Review

Anno 1800 Review - The Prettiest Spreadsheet

  • First Released Apr 16, 2019
    released
  • PC

By The Books

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At the heart of any European town founded before the 19th century lies a church. It's the same with Anno 1800. At the center of your city sits a magnificent cathedral, its spectacular steeple reaching for the heavens and illuminating the lives of everyone who passes by. It’s a very beautiful church, but it’s hiding something.

At the heart of Anno 1800 lies an intimidating and complex financial simulation. It may seem like you're overseeing the rise and occasional fall of a European-style city as it comes of industrial age. But really, you're juggling numbers, thumb wedged in the accounts ledger, finessing production efficiencies and stabilizing trade fluctuations. Anno 1800 is perhaps the prettiest spreadsheet I've ever seen.

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Each randomly generated map in the core sandbox mode unfurls as a mostly blank canvas, a glistening sea dotted with fertile islands waiting to be claimed by you and your (AI or human) opponents. As you grow and expand your reach across multiple islands and into the New World--and your empire undergoes its Industrial Revolution--you'll employ more advanced technologies, extracting coal and oil to fuel great belching factories and formidable steam engines. But the basic principle remains constant: Satisfy your population by employing them to manufacture natural resources into commodities that encourage more people to move to your cities.

Everything becomes a production chain for you to configure, massage and optimize. Early on the choices you're making here are relatively simple; the virgin terrain of your first settlement makes it easy to place the knitter near the farm so the wool is delivered swiftly and the warehouse within range so the finished goods can be collected for immediate sale. But soon the need for a navy means you've had to build a sailmaker's yard which is now diverting wool previously used by the knitter. Building another sheep farm means finding the physical space for an additional farm as well as for all the extra housing for the new farmers. Extend this scenario a few hours into a game and it will encompass dozens of productions chains of increasing complexity and inter-connectivity.

Managing these productions chains--whether it's work clothes and sails or beer and pocket watches--is an enjoyable exercise in a kind of "balancing the books" sense. You know you have to spend resources to grow, but your success depends on finding that ever-moving sweet spot between overreaching and not pushing far enough. It's necessary to keep the requisite resources flowing and meet the housing and job demands of your population, but it's not sufficient. To maintain a firm hand on your economy you have to appreciate the various financial levers available to you, allowing fine adjustments to tax rates and production ratios that can genuinely mean the difference between keeping it in the black and going bankrupt.

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Of course, it's also just as enjoyable to play the more visual puzzle game of city planning, slotting in that new building not only where its specific dimensions fit, but where it also retains proximity to its related structures in the chain. Nobly assisting matters here is the "move" tool that lets you--for no resource cost at all--pick up and move any building to another location. Need to pop a police station downtown but there's no room? Just move the nearby houses further down the street to open up the space. It really does look utterly beautiful when it all comes together, too, like an exquisitely detailed diorama that you can poke, prod and tweak to your heart’s content. There’s even a first-person mode that lets you walk the streets and observe all your townsfolk going about their day to day business. I especially welcomed the moments I was able to spend admiring the view before some new urgent matter warranted investigation and I had to return to crunching those numbers.

Spinning all the plates becomes even trickier as you advance into the Industrial Age. Production chains that were once straightforward, one-to-one input/output ratios turn into logistical nightmares as multiple buildings start feeding into multiple other buildings. The demands of the job are only exacerbated by a lack of clarity in the feedback you're given when things aren't operating at full capacity. Simple things like knowing how many flour mills and grain farms support a bakery just aren't communicated clearly enough in-game or in the non-existent manual. I spent hours engaged in trial and error in such situations before finding a comprehensive external wiki that I found myself alt-tabbing to constantly while I played.

There is a campaign mode that functions as a tutorial before it segues into the main sandbox. And there is an additional setting that enables a more guided experience, providing you with specific goals at the appropriate moments. I found both very welcome, even as someone who had played some of the previous Anno games. But at the same time, I felt that other important aspects weren't explained thoroughly enough, if at all, and it was frustrating to guess at solutions to problems I wasn't confident I'd even diagnosed correctly.

