The Settlers: Commodore Amiga

The Settlers: Commodore Amiga
The Settlers: Commodore Amiga

Insert Disk collects The Settlers for the Commodore Amiga.

Today’s retro game review is The Settlers for the Commodore Amiga. This retro gaming classic is a game that deserves its own Christmas Special episode. The Settlers was a game I received as a gift all the way back in 1993 and have enjoyed ever since. The blend of resource management, economy and military strategy make this the perfect real-time strategy game. It was a classic game upon release and now a classic retro game all these years later. Merry Christmas!

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s that time of year again, Christmas. After a rather chaotic year for many it’s the holiday that many of us associate with present giving, family time and togetherness.

Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year and never ceases to evoke nostalgic feelings of Christmas’s gone by. There’s something very special about something as simple as a shiny bauble, presents under the tree and the twinkling of lights. Of course, many of my early Christmas’s were intertwined with the arrival of new and exciting computer games.

If you’ve been a follower of the channel for any time, you’ll know that rather than cover a specifically Christmas themed game I tend to take a look back on games that I sank my time in to around the holiday as a young gamer. This year I’d like to take you all back to 1993 and a real vintage year for gaming. This was the year that I would come to love the Real Time Strategy genre in one of what I still consider to be the best games of all time.

It can be none other than the monumental Commodore Amiga hit, The Settlers.
I still remember vividly my Dad coming home with this one to give to me and my sister. Needless to say, this game has been played a lot over the years.
Sequels have come and gone of course but it’s this Commodore Amiga original that has stood the test of time in my opinion. Join me today as we travel back to relive the magic of this gaming masterpiece.

The Premise
So, what’s it all about? In a nutshell it’s your task to build a thriving settlement, see off your rivals and claim domination over the land.
It sounds simple and conceptually it is. In execution though The Settlers is a masterpiece of economic integration, resource management and tactical warfare. These elements all wrap up neatly in to a fully functional ecosystem that produces a well-balanced game. As a result, it’s a game that you can sink many happy hours in to and tailor the winning strategy to your personal game playing preferences. Now this is an episode that could easily take days to cover everything, the game play really is that detailed and the levels of strategy are as complex as you care to make them.
Instead, I’d like to revisit the main aspects of the game that make The Settlers so revolutionary.

The Economy / Production

Economic, production elements and resource elements of typically underpin most Real Time Strategy games and The Settlers is no different. You’ll need at least a fundamental understanding of resource management to make any progress in the game and support an ever growing, thriving kingdom. The foundations of any settlement rely predominantly on the pillars of building materials in the way of wood and stone. Whilst elements of food production will also come in to play. You’ll want to set up your new kingdom in an ideal location. Why not send out a geologist to see if there are any precious metals in the area. Or simply opt for a nice clear spot with access to trees and stone. Your choice of starting location can be key to your initial success. Do you locate nearer the end game resources such as gold and iron or simply base yourselves near plentiful wood and stone for a solid start to the campaign? Your new empire will typically start with a humble lumberjack. It’s a simple build and way he goes. To join him why not add a quarrier. Howdy neighbour. We now have the fundamental resources to build other dwellings.

Buildings typically have 3 sizes in the Settlers small, medium or large. You’ll need to ensure that you have space before building. Larger buildings can only be placed on spaces where there is a castle icon.
From here you may already want to set your eyes on world domination. Now that the stones are flowing, why not build a small guard house near the border.
Once occupied by a knight, these allow you to annex the nearby area as a way of expansion.
Of course, two things have now happened. We’ve started using up the natural tree resource and also our initial stash of wooden planks.
No problem though, build a forester to re forest the land for your lumberjack. It’s the first real interdependent ecosystem of the game.
Now that the forestry element of your resource management is in place, you’ll need to build a sawmill to produce wooden planks.
Now we’re getting somewhere. A self-sustaining supply of building materials.
Using the handy menu, you can start to inspect your production rates and keep an eye on your resources.
You may also wish to consider a windmill and a fisherman’s hut at this stage. Afterall, food production will be required for expansion of the empire.
Oh look, here comes our expansion now.

