Anno 1800 Review - The Prettiest Spreadsheet

5/5

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.

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.