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Much of Anno 1800 is spent watching numbers go up and down. Total gold is going down. Now it's going back up again. There aren't enough workers for the number of available jobs. Okay, now there are too many workers and not enough engineers. Sometimes it's clear why these things are happening and sometimes it's obvious what you can do to rectify the situation. However, other times it isn't and it's really quite panic-inducing. My stomach tightened whenever the numbers plummeted into the red, but as soon as they shot back into the black I would feel a surge of relief. Even so, outside of these sharp swings, when the numbers remained relatively stable and my economy seemed to be ticking over steadily, I couldn't shake this nagging sense that everything was always on the verge of complete collapse.

I spent all of my time playing Anno 1800 in a mild yet pervasive state of anxiety. As a city-building sim that emphasizes economic management, it is as robust and powerful as the steel factories it allows you to pollute the skies with. But for all the natural beauty of its island paradise and the architectural splendor of its churches, theatres, and piers, it's just a little too cold in its reliance on numbers and a little too impenetrable in its reluctance to show you its workings. I'm glad I visited, but I don't think I'd want to live there.

Back To Top
The Good
As exhaustive an Industrial Age city-builder as anyone could hope for
The "move" tool truly is a blessing
Watching your settlement become a huge city is very satisfying
It looks gorgeous. Especially that church.
The Bad
Despite the visual detail and beauty, it can feel quite dry and cold
There simply isn't enough feedback to let you know what you're doing wrong and how to fix it
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

David Wildgoose liked the first two Chvrches albums but thought the third was a bit samey. He spent around 20 hours building actual churches in Anno 1800. Code was provided by Ubisoft.
29 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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csward

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Edited By csward

I feel like over all this is a very simple strategy game compared to others on the market. There's little to impede your progression and overall you're building up the supply chain, waiting, rinse, and repeat. There is little challenge once you figure out the basics of the supply chain. The boring story, simple fetch quests, and characters don't help much. It's a very polished, but very typical "Ubisoft factory" game. It lacks any soul.

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ORI

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Edited By ORI

Sorry in advance for my cynicism. I have nothing against the reviewer, but it is too clear Gamespot did not receive promotion money for this title based on how late the review was published (publishers usually sign a contract with media and send a review code days before release) and the strikingly mediocre score (compared to other pro reviews and community reviews). Again, reviewers are entitled to their personal opinion but we are at an age where media outlets see themselves as advertisers and expect money for good reviews. I can’t blame gamespot for adjusting their business model so content better reflects advertisers’ interests (like most of the media have), but as a reader and game enthusiast I do wish I could trust this site more. Perhaps it is Ubisoft’s bad luck that they are not indie/tiny enough to receive a waiver for this expectation from GS. Regardless this is a good game, about which I will be reading balanced criticism elsewhere.

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deactivated-5d495083aed2b

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@ORI: It seems like Gamespot lost all their good reviewers a while ago and are now freelancing to randoms

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Gandamula

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I liked to play this game, I loved the year 1404. Unfortunately it is not for sale on the only digital platform I trust, Steam, sorry was a dumb move.

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deactivated-5d495083aed2b

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@gandamula: All you get from Steam is a link that opens Uplay… sooo if you really are an Anno fan why not cut out that step, buy it on Uplay and launch it directly from there? Oh but wait, that would be common sense and you need an excuse to fanboy for Steam, carry on then.

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Gandamula

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Edited By Gandamula

@NTenseify: It's not about being a fan boy, it's a matter of trust, I do not trust Epic, I did not like this exclusivity policy, and as can I live without the game, a game is just a game, I'll continue like this,with my € I'm my pocket. I can't quantify, but I think they lose thousands of sales for not having the game on Steam.

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deactivated-5d495083aed2b

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@gandamula: Who said anything about Epic? It's not exclusive to Epic if it's on Uplay. You don't want the game, you just need an excuse to protest against something you disagree with. It's fine to do that, just be honest and don't act like you would've bought the game.

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Yams1980

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i only played 1 of these anno games before. Not really into them.

I'm hoping Blue Byte has time to make Settlers 8 good when it comes out later this year. Settlers 7 was a disaster on all fronts, i hated almost everything they did with it.

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deactivated-5d495083aed2b

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Why is the review so late?