The Expansion

As mentioned, having a knight occupy a military building is essential in expanding your territory. This is absolutely essential as, let’s face it, our single screen doesn’t exactly scream thriving empire. With this new land it’s time to build upon our solid foundations and really kickstart the economy. We’ve now milled some grain to make flour but we haven’t actually created a source of grain. So, we need to build a farm. These take up space of course so we should already consider the next expansion plans. Perhaps a watchtower for the guards. Afterall, we can fit more of our military heroes in one of these compared to a simple guard house. But these soldiers will need weapons and shields. So, we will need an armourer. But the armourer needs tools to work with so we need a tool maker. But the tool maker needs iron bars so we need an iron smelter. But the iron smelter will need coal from the mines to heat the bellows. He will also need raw iron so we need an iron mine. But those miners also need tools from the tool maker and food to fuel their efforts for the empire. So, we need a butcher, but he needs pigs from the pig farm and in turn they need grain to fatten up. The bakery also needs flour from the windmill and onwards to make that delicious bread. You see where this is all going. The Settlers demands that you build an ecosystem in order to flourish. You will start with a basic set of resources but it is essential that you quickly become self-sufficient. Whether you simply catch fish to feed the labourers or go down the more demanding route of making bacon sandwiches, inevitably, you must feed the workers to thrive and expand.

As I mentioned earlier, I could spend a whole day just going through the strategy of the ecosystem and resource management aspects of the game.
Instead, though I’ll simply leave it that there’s a vast range of opportunities to victory here and you can adapt according to the resources available in your area. After all it’s the ability to mine resources from the land and create efficient production via natural resources that will see you to victory.

The Military

Of course, any small and productive happy empire will ultimately rub shoulders with its neighbours. As so often happens it’s the boys in silver that will have to sort things out. All of a sudden you find land a scarce resource. It may be time to send the boys round. It’s this military pillar of the game that really helps bring in the end game and all of the final strategy components together. So, by default you military building will fill with knights of various ranks when complete. They tend to start off rather wimpy but can be upgraded all the way up to the rank of captain. The size of the dwelling determining the maximum occupancy. Simply sending round a bunch of attackers to a neighbouring military building will often fail and this is for a couple of reasons. Training and wealth.Firs tly, the knights rank, well it’s very important. Send in low level soldier and expect a loss. Send in a Captain and you can expect him to put up a decent fight. In order to train up the knights you’ll need a few fundamental elements. Firstly, the swords and shields from the armourer, via the coal and iron of the mines, fed by the bacon from the pigs from the farms.
Weaponry, check.

Next up, training. Once a building is occupied it’s then possible to train up knights to the next rank. So, you’ll need to send them off to school for training. When they complete their training, they will reoccupy the military building with enhanced status. Next up, you’ll need some gold. In a similar way that miners will work more efficiently if they had adequate food, knights thrive off of gold bars. Of course, the gold nuggets will have to be mined and heated using coal down at the goldsmiths. It’s very much a necessity to build a strong army. The final element of military strategy really comes down to whether you need to act defensively or aggressively. The military option allows you to either send out your strongest fighters or keen them on home turf to defend any incoming attack.
It’s then a case of sending those attackers over to the neighbours. You can simply try to pick off the extremities of the opponent’s empire to gain ground or if you’re feeling confident go for more strategic inland military structures that protect key buildings. Should you empty the opponents guard house it’s yours for keeps as you watch the land that it formerly protected burn. Mmm…. Christmassy.

