Newly updated as a universal app on iOS, TownCraft is the first effort from Australian developer Flat Earth Games. Taking cues from titles such as Animal Crossing and MineCraft, it drops players into an expansive landscape with their only guides being a simple objective and a lot of creativity.
There is a short tutorial which will get you acquainted with basic mechanics of the game, such as gathering raw materials, crafting tools, and building structures. The finer points of these actions, though, will reveal themselves slowly through hours of exploration and endless tinkering. For example, at the beginning of your adventure, you’ll likely begin harvesting sticks and rocks. These materials can be used to build a makeshift hatchet which can effectively be used to harvest lumber from trees. This lumber can build things like a crafting table which open up additional crafting options for tools and fixtures. As players continue to explore the world, they’ll discover new resources, minerals, and food, opening up hundreds of new crafting combinations. You’ll even continually meet NPCs along the way and, before you know it, what started as a lonely expedition to collect sticks has become a successful town rife with buildings, workers, and plowed fields for farming.
Of course, while you’re busy losing yourself in the world that Flat Earth Games has created, it’s easy to lose track of time – but the beauty of this type of game is that it only moves as quickly as the player wants it to. It’s still the type of experience that can be accessible for just a few minutes at a time, perhaps just to walk around and mine some ore or chop wood as you work towards collecting enough to erect a specific building, but the meat of the game lies in experimentation through trial and error. TownCraft isn’t the type of game that’s keen to holding a player’s hand and that can certainly lead to some frustration, but in a good way. When you finally stumble on the solution to a roadblock you’ve encountered, the sense of accomplishment is that much sweeter (“oh, that’s how I can construct a doorknob… now I can build that door and complete this cabin”)
Even your economy needs to be developed. At the get-go, you’re penniless; but after you’ve developed far enough to start processing material into finished products, you can sell them to passing traders. An early example would begin with harvesting wheat. Eventually, after a windmill is built, this wheat can be processed into flour. Combining this flour with collected water will form dough, which can then be introduced to a constructed stone oven to form bread. Selling bread to a passer-by can get you money, and with enough money you can eventually hire workers to increase material output. Obviously, as the game progresses, item manufacturing (and the ambiguity of what you should do to progress further in the game) becomes more and more complicated, but the way in which all the pieces fit together to develop the world contained here is rather brilliant.
Visually, TownCraft has an elegant, simple style – not completely dissimilar to the aforementioned Animal Crossing, but just as adorable. As with many aspects of the game, its beauty lies in its subtlety. Trees sway with just the faintest sense of movement in the wind and the aesthetic makes for an immersive, living world that doesn’t look too busy or overwhelming. Even the accompanying music is lively but kept low-key and relaxing. The menu system has a clean, slick look and the inventory tab is laid out with clearly distinguishable icons representing the many odds and ends you’ll collect. This makes the task of crafting items a breeze rather than the tedious chore it could have been as materials can intuitively be dragged to and from your inventory and directly into the game world itself.
I also need to applaud the fact that TownCraft doesn’t follow the “freemium” model that run rampant in mobile gaming today. There are no in-app purchases to be found whatsoever and I couldn’t be happier about it. $4.99 nets you a universal app containing the entirety of the experience. With such a robust offering, and considering the type of game it is, it’s sadly refreshing to see a developer deliver a fully-realized title, free of microtransactions and mechanics that limit your play-time. Overall, Flat Earth Games’ debut effort has a ton of charm, is instantly engaging, and will likely steal many, many hours of your life. It’s currently available in the app store for Mac as well as the iPhone/iPad.