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TAFromKC

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Edited By TAFromKC

So what are the main advances between this game and 1404? Other than first-person mode (which is nice for sight-seeing) and the Move tool, it sounds like it plays like all the other Anno games that came before it (balancing raw material production with finished goods production, balancing finished goods production with citizen needs, etc.). If there isn't any significant differences in the game play, are the better graphics and new building/goods enough to justify spending the money to buy it and the time to play it?

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MashedBuddha

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Edited By MashedBuddha

@tafromkc: My impression is that it's less balanced and more complex. Dirtier, like the industrial age.

I put a lot of time into that game (Anno 1404/Dawn of Discovery) years ago. It was very well organized even when the production chains become busy, they all interlocked well together. I didn't get sucked into the futuristic Annos so much. I'm intrigued by this new one, but I'm going to wait for patches and balance adjustments and quality of life improvements.

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rsiebelink

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I don't think this game is worse than Tropico 6, which got an 8.

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Yams1980

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Tropico 6 i found was really boring, it was same as the 5th game. Maybe it gets good at some point, but i quit the game after a couple hours.

I'm done trying to get into Tropico games, i've played almost all of them, I should like them since I like simulation building games, but I don't like the series.

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Iemander

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This game released? Haven't seen it.

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Bexorcist

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What a horrible review. If the ANNO-series aren't your cup of tea, please don't review them.

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davidwildgoose

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@Bexorcist: Thanks for reading my review, or at least I assume you read it. I enjoy city-builders, including previous Anno games (1404 is my favourite) and similar strategy games. Anno 1800 is good but not without flaws, as my review is at pains to point out. If balanced, measured reviews aren't your cup of tea, please don't presume my choice of beverage.

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phili878

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@davidwildgoose: Weird review scores these days....

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DomaineStickem

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Edited By DomaineStickem

@davidwildgoose: yeah i think he's got you by the balls man this review is terribly incomplete. If you are going to take out the time to write a review you should at least touch on the majority of the features in the game.

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off3nc3

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@davidwildgoose: Quite refreshing to see an actual reviewer post on these boards , you guys do a lot of hardwork for us gamers and we appreciate it , keep it up !

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Quikk

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Edited By Quikk

@davidwildgoose: I'd have to agree that he does assume that Anno isn't "your cup of tea" but I'd also have to agree, your review is terrible. You leave out a lot of what the game has to offer. It's like you focus more on trying to tell a story with your big boy words than you do actually reviewing the game. 95% positive user rating on Google and the fastest selling game in franchise history but yea 7 out of 10...

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hystavito

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@quikk: Writer-itis? :)

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator

@davidwildgoose: I don't think I have seen a review for a game on here where someone didn't make a comment like theirs about the reviewer. It blows my mind, but that's just how it goes. Don't worry about it - most people understand that reviews are impressions through one person's eyes

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Bexorcist

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@xantufrog: BTW, I'm not one of those whining nerds complaining about a certain number being too low for their fanboy game. This review is just incomplete!

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Bexorcist

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@xantufrog: I understand that reviews are "impressions" but this review is just totally incomplete. Not even one mention of expeditions, the zoo, the museum, attractiveness, workforce and commuter pier, pirates, the 3 AI entities that offer quests, trade/charter routes, nothing about the new world and the list goes on ...

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Bexorcist

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@davidwildgoose: "Balanced, measured reviews"? You didn't even compare to a previous iteration once. I highly doubt you understand what ANNO is all about. Best version of the game since 1404 BY FAR!

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TazmanianD

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@Bexorcist: I think that was my overall impression of the review as well. What is this game like for an experienced fan of the series? That seemed to be rather missing. I've played Anno 2070 (which is thought was good) and 2205 (which I thought was fantastic). Those are obviously in a very different setting and I'd like to know if this would feel the same or not. I haven't played any of the older, non-future setting ones.

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Bexorcist

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Edited By Bexorcist

@TazmanianD: You should definitely play ANNO 1404, probably the best game in the franchise!

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Edited By jhawk

@Bexorcist: "Best version of the game since 1404 BY FAR!"

Remember, that's YOUR opinion.

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Anno 1800 More Info

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  • First Released Apr 16, 2019
    released
    • PC
    Anno 1800
    8.9
    Average Rating11 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Anno 1800
    Developed by:
    Blue Byte
    Published by:
    Ubisoft
    Genre(s):
    Strategy, Management