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Community Inc. Review – Micromanagement Nightmare

Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: T4 Interactive
Publisher: Tinybuild
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Y‘know, reviewing Community Inc. has proved harder than I first imagined. Every time I find a problem or issue or little niggle the developers are already promising to fix it in the next patch, or indeed already have fixed it by the time this review is ready to go, leaving me to once again sigh and edit the damn thing. Of course, this is to the developer’s credit; they’re incredibly active on the Steam forums and have been taking on board all the various bits of feedback. People mentioned, for example, that they didn’t like how farmers wouldn’t collect crops without being manually told to do so and the developers quickly added that to the list of upcoming changes. EDIT: Wait, they’ve actually changed it in an update as I wrote this.

Clearly, then, the developers deserve praise for their speed? Ah, but you see things aren’t that simple as despite the hasty fixing of problems Community Iinc. still has a lot of issues, most of which shouldn’t have ever seen the light of day in the first place. Most of the developers time thus far has been spent fixing problems that should have been caught long before launch. What we’ve been left with is a topsy-turvy game, so please, dear reader, take my hand, almost lover-like, and let me lead you through the many ups and downs of Community Inc.

As a manager, you get dropped onto one of four randomized maps with the goal of building a prosperous village filled with Lings, who are basically just people with daft names who are near impossible to discern from each other at a distance, so you constantly have to refer back to your bulging list of Lings. You need to build your little chunk of land into a thriving hub of commerce, and that’s it. There’s no goal as such, no true endgame to aim for. Ostensibly the game “ends” after thirty days, but you can carry on playing if you want. You can then sell your village, take the cash and sink it into the building the next one. That’s it.

You can hire a new Ling at any time provided you’ve got the spare cash to do so, always keeping in mind that they also need to get paid their wages, although the salaries are quite small. Every Ling has a name, traits that make them better at doing certain things and even their own levelling system where you can put points into three different stats. More importantly each Ling can also up to five professions assigned to them, with one being active at any time. Tell them to grab a hoe and they’ll become a farmer, hand them a sword and they’ll be a guard, give ’em a hammer and they’ll build. Some of these professions have a secondary level, thus a lumberjack can become a sculptor, or a builder can be an engineer provided he’s levelled up enough as a builder.

Managing your horde of Lings is one of the most important parts of the game, as is trying to remember that in a pinch you can always swap their professions provided you’ve got the correct tool in storage for them to grab. Like I said before, though, they all kind of look the same, even if they have different professions. Only guards, tailors and cooks really stand out, so when you’re in a rush it can be a nightmare to grab who you want without having to use the massive list of Lings to do it.

At the start, you’ll need to begin gathering basic resources like stone, wood and plants, and to do that you take the forage tool and paint whatever resources on the map you want your Lings to begin working on. Miners will start battering rocks and Lumberjacks will fight trees while the builders content themselves with carrying the resources to your basic storage cart,

As the basic necessities for a colony start to pour in you’ll want to a worker bench put down, which is your basic crafting tool. You start with two of these, and the developers have already changed a design decision whereby it was possible to lose the game entirely if your benches got destroyed as it was impossible to craft another worker bench without a worker bench. Using this bench you can start pumping out wooden boards, bricks and roofing tiles which are all needed to construct most of the limited selection of buildings like a warehouse so you can finally stop seeing those damn “storage full” alerts.

Your Lings are capable of sleeping on the ground, but they don’t appreciate it much so as you go along you’ll build houses and fill them with beds for your Lings to snooze on. Then you might add a shop or two where your Trader lings can sell anything of your choice from your inventory, or create a library where they can study in their spare time, granting them higher levels in their chosen professions. A fishing dock allows for…well, fishing, obviously, and a graveyard can be built so that dead Lings can be properly mourned without the rest of the community taking a hit to morale, although currently corpses seem to just get left lying around no matter what. Talk about morbid.

As you go contracts from other races will come in, asking you to do things like provide ten wooden tables or a bunch of health potions or maybe some clothes. Fulfil the contract in time and you’ll be rewarded with cash or resources or both that you can fling back into your community, perhaps opting to build something like a cooking area so that one of your farmers can become a cook and start crafting diet salads and soups and such.

Pleasing one race often means mildly annoying another, though, which is where the game’s very limited diplomacy system comes into play. Should another race become less than enamoured with you then they could start launching attacks, but options for keeping them happy are limited. You can only really send gifts of cash to help boost relations or fulfil contracts for them, but since you have no say in when contracts may or may not appear it’s an unreliable way of staying friendly with the neighbours. For example, I kept getting contracts for a race and fulfilling them eventually led to another race declaring war on me, but since I was never given a single contract for them the only way to get back in their good books was to send gifts of money which I couldn’t afford to do. The only other choices you have are to ask for a peace treaty or a trade agreement, both of which can only be done if they are relatively friendly toward you. Oh, and trade agreements don’t actually seem to do anything other than boost your relationship.

