Banished x Foundation
I have a confession to make: I didn’t like Banished. I don’t think it was a bad game at all (I mean, the Steam ratings don’t lie), but it was one of those games that reminded me a bit of falling behind in math class — you miss one little detail and you’ll never catch up. On the other hand, I loved Foundation. Oh sure, it took some time to get used to the swing of things, but with enough patience, it was easy enough to build a thriving medieval community.
I bring these two titles up in particular because they’ve often been thrown around when discussing Patron, the debut title from Croatian team Overseer Games. Available on Steam for $19.99, this new medieval city-builder describes itself as a “survival city builder with a unique social dynamics system.” And with a Mostly Positive rating with just over 650 reviews at the time of this writing, it’s safe to say that Patron is, in the very least, scratching that city-builder itch.
Players will take the lead in establishing a small new town in the map of their choosing, with variables like soil fertility and temperate zones affecting growing seasons and weather. Once the map has loaded, players will be plopped right into the action with a townhouse, 20 villagers milling about, and a whole lotta work to get started on. After a quick and somewhat informative tutorial, players will be able to get started on building homes for their villagers and begin basic resources collecting.
The goal of the overall game is to build a successful settlement, but the means to that end are a little bit more in-depth than some other medieval city-builders have been in the past. For one, Patron prides itself in its unique social dynamics system, which is actually pretty demanding. It starts out simple enough — make sure your people have roofs over their heads and enough to eat — but over time classes begin to mean more in your city, and each class has different needs. For example, the merchant class is going to want you to keep taxes low and are prone to rioting if you don’t keep them that way. It’s something I really enjoyed seeing on a more basic level in the first Civilization game, so I’m happy to see it explored more here.
Additionally, you have to manage the demands of the king, who will be speaking to you often via a scroll pop-up — like a medieval version of Frostpunk. You might be told that you have a rat infestation and need to handle the situation, choosing between two options of losing food or safety. Or perhaps word of your struggling settlement has reached the king’s ears and he’s decided that, just this time, he’ll give you some food or gold to take care of things. Managing the king’s needs in addition to your people’s places you in a sort of middle management situation akin to Foundation, which is again another mechanic I love seeing.
When it comes to the actual city-building, I’m happy to report that getting things up and running is actually a really simple task. The UI appears straightforward enough at first to get homes down on the ground, and the other necessary facilities like resource depots, foresting huts, and hunting lodges come along quickly as well. City planning itself is easy to visualize for many different reasons, including the fact that most of the maps are flat and there are tons of options to toggle on/off assets, grids, and hotspots for specific resources. If you like to be very hands when it comes to setting up shop and planning every tiny detail, Patron is going to please.
Fans of Banished will notice a key difference in Patron — a research tree. It’s very cool that it exists because it gives players something to look forward to, but I definitely think this was one of the weaker aspects of the game. For one, the entire tech tree is visible from the get-go; while that does allow players to plan out how to get specific techs early on, I feel like it actually does players a disservice. For one, the lack of mystery means no joy in research discovery, which is something I always look for. Additionally, trying to get to very specific techs because players might think they’re useful or cool isn’t always what the game thinks you’re going to need for what’s around the corner. By leaving it to be uncovered, I feel players will be more likely to research baser techs first before going down too far on one branch and throwing off the pacing of the game.
One aspect of Patron that is extremely cool is just how much you can see and from how many different angles. I can zoom in and practically bump into my little citizens, or I can get a bird’s eye view to plan out my next move. I can also decorate and customize areas to create more scenic pathways and living areas, which feels all the more rewarding when I can take amazing screenshots of my hard work. I only wish that the people interacted more with said hard work, as they completely ignore the pathways I’ve made and choose homes at random instead of allowing me to assign housing based off proximity to work. Perhaps we’ll see smarter citizens in a future update.
For all of its positives, there are a number of issues that I feel need to be addressed before Patron is perfect. For one, there’s no real urgency to some of the supply chains, nor is there any real need for a few of the resources. Coming from Banished, I can understand why the developers maybe thought clothing was necessary, but the citizens don’t seem to freeze to death without a tailor, nor do they really tell you something is truly wrong when things are going to hell. The citizens almost silently starve to death when there’s not enough food, but boy will that merchant class let you know when the taxes are too high. I really wish there were better notifications or pointers to ensure I’m headed in the right direction.
In fact, that’s the single biggest complaint I have about Patron — it is trying to accomplish so much, but there is just nowhere near enough information being conveyed to me that ensures I can stay on top of things easily. I’d put the UI somewhere in between Banished and Foundation in the sense that it’s definitely not as cluttered as the former but is harder to understand than the latter. References will be made to buildings that either don’t exist or were renamed, it was hard to see what research or decrees were active, and warnings about impending issues come too little, too late. I think players who really enjoyed Banished won’t have too much trouble, but if you don’t have that background you’re going to need a few tries to get this one right.
Despite any aforementioned hiccups, Patron is an addicting medieval city-builder that can hold its head up high amongst the others in this well-established genre. With absolutely gorgeous visuals and a soothing, ambient soundtrack to match, Patron looks and sounds good — and for players who loved similar titles like Banished, it’ll feel good as well. If this is one of your first medieval city-builders, you may need an attempt or two before you really understand the ins and outs of running such a settlement, but diehard fans of the genre are bound to discover that Patron is their pewter goblet of mead.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Overseer Games; Developer: Overseer Games; Players: 1; Released: August 10, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Patron provided by the publisher.