Peter Molyneaux’s Black and White, a kind of cross between Populous and a Tamagotchi, has been something I’ve revisited multiple times over the years.
But the first game of this type that I ever played is the one that has stayed with me the longest: Knights and Merchants: The Peasants Rebellion.
I absolutely adored setting up the town, laying out the roads, and putting people to work chopping down trees, building structures, and working in bakeries and lumberyards and smithies or on farms and vineyards. I could watch my townsfolk go about their daily routines for hours, carefully monitoring the production and distributing of resources and reworking the routes through town to make them more efficient.
Pro Tip: build double or triple width roads around well traveled areas like the ale house and the castle where surplus good are kept so that your porters aren’t constantly running into one another.
And those peasants were so cute! I still remember watching my people sit down next to one another to eat loaves of bread and sausages and drink mugs of beer.
Check out closeups of the various kinds of buildings here.
Even the music was rather soothing.
When it came time to muster your troops to do battle, the game devolved into a god damn mess.
Although the death animations were pretty cool.
You see, the AI in this game is atrocious. If your townspeople’s pathing has to be carefully managed, then the soldiers’ pathing is freaking impossible. Furthermore, the computer opponent is a shameless cheater. This Let’s Play video perfectly captures the hilarious frustration of the game as well as the exploits many of us had to resort to in order to progress.
Note the use of a single archer to bait out an army so you can fight it in a carefully constructed pinch point. So annoying to set these up!
I never did beat this game, despite returning to it dozens of times over the years. I always get frustrated about half way through when the town I’ve been lovingly constructing gets burned to the ground before it is conceivably possible for me to have made a big enough defensive force.
Me: God DAMN it.
And yet, writing this post makes me want to give it a try once more. Perhaps just the early stages where I can craft my happy town in peace.
PS: Shout out to my brother Z!