The Settlers (Serf City: Life is Feudal)
Also known as Die Siedler, The Settlers or Serf City, it’s other excellent PC and Amiga game from 1993, developed by Blue Byte. It blends realtime strategy with economic simulation.
The first difference with normal RTS games is that here the player isn’t handling the units, not directly. It just gives orders (build, attack) and everything happens just depending on available resources (manpower, tools, resources) and, for building, accessibility by roads.
- Good game design: Economic simulation based on resource pipeline transport and labor force optimization, done in a fun way.
- Slow paced albeit fun RTS: the game economy is automated as serfs do everything on its own (transport, supply, manufacture, build) but slowly, so unlike other RTS, you have room to think strategy and relax.
- Powerful UI. The game lets the player fine tune all economy chain aspects and military with sliders and other controls.
- Good level of complexity. Economy chains are multilevel like in TTD, but there are limits, so it isn’t too complex.
- Game strategy is deep. There is micromanagement like building/road placement and a bunch of macromanagement decisions, but everything matters, the devil is in the details.
- It can be played alone, just for fun, without AI.
- Various AI difficulty levels, with distinct handicaps and aggressiveness.
- Graphics are old sprites but they look good.
- The main music theme is cool and unforgettable. It’s repeated on loop but it isn’t annoying.
- Game maps are aleatory but they can be replayed by using seed numbers.
- The split-screen multiplayer supports both cooperative on missions/skirmish or competitive skirmish with/without AI.
- SVGA looks better but the higher resolution makes everything too small, uncomfortable on modern monitors. Scaling x2 would be great.
- It’s a long game and the bigger maps are just a waste of time, there is little reason to play on them.
- Assaulting the enemy Castle may be annoying and troublesome as you may face dozens to zillions of enemy soldiers, one on one.
- Lack of other terrains than grassland.
- Campaign is simple: Missions are played like a skirmish and it gets repetitive too. No story either.
- The game has split screen multiplayer, but it needs a legacy secondary mouse setup (at least on MS-DOS) or a joystick.
- Economy issue awareness is a bit tricky, you find out indirectly (a worker may be lazy because there is a supply or transport issue).
- The OST is very small, just 3 tracks: 2 minutes intro, 2 minutes outro but the ever-repeating main theme is 6 minutes long.
- Handicapping yourself too much makes the game even slower.
- The interface is good but tricky: you’d need to read the manual and get used to it.
The sequel, The Settlers 2, improves some things. If you dislike graphics or are uncomfortable with this flaws, check the sequel instead.
Why to play?
Because you like the slow but steady intellectual challenge of building stuff on a Tycoon/Sim game with a bit of realtime combat against AI. And because it’s a really good game.
The sequel The Settlers 2 is very similar, so you may check it. I choose the first game for review just because it’s probably a game slightly easier to get into.
The nice main theme:
How to acquire
You can get the sequels on gog. Sadly, you must rely on abandonware sites for the original The Settlers as there is no other publisher and no new releases from 1993.
Version / Platform
I’m reviewing The Settlers (released ‘93) for PC (MS-DOS). I didn’t play the Amiga game but it seems very similar, with the music as the more noticeable difference.
There are no expansions and I don’t remember applying patches for the PC release so the game is just good as is.
Alternatively, you can play a fan-made serfcity clone called freeserf. It’s totally free and legal but it’s only a binary, so you need to add the original game data file, be it MSDOS or Amiga. The good thing is that graphic resolution is improved and you can play freeserf natively (without emulation) on Windows, MacOS and Linux. The first page’s links seems broken, so use the ones at releases page. For Windows, you should try with x64-Release or x32-Release, whichever works for you.
The original game isn’t going to be remastered, but as I mentioned in the previous section, you may try with freeserf if you look for something more fresh than the old DOS/Amiga game.
Otherwise, you can play the sequel (or its remaster), The Settlers II. Luckily, it’s the same game at its core, with few additions and improvements here and there.
There is a reboot of the saga, sharing the name “The Settlers”, going on. It’s made by Ubisoft. Just don’t expect a remaster, neither a remake. The new title is just a new (different) game. You can read more about the Settlers reboot here.
Games like Serfcity
Here I’ll list few games that apply same RTS concepts:
- Transport Tycoon. Realtime economic simulation with resource pipelines on realtime where there is competition without combat.
- Populous. “God-like” simulator, where the followers act on their own similarly to the serfs.
- Settlers 2. I mentioned it earlier, but the sequel is very similar and it’s a great title to play after you played Serfcity some games.
- Banished. Didn’t play it myself, but it seems a mix between The Settlers and Simcity and it looks good.
- Warcraft Orcs & Humans. Just to throw a pure RTS of the epoch. Very simplified economy but deeper combat mechanics.
Serfcity is a classic game that surprisingly still may be worth replaying and, in any case, is a good introduction to Settlers II.
- each manufacturing building only needs one or two distinct resources.
- every individual resource may feed one or two distinct manufacturers/jobs.
- all food types may be used for any miner.
- Jobs: tools creation, serf choosing job when recruited.
- Resources: moving priorities (what go first on roads), spending priorities (where should go first).
- Troop deploying strategy (frontier, etc), coin spending and troops attacking quantity/quality.
- All food types are equal, but their production effectiveness isn’t.
- Fish is easy (no manufacturing involved) but unreliable on long term.
- Meat is quicker (slaughterhouse) but less efficient (pig farms).
- Bread is efficient (1 wheat 1 bread) but needs more land (bakeries).
- Building the roads + depots and making priorities right is very important and not so easy as looks.
- You need to be versatile: as game progresses some resources like lumber aren’t so important as tree-free flat land, etc.
- Overextending without the right supplies is going to penalize you with empty buildings, worthless rookies, miners on strike or lazy manufacturers.