In the wake of Sim City DS comes another, altogether less serious city builder in the shape of Anno 1701. That isn't to say that Anno lacks comparable depth; rather it just concerns itself with more humble pursuits. While Sim City stuck to its proven formula of graphs and statistics detailing everything from politics and commerce through to pollution and infrastructure, Anno 1701 focuses its attentions on the production of bread, wood, tea and the like.
Anno 1701 does two things to Sim City's well-known gameplay model. Firstly, it stuffs it into a time machine and takes it back to the year of the game's title, when earth was covered in new worlds to conquer and exotic foreign valuables. Secondly it holds a looking glass to the player's eye, zooming you in to a level where rather than placing whole industrial and residential areas, you must position individual houses and cater for the needs of each tiny resident.
Playing Anno 1701, the emphasis is entirely on the wants and needs of the residents of your fledging city. Every single building that you construct is in reaction to their demands, as they evolve from lowly peasants into esteemed upper class citizens.
At first you will have to concentrate on sourcing the raw materials of wood, stone and ore that will be the building blocks of your settlement. Once you have enough materials, you can start to construct the homes that will attract new residents, and from that moment on their requirements start growing.
At a peasant level they will need fundamentals like food, meaning you will have to place farms, mills and bakers on fertile land. They will also want buildings such as pubs and churches. Each building has a radius of influence, meaning the layout of your blossoming metropolis is paramount. If you place your church so that some homes are outside of its reach, the residents unattended to will continue to demand a religious building, meaning you have to waste resources and money constructing additional places of worship.
Soon the demands will increase, as your townsfolk insist on the likes of clothing and spices or surgeries and universities. Eventually you will even need to give them jewellery and confectionary, and enormous structures like cathedrals.
The process of crafting your city is brilliantly instinctive and so engrossing that the game can quickly swallow all your spare time. The compulsion to play comes from the fact that there is always something to do, whether it be trading with neighbouring tribes or adjusting the very simple tax model.
There is also a combat system in place that will see you defending your patch from invading pirates and sending your army off to tackle your foes, though like the forthcoming Settlers: Rise of an Empire, Anno 1701 is first and foremost a game of construction. Still, assigning soldiers and commanding the ships you build for exploration and combat is as immediate as any of the rest of this charming little game.
The audio is basic but the soundtrack catchy, and while the graphics are technically underwhelming, the screen is always bustling with activity, and the people that tread the pathways and roads of your town exude character.
Missions initially work as a tutorial but quickly turn into a way of guiding your gameplay, giving you purpose and direction as well as preventing repetition. The storyline is a shallow one, but does something towards giving your town and your rivals some personality. There's also a fairly impressive multi-card multiplayer game available, which lets up to four wirelessly linked town builders compete to create the most successful community and raid each other's territory
Anno 1701 offers engrossing escapism and a refreshing alternative to more aggressive gaming themes. While it does nothing new for its genre and is firmly stuck in the days of the Amiga when god games were as popular the WWII FPS is today, it is still a great little title that deserves a huge chunk of your time.