Each stage will have certain win conditions usually related to land dominance. If in doubt, take the opponents castle and it’s an instant win.
In terms of levels there is an excellent campaign mode with opponents becoming ever more tactical and ruthless. Some will burn your land whilst others will attempt a land grab to horde resources. Know your opponent’s weaknesses to exploit them. Of course, you can opt for the 2 player modes or even simply set up your own scenario of opponents and even adjust their starting resources. Either way, you’ll need the right tactics to win out the game. I tend to go down the strategy of a thriving economy to then prop up an army in the end game. By the end I’ve usually amassed a significant army, picked off my opponent’s strategic holdings and raised the training of the army enough to send out several captains. There are some neat little design choices that help you decide which buildings to attack. The thickness of the cross on the military building will indicate how close to a border it is whilst the height if the flag indicates how many knights are occupying it at the time. By the end of the campaign, I’ve aimed to flood what’s left of their kingdom with my army.

Physical Media

I have here the UK first pressing for the Commodore Amiga and the version that no doubt that many of you will be familiar with. What can you say other than iconic? Your knight features on the front cover and the rear of the box elegantly shows off what’s to come. Thankfully in addition to the main game disk you’ll be treated to an excellent manual explaining the main mechanics and useful tips to get ahead. Well worth a read for a first timer to get the best out of the more complex areas of the game such as the logistics chain and fine-tuning output. Whilst as a strategy game there is a lot to learn here the game structures itself in such a way that is don’t feel like a chore to learn and develop your skills. It soon becomes apparent that miners will need food and iron workers will need the combination of tools, coal and iron ore to function. It’s all rather logical. Now, the US first release was by a company called SSI rather than the Blue Byte originals of Europe. As such it was released under the title, Serf City: Life Is Feudal, because, well, ‘merica.

From what I hear it’s not particularly rare although it is popular with collectors which has pushed the price up a bit in recent years. These days you can find the Settlers in several compilation packs so if you just want to play the game you can do so on a very small budget. You can currently get the remastered PC edition from the Ubisoft store for the silly price of just £1.07 For those of you wanting the full experience you can simply buy the Settlers History Collection including the first 7 instalments of the series covering the first 25 years. Ubisoft currently have this one on save for just £11.90 which is an absolute bargain in my opinion for the 7 games that can now be played in higher resolution and are now seen as the definitive way to play these games. For collectors though, it has to be the big box first pressing every time.

Reception and Legacy

Upon release The Settlers was an instant hit and arguably the best strategy game of 1993. Amiga Format awarded the game 94% citing the games excellent graphical presentation, sound and addictive nature. Right up there with Cannon Fodder 1993 was a bumper year of hits for the Commodore Amiga and a true golden age for the 16-bit generation. The high scores for The Settlers came in droves and kickstarted a love affair of the genre for many. At the time of making this episode there are 7 games in the franchise but and 8th due to drop imminently.

On a personal level I feel none of the sequels ever surpassed my enjoyment of the original but I will freely acknowledge that the graphics and scope of the games did develop in line with the technology as it emerged.
I’m personally a bit of a sucker for 2D cartoon style graphics but can certainly get enjoyment out of the sequels. These days the franchise is managed by Ubisoft and the most recent incarnation currently going by the name Settlers 2020 looks to be shaping up nicely. From my side it will almost certainly be a day one purchase once the reviews start coming in.
Either way, those pixelated workers have come a long way since 1993 and there is seemingly no loss of interest in the formula from gamers.

Final thoughts / The Key To Success?

The Settlers is a game of pure polished class. From it’s opening animations, to its glorious music to its deep game play mechanics. It’s a game that just works on every level. You can seemingly lose yourself for hours just watching the kingdom at work. It seems like a real, actual factual living society. Everyone has their station; they all work for the greater good. In terms of why the original is still king though, well for me it comes down to the game’s placement and gaming niche. Sure, you can play any number of RTS games such as Dune, Command and Conquer, Total Annihilation or StarCraft. However, the vast majority of these are very much warfare based. Mine your spice, metals, energies or anything else, build units and wage war. These games all have their place but the focus purely on combat management can make them seem rather one dimensional at times. They serve a very specific purpose.

