The notion of a casual civilization sim comes across almost as an oxymoron. A genre, involved and difficult by design, being boiled down to something easily digestible? It seems about as likely as a mobile installment of the Souls series at first glance. But interestingly enough, an easily digestible civilization sim is exactly what developer Serious Brothers has set out to create with Imagine Earth.
Ironically, the game is less detailed and finicky than the likes of Sid Meier or your various Tycoons because, rather than managing a colony or park, you’re in charge of an entire planet. You might expect this to blow your construction and management options wide open, but in the interest of approachability, Imagine Earth consists of a very simple tool set.
The vector-based terrain is odd, but interesting.
Your civilization has three resources: food, energy and product, produced by farms, plants and factories respectively. This triangle supports and maintains the cities you establish on foreign planets, which are expanded through civil constructions such as districts and universities. Aside from basic money, you’ll be using both Development Coins and Research Tokens to unlock and build your structures, as well as maintenance services and efficiency upgrades.
While money is primarily generated through tax revenue—incentivizing you to expand your city, thus allowing for exponentially increasing funds—you’ll unlock Coins and Tokens either automatically (remember, this is one approachable sim) or by completing the objectives of your current mission. Money can also be generated by harvesting your planet’s resources, namely lumber and ore, but to the detriment of your planetary balance.
Balance and mission are the key words of Imagine Earth. As expected, there is a free play option in the game in which you can build as intricate a civilization as you’d like, but the game is at its best when you’re working within constraints—specifically, within the limits of the planet and the goals of your mission.
The incredibly simple resource pool is made more interesting by how your decisions affect the planet, and how you can allocate your limited resources to achieve the mission’s target, be it a population cap or a land quota. Tear down too many trees and your fat wallet will soon be followed by rising sea levels and abundant natural disasters. Place your utilities too close to your cities and your unhappy citizens will quickly outweigh your plentiful room for expansion. It’s a constant balancing act that only ends with the success of each planet’s colony. However, it’s an act that can get old quickly.
If your mountains are underwater, you know you goofed.
It is surprisingly difficult to maintain your resource levels without upsetting the planetary balance, but that’s about as micromanage-y as Imagine Earth gets. Outside of plopping arbitrarily attained Research Tokens into a—you guessed it—simple skill tree, there’s no satisfying way to customize your colony. Unlike larger caliber games, it’s not about your playstyle; it’s about the correct one.
Factories product more energy when placed near resource deposits, farms are more efficient on fertile soil, factories are best placed on otherwise worthless tiles of land—the list goes on, but it all adds up to the game making many decisions for you, or at least spelling them out in a font titled “Do this or lose your planet.” Coupled with unlocking demonstrably superior structures, this makes the game feel less like a sandbox and more like a hallway: certainly not a bad hallway—it’s absolutely covered in interesting conversation pieces—but limiting enough that it may turn away hardcore strategy/sim fans. That said, on the whole, Imagine Earth is a refreshingly streamlined and charming approach to civilization sims—and one with plenty of room to grow as it wades through Early Access.