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Anno 1800 review: An Industrial Revolution but not a design revolution

Bread and circuses. All we need are bread and circuses, to keep the populace complacent. And yet, try as I might, I cannot seem to produce enough bread to meet the demands of the citizens of Ditchwater. Am I not growing enough wheat? Are the millers not working fast enough? Do we need more bakeries? Before I can fix the problem it’s hit the pages of the local newspaper, further stoking resentment. A riot breaks out, protesters clashing in the streets with my tiny police force.

Simultaneously, a thousand miles away and across the ocean, arsonists are attempting to burn down my fledgling colony on La Isla. Chances are they’re related to the same shadowy group that murdered my father and stole my inheritance—but I can’t stop them, because I don’t even have enough bricks to build a police station here.

Everything’s going wrong at once, and it’s all my fault. That’s Anno 1800.

Times are a changin’

After two Anno experiments set in the far-flung future, the series returns to its roots as a historical city-builder-slash-strategy game with Anno 1800. As longtime fans can no doubt surmise from the title, the game is set in the 1800s, the period of the industrial revolution, with distinctly Victorian Era architecture and a focus on factory labor.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

And if you like Anno, it still does the Anno thing pretty damn well—which is to say, it’s a game about optimization. Sure, it looks like a city builder, but it’s more complicated than your average SimCity or Cities: Skylines. Money isn’t your only constraint, or even your primary constraint. Instead you are balancing a bunch of resources against the needs of your citizens, or at least attempting to do so.

It starts out relatively easy. You need farmers, which means you need houses for the farmers, which means you need lumber. Even this is a two-step process though. To get lumber, you’ll need to manage the “Lumber Production Chain,” first building a lumberjack’s hut to supply logs, then supplementing with a sawmill to turn the logs into usable boards to create houses.

Now you have farmers—but the work doesn’t stop there. The farmers have needs as well, so you build a dock for fishing boats, create a potato farm and a distillery, create pens for sheep and a factory to turn the wool into yarn and then rudimentary clothes. All of these require labor, which means more houses, which means more farmers, which means more potato farms and sheep pens and factories, and so on.

Anno 1800 IDG / Hayden Dingman

This is the Anno loop, and it only gets more complicated from there. Eventually you’ll turn some of those farmers into workers, and then into artisans, each with different necessities you need to supply—canned food, sewing machines, sausages, and so on. And then when it seems like it couldn’t possibly get more complicated, Anno 1800 introduces the New World, a second city that runs parallel to the first and turns out products like rum and coffee that your laborers in the Old World want to purchase. Get ready to set up some trade routes.

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