Personally, I feel that The Settlers managed to sidestep this element by encouraging the player to build a working ecosystem. It’s not just build a barracks and military units. A quick win is often impossible. Instead, a well thought out kingdom can be the true winning strategy. You need the whole piece to work together to really succeed in later levels. You can relax with a strong focus on farming, tweak all of those settings in the logistics chain or play as an aggressive tyrant if you want to.
When a brave knight wins a battle it’s not just his win. It’s the farmer that grew the grain to give to the pig farmer who gave his pigs to the butcher who used tools from the tool maker and gave the pork to the coal, iron and gold miners, who gave their haul to the goldsmith to smelt the gold, the iron maker to smelt the iron to give to the weapon maker to make the swords and shields.

Not to forget the stones and wooden planks that built the castle. Which were in turn made from our first ever Settler that chopped the wood to give to the sawmill. Yes, a single military victory here is shared by the kingdom working together. This in my opinion is where the Settlers still goes above and beyond in terms of game play. Yes, it’s all interconnected but it’s all logical. The military victory here is as much down to the pig as it is the knight. Ok, well of course it’s the knight but you get what I mean. It’s a formula that keep me coming back for more and more time and time again. And the real beauty here is that you can see that eco system at work in beautiful detail.

The farmer tends to his fields. That crop gets delivered next door to the pig farm.
You see the pig carried to the butcher.
You see the butcher carve the pig.
You see the pork arrive at the mine.
You see the miners output based on the food he receives.
And onwards, you see the humble tool maker at work in his forge.
The armourer making the swords and shields and the goldsmith making the gold bars to boost the morale of the military.
Yes, there’s no apparent behind the scenes sleight of hand here, you really do see everything about the kingdom at work. This is such a strong mechanic of the game as it allows the player to instinctively learn and perfect the kingdom. Has a building failed to be constructed? Then they are probably waiting on wood or stones. Is a mine performing poorly? They need meat.
The Settlers is probably as about intuitive a game as you could make whilst also allowing for the complexity of multi-dependant industries. There’s a clear opening gambit of resource production. Moving on to the land grab strategy. Moving on to building up the secondary industries. Then finally an end game concept of military conquest. What also sets this formula apart from similar games is that there is no concept of money in the original game. Think about that, it’s a kingdom with no monetary exchange.

Everything is paid for in wheat, pigs, bread or fish. Even the gold doesn’t actually function as money but rather as a status symbol. The result is a kingdom that doesn’t actually need money to function. And that brings us back round to the idea of Christmas, or at least part of modern Christmas for many. Most of us watching this episode will live in Capitalist societies. It’s the exchange of money for goods that fuels the economy and in turn shapes the society. For some Christmas can be about spending hard earned cash to buy the presents for friends and family. The Settlers though is the very opposite of this. There’s a definition in the Oxford Dictionary that describes the Settlers social system quite well in my opinion. “A theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.” …Communism… Merry Christmas all.

Ok, so this isn’t communism in the way that many of us know it but certainly a fair model of Feudalism. And without ending on a huge finger wagging isn’t Capitalism evil and it’s ruined Christmas or Communism doesn’t work discussion. I’d like to pose a question to you. Which are the gifts that really meant something to you over the years? As I get older the need for things in my life diminishes each year yet at the same time holding on to those heart-felt gifts seem all the more important. Heart-felt gifts such as a simple kingdom building game that my family saved up for that Christmas all those years ago. (Note: I’m fairly sure my Dad paid cash rather than trading a pig)

As we round off the year the original Settlers game seems as relevant to me as it did back in 1993. It’s fun, challenging, amusing in places and above all it brings back a wave of nostalgia for the hours I sat simply enjoying the experience of gaming. The numerous sequels and upcoming release seem to indicate that it’s a game that also struck a chord with many others. As the holidays are upon us, I’m looking forward to once more settling down with this one once more.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, have a merry Christmas and happy holidays.

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