There's something strangely compelling about city-building. If you live in a city, as I do, you're constantly thinking about how to improve it. I've decided that fixing Boston would take an army of civil engineers, weather control, suspension of habeas corpus, several hundred million dollars to get the Red Sox to the World Series, and an additional hundred million to reconstruct the metro area after the resulting riots. This is of course totally unfeasible, so I suppose I'll have to content myself with rockin' mobile simulations like Handy Games' Townsmen. Fine by me. Townsmen is currently locked in a stalemate with Anno 1503 for the title of Most Profound Mobile Game Ever in My Opinion--it would have won hands down if its controls were the least bit usable.
Townsmen's concept runs deep, especially for a game that's built around a single gameplay screen--namely, a pastoral hillside view of the valley in which you build your town--and a handful of menus. This valley is your canvas, the townsmen your brushes, and a handful of resources your paints. Your job is to make the correct economic decisions and turn your sleepy two-bit burg into a bustling metropolis, complete with traffic congestion, ludicrously high rents, and a snotty underground "scene."
In reality, you only have to worry about a few things: building, upgrading, and maintaining a few different types of facilities, such as fishing huts, lumber mills, and mines; deciding when to expand your workforce; and how to best allocate production and trade. However, given the sad state of Townsmen's control scheme and in-game documentation, this is more than enough to deal with at first. Navigating the necessary menus using the number keys verges on the futile for 30 minutes or so, because you have to use guess-and-check to ascertain the function of all the different keys. It also doesn't help that nothing in the game is labeled. The provided tutorials are a very nice touch, but they aren't actually all that helpful in teaching the basics. They feel more like a concession from Handy that its gameplay system is wildly complex and necessitates a great deal of instruction.
That said, you'll be a very happy (and fixated) camper if you're willing to work through the initial frustration. Townsmen delivers a truly immersive gameplay experience, filled with subtle variation and nuanced challenges. The basic idea is to parlay your initial resources--300 gold and a couple of workers--into a few basic buildings (a forestry station and fishery are foundational, producing food for your workers and wood for building upkeep) and then gradually climb the economic ladder by buying more capital to produce ever-more-complex resources, which sell at higher profits. The process is complicated by the multidimensional nature of resource usage (each building requires some resources for upkeep, and the later facilities require a certain amount of base resources to refine into more evolved commodities, like steel), as well as the occasional resource-robbing disaster, which force you to alter your well-laid plans and focus on keeping your head above water. It's a beautiful thing to watch your little worker drones scramble around the gorgeous landscape, obeying your commands and growing your profits. It makes me think I have a future in management.
Townsmen is highly recommended to anyone who likes in-depth strategy games and doesn't mind floundering for a while due to its virtually impenetrable control scheme. Once you figure out what the heck you're doing, Townsmen will take over your phone like a very slow but deliberate amoeba.