I'm big in the brandy business. Hate the taste, myself, but I can sell the stuff to just about anyone.

I've been playing 1849, a city-building sim set in the scrimmage of the California Gold Rush.

Unlike most city-building games, 1849 is made up of levels with specific goals to meet. This doesn't necessarily diminish your ability to create a flourishing city of your own design, but if you don't plan ahead your punishment is sudden and devastating.
It won't be for everyone, but if you can handle the pressure, success becomes a drug.

Success is a concoction of three measures in 1849: keeping your population fed and happy, trading goods with other cities, and ensuring your sheriffs are catching robbers.


The steepest hill is usually the first. You have to spend your money to make money. It seems that each level only has one, maybe two, city-expanding routes you can take that don't end up in financial disaster.

The level I struggled on gave me three choices at the start: take $3000 straight up, $1000 and a free trade route with Placeville and 100 lumber, or $1000 with a free orchard and ranch.

The first and last options seemed impossible. I didn't know how to spend $3000 wisely at that point, and the ranch costs a fortune in wages to maintain. Nor did I have any trading cities who wanted to buy the cheese, animal hides, and meat that the ranch produced.

The second option was my winning ticket. It turns out that Placeville trades for brandy. So I set out to buy an orchard and a distillery, and started producing as much brandy as possible. It kept me in the black.

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Beating that level was far from easy, though. I think my financial adviser lost of all his hair during my tenure.

Your adviser fills the right side of the screen with Urgent Notices every time your budget gets too low, you see. I may as well have played with my right eye shut at times.

What I learned is that being in the red is usually a result of dishing out more wages than you're taking rent from your citizens.

You could draw dusty roads among the green fields and line wooden shacks alongside them. But if the people who fill them don't have jobs or food they become a liability. It's all about balancing supply and demand.

1849 isn't the relaxing or open city-building sim you're used to playing. It's tight, strict, and can be quite stressful. Sometimes you feel like you're riding a minecart into inevitable doom.


The steep learning curve means that when you do somehow manage to balance the books the satisfaction is immense. That said, we hope the final version is a bit gentler.

It's hardly surprising that a game about balancing resources and finance needs some tweaking still. If SomaSim can get it right by the time the May launch arrives, 1849 should be a compelling strategy game.

1849 will be coming to PC, Mac, iPad, and Android in May. You can find more information on its official website.