As you can probably tell Community Inc. is focused on the micromanagement of your colony. You’re constantly visiting the crafting menu to turn your basic resources into a variety of other goods and products that you can sell so that you can, in turn, invest more heavily in doing just that, or using said goods and products to keep your little Lings happy.

Yet strangely there are times when the game doesn’t have enough micromanagement, moments where you need direct control over what your Lings are doing. While it might be possible to prioritize the general type of resource to be gathered first there’s no way to directly intervene, so if you desperately want cotton to finish up a contract then you’ll simply having to watch your bumbling townfolk pick up every other plant first before they finally get to what you actually need. The most disastrous example of all this came when my village fell sick and I had no way of ordering the herbalist to bring the flowers needed for cures he was gathering back to storage, and so half my town was decimated before he finally decided to come ambling back. Of course, in fairness I should have had a stock of the flowers ready, but the point is for a game so focused on micromanagement there’s a lot of times where you simply don’t have enough control.

Another good example is how you can’t tell some of your Lings to ignore the latest building project and gather up resources instead, so every time you lay down a foundation for a new house or something seemingly the whole damn village decides to drop what they’re doing and help out. I want to be able to pick a Ling and order him or her to go grab wood or fur while everybody else carries the needed resources to the building site, but I can’t, and that’s frustrating.

Then there are problems with gathering. Right now there are two ways to get fur; wait for wolves to attack or assign a few Lings to hunting duty. Now, wolf attacks are sporadic at best, so the most effective way to gather fur would be hunting, right? WRONG! For some reason the fur is rarely, if ever, picked up. As for cotton plantations they are handled by your herbalists, but for whatever reason they often blindly ignore them, leaving your cotton income tiny. This wouldn’t be such a huge issue except for the fact that cotton and fur are required to make better clothing for your Lings, and without better clothing your villagers will get sick and die when the colder days begin. Oddly for a game about crafting goods, gathering resources and fulfilling contracts you can’t trade for things, so in its current state getting prepared for the colder weather in Community Inc. isn’t about skill so much as it is about hoping your idiotic Lings do their jobs properly.

The annoyances continue. To have trees cut down or rocks mined for minerals or plants dug up you need to “paint” them with a large selection reticule, but later there is no way to cancel these selections. Doesn’t seem like much of a problem, right? Well, sadly Lings will often prioritize cutting trees or hitting rocks over anything else, so if you accidentally select too many trees and rocks for harvesting then workers will ignore other things you want them to do. Again, this also comes back to the issue of not being able to assign Lings to certain tasks.

Speaking of ignoring things, natural events like fires can occur. Now, when your buildings catch fire one would assume that every nearby Ling would seek to put it out. Firstly, they outright ignore nearby rivers in favour of exclusively using water from wells you have built, and secondly they’ll do stupid things like finish constructing something before heading off to sort the fire out.

Even something simple like roads suffers from issues. Naturally, the roads you build should allow Lings to travel quicker without becoming as tired, and yet they consistently ignore roads.

All of these flaws add up to an overly frustrating experience where failure can more often feel like the game’s fault than your own. I had an entire village die of sickness because instead of making the needed cures my herbalists were too damn busy carrying resources to a building site. That’s not fun. It’s not satisfying.

Perhaps I could at least say it was worth it if there was more of a game buried beneath it all, but sadly there is not. The heavy focus on micromanaging your village shrouds the fact that there isn’t much depth to the gameplay. Opening up the building tab reveals about six potential things you can construct, and while there are dozens of items within the crafting menu most of them are purely for fulfilling contracts and serve no other purpose within your community., There’s satisfaction to be had from slowly building your colony, especially as workers really slow down their experience earning after level 4, into a machine capable of pumping out any given item at your insistence, but once you’ve got the basics of that system built it’s simply case of adding a few more things and then maybe making the whole enterprise bigger by building the same stuff over and over.

It’s a shame because when the game does manage to hide it, it’s enjoyable. There are moments when you’re trying to get ready for the harsher days while still building up your colony in other ways where you can lose yourself in the micromanagement of it all, but then some stupid problem like hunters not bringing home fur ruins it all. For a game all about micromanagement there’s a hell of a lot of missing information. Am I producing enough food to feed everyone? How much cotton do I have left when I’m crafting new beds? Well, to find out you’ll have to open the inventory menu instead of just being told on the crafting tab. I found myself more annoyed with the game than anything else.

Talk about a mixed experience. There is potential here, and the developers seem to be working fervently on getting the issues ironed out and responding to balance changes or other things the community wants. Of course, I don’t believe the game was actually ready to be launched, so while I do praise the developer’s efforts I must also criticize them for a lack of testing before they shoved Community Inc. onto Steam.

Maybe. Maybe months down the line the problems will have been sorted and there will be more things to build, Maybe diplomacy will be better. Maybe you’ll be able to trade with other races. Maybe there will be more to do once you’ve got the basic foundation of the colony sorted. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Lots of maybes. But right now even with the cheap price-tag I can’t really recommend Community Inc.

Maybe if it goes on sale.

Maybe.

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