The Anno series can be defined as an RTS series crossed with a building simulator. Now, hearing that, you may be thinking that we're talking Sim City with horses, and you wouldn't be too far off in that assumption. For the slightly older gamers, comparing it to Caesar IV would also be viable, with the main difference between the two being the fact that Anno 1800 sports better graphics and has more variety.
So what exactly is Anno 1800? Well, it's a simulation of a historical period without a military aspect in which the player is tasked with building a civilisation from the ground up. The objective is paired with a story worthy of a BBC mini-documentary tackling deceit, betrayal, harsh 1800s conditions and last but not least, the growing opportunities England had to look forward to during the industrial revolution.
The campaign, or the story aspect if you will, that was only available to a limited extent when we got to try the game, is something of an advanced introduction to the game's mechanics, disguised with a moustache and a fancy hat. This is very much appreciated too, because like with most RTS simulation-type games, there's a lot of information to take in regarding the mechanics and how everything works.
We got to try out a little bit of everything during our time with the game. We got to do some fishing, forage for wood, make merchandise to sell, upgrade small farm cabins to workshops, established trade and, last but not least, desperately try to control supply and demand without crashing our little empire. Fortunately, one can always just smooth out the homes of the workers with the ground if too many of them are out of work - the poor will just have to fend for themselves.
There are, of course, some limitations when it comes to testing a game early and many of the options were deliberately locked when we played. Because of this, there was a lot of detail management we didn't get access to like deducting tax and prioritising workloads. We did, however, get the option of securing enough cotton for work clothes, getting enough pigs for our farms to put bacon on the table and, perhaps most importantly, gathering enough potatoes to make a drink or two.
The graphics are pretty to look at and the style of the animation fits in well with this polished tale of the bright side of the industrial revolution, with the many established companies during the period.
The Anno series has been lying dormant for a while now and it's also taken a jump back in time from Anno 2070 and Anno 2205. This, however, is not a problem since the series isn't exactly known for keeping to a chronological order. Each game tends to offer a new twist on the basic formula in line with the era it is set in.
The gameplay we got to see is undiversified by nature, but the core complexity of it tones down the repetitiveness of it. This, mostly because of the fact that the different and constant challenges facing the distribution of resources in the player-created society, leaves the player to right potential wrongs along the way. Don't have enough storage space? You better fix that error since it will stop production with there being no place to send goods. Forgot to build fire stations? You'd be best off doing something about that too, since you'll soon find your houses and hotels going up in flames otherwise.
We have to say that it pains us that Anno 1800 probably won't get the attention it deserves on release with it already being as well-polished as it is. We didn't encounter a single technical or game-related issue when playing, even though that's usually common in preview builds of games. Having mentioned this, we also remember why we stopped playing these types of games - they are extremely addictive. We played through everything the preview build had to offer in one go, which certainly wasn't the initial plan.
We are most definitely going to be playing Anno 1800 when it releases in April, and even though it will probably draw attention away from both our work and the time otherwise spent with our families, we still look forward to building up a city and business empire from scratch - we don't doubt we'll have a wonderful time spending some hours in the industrial age.