Thursday, January 13, 2011

Settlers 2

Settlers 2 Original Cover (from wikipedia)
It is time for me to talk a little about one of my all time favorite games - Settlers 2. Settlers 2 could be seen as the first computer game that I really put my soul into, before that I had always been more about video games. There was a simple reason for this, my parents had decided to own a mac during a time when all cool games where mainly released to pcs. You could probably find mac games if you were dedicated enough but I didn't have the money or the know-how, or anyone around me to help me with the task. Remember I was 10-14 years old, a crucial time for building fond computer game memories. The most common way to get to play alot of cool games was to borrow them from your friends. No child, at least not me, could afford to buy all the games you'd want for your computer, but by borrowing from your friends you at least had a shot at experiencing them. So there was alot of "trade-loans" going around, the term we use in sweden for borrowing a game while also in the same time loan one of your own. And I was left out of this circle of joy because I didn't own a computer who could play the games of my friends. Yes I do remember this period of my life with horror, and it still today makes me hate the mac, although it today is far from the lacking gaming computer it once was. I just can't forgive its betrayal of a child in need.

So when my grandma bought a game, Settlers 2, that actually worked for mac (and that wasn't a shooter ala Wolfenstein 3d) I was thrilled. I had no idea what it was about and I had never played a game like it before. On my n64, playstation and game boy I had mainly played multi-player games like Mario Kart and Mario Party or single player games like Yoshis Story, Pokémon and Final Fantasy. The concept of strategy gaming was new to me.

The game was initially given to my younger brother
who was in the completely wrong phase of his life to be interested in the rather peaceful going pace of Settlers. He wanted murder and mayhem. I loved it immediately though. Interestingly enough I found the subtle fighting that does take place in Settlers 2 to be too stressful and played without competitors at the beginning. What's the point of that you might ask? The drawback is that it doesn't give the game a clear goal if you play without a foe to vanquish, unless you see trying to get your society to work without problems as a goal. Playing the game without enemies turned out to be a great way for me to grasp the general concept in Settlers, that of creating a smooth circle of production throughout your empire.

No other strategy game has even remotely entertained me as much as Settlers 2. Not even other settlers games (although I haven't tried them all). The original did have a couple of bugs which meant you had to fool the game to work around them. For instance;

  • Carriers could just randomly stop carrying stuff. You often had to delete the road he was standing on and build a new one to sort of "reset" the system.
  • The game was very prone to crashing. At first I thought that was my game only, but after having talked with friends who've played this, it seems it was rather a fault within the game as a whole. Because of this I had to save every 3 minutes or so, and be ready for a crash every 20 minutes or so. Don't know how I had the patience to still play it as much as I did.
  • Soldiers whos building had been destroyed could get lost on their way home and simply lay down and die. That sucked.

I get the urge to play Settlers 2 every now and then and I am currently playing the 10th anniversary gold edition in which they have remedied the abovementioned issues and also implemented two new features;

  • Military buildings can be extended as long as space allows for it. This wasn't a possibility in the original game (as far as I remember) which made planning ahead even more crucial.
  • Destroying a building will refund a couple of the building materials used for building it.

So what differs Settlers 2 from other strategy games?
In all honesty I've only played other strategy games briefly, games like Civilization, Colonization and what have you, they just never hooked with me. If you ask people who play alot of strategy games I think they will say that the concept of Settlers differs quite alot from the general strategy game. So much perhaps that most people wouldn't even call Settlers a strategy game at all. In a way they are right, because Settlers is alot more about luck than I think many other strategy games are. You don't have complete control over everything (especially not in Settlers 2). Even if you build a quarry next to some rocks you can't tell the worker where to start removing stones first. Same thing with woodcutters and trees. This is something they changed for later games though. Even if you can tell your game that you want it to prioritize food supply to your gold mines, there is never a 100% control over how that supply will go. Overall Settlers is alot about balancing prioritizations rather than push a button and get something done. You're "fighting" your own system as much as the enemy. This might sound horrible for the strategy fan, but it is ultimately what I really like about Settlers. It's a game about building up the best circumstances for your settlement to make it against the foes. You can't control every aspect, just as you probably couldn't if you really led a society. In some cases you just have to make sure that the situations are as optimal as they can be and hope it works. You have to know how the game handles various areas to be able to make the best of various situations. This can be frustrating at times but in the end the end result only comes down to how much micro management you've set in. If you want your gold coins to come to a special military building you have to make sure to tell the game that you don't want them anywhere else.

In many ways Settlers is alot more life like than other strategy games.
You don't "research" stuff, for one. I never liked the idea of "congratulations sire, you have researched the wheel and your units can now move 10% faster" or whatever. That's totally not how the invention of the wheel worked. You don't have farms that produce "units of food per week". You have a farm that will produce one package of hay. You can see it since your little farmer actually goes around sowing wheat, the wheat grow on the fields, he goes out and reaps it an packs it and places it on his doorstep for a carrier to carry to the appropriate place. The mill for example. The miller then mills it to flour which is packed into a sack and carried to the baker. The baker will combine it with water (which means you need a well) to bake one bread. Not a unit of food, but one bread. That bread is then carried to one of your mines where are miner eats it and hacks out one lump of ore, iron for example. The iron lump is carried to the Iron Smelter who smelts the iron ore and mixes it with coal ore into a bar of Iron. The iron bar is the carried to the Smithy where the smith will smack it into a sword or a shield for your soldiers to wear. You can follow each of these steps, they're not just represented as a production number somewhere. This is a concept you'll either like or hate I think. And I love it.

There are a thousand things to think about to make this circle of production work as smooth as possible. This is where the challenge of Settlers comes in. Settlers 2 really examplifies the concept of "easy to learn, difficult to master". Here are some pointers I've collected throughout the years;

  • When building a road, make sure to keep as many flags on it as possible. This will allow you to have more goods on the roads at the same time since there only will be one carrier between each flag stop. More flag stops equal more carriers equal more goods.
  • Some areas of production can, and should be, moved around when necessary. The most important one include the production of wooden planks for building construction. The shorter distance your carriers have to carry the material, the faster you'll be able to build up new buildings. On the front line this can be the difference between winning and losing.
  • Another way to move your production line towards the front is to build storehouses. That way all the materials gathered don't have to travel all the way to your headquarters to be stored, and then all the way back to be used. Just remember to always keep as many entry roads to a store house as possible, preferrably it shouldn't even be directly connected to a major road since the carriers who carry stuff into the store house will hold up the entire supply line then.
  • Gold coins will promote your soldiers one rank, giving them more health. The way the gold coin works you should always try to send them into military buildings where there are as many soldiers as possible. The gold coin will always promote one of each rank into the rank above. This means that if you have 6 privates one will be promoted. If you have 3 privates, 1 officer and 2 sergeants, 3 will be promoted. Using gold coins on one single soldier is nearly always a huge waste. Knowing how to get the most out of your gold coins will make a big difference.
  • To avoid wasting gold coins you should turn of gold coin supply on all new military building that you build and only re-engage it when necessary. Your little carriers will make sure to waste your coins if you don't tell them not to. They don't know better!
  • Whenever you're closing in on the enemy, keep an eye out for catapults. A catapult can instantly kill any of your soldiers as long as it hits your building. If you find one and it is aiming at your military building, you can either attack the military building of the enemy that is the closest to the catapult. If you win the fight the catapult will be destroyed. Or you can destroy your own military building before the catapult stone hits, that will save their lives. Or you can have them evacuate the building.
  • Handling mines is a mini game in itself. The only way for you to know what kind of ore that lies in a mountain is to ask a geologist to go and check it out. He will report whatever he finds by setting up little signs with the corresponding ore. These signs will go away after a while, and unless you have the memory of an elephant, you'll eventually forget what was in that mountain and have to send the geologist out there again. To save a whole lot of time, it is best to "mark" the area by setting up a mine there of the corresponding ore. As long as you don't connect the mine to the road net it won't be built, but you will exactly know what you can get from that mountain. Once the mountain has been depleted of ore you can leave the road net that has been built up around the mines lying, to remember you that you've already worked that area (you don't want to leave the mines since that would be a waster of miners).
  • There are a couple of productions that are only valuable from time to time. The Metalworks, that create tools, are only necessary as long as you need a certain tool. Make sure not to waste materials by having it active when you don't need it. The same goes with the ship builder, donkey farm and brewer.
  • There is a great way to use the possibility of extending military buildings to your advantage in war, not only on your own side but on the enemies side. If you see an enemy is extending a military building you've got two good choices. Either you attack him before he is done to make sure he doesn't get a stronger foothold in the area. Or you wait until he's just finished, but before the reinforcing troops have arrived, to snatch the building from under his nose.

As you should've understood by now, Settlers is great fun and it only ever becomes boring when you become too overpowered (as in any game). So go try it out already!

Screenie from the original game (from wikipedia)


  1. Definitely a game ahead of its time - and I'd agree, it holds up remarkably well even today. (Incidentally, the iphone port isn't bad either, although it's a tad sluggish on my 2nd gen touch)

  2. I played Settlers 2 a lot when I was younger. I found it to be very soothing and fun. You were planning a society, not an army. In many ways Settlers 2 is closer to Sim City than Starcraft...

    I think, because of the lack of control per unit, it felt like the little citizens of you society were more real than units in a standard RTS game. You'd sometimes spot them sleeping by the road or walking extra slowly cause they were tired.

    All in all, I thought it was a fantastic game and the only part I didn't really like all that much was the combat system. I'd rather have some other goal to strive for than to conquer the local tribes or strong armies.

    While no other game really is just like Settlers 2, I seem to remember these two games as being similar:
    * Pharaoh (1999) - RTS in Egypt, more focused on building than combat.
    * 1701 A.D. (2006) - Caribbean island colonization game.


  3. @KiwiRed
    Yeah I heard you can get it to Nintendo DS too, I am tempted...

    Ohh thanks for the tips, I'll definitely check them out :)

  4. The old settlers2 where the best game ever. I couldn't stop playing it. All the new ones later couldn't compare with Nr 2.
    But i am having a problem i can't install the 10th anniversarry on my computer. Did someone have a similar problem and could you please help me with some advice?