Unbeknownst to me at the time, I began playing the Anno series as a kid way back in the 1990s. Back then I only knew it as "1602 A.D." given that is what it said on the $9.99 disc I got at Walmart (also, I clearly remember a British person saying "1602 AD" every time the game started). It's better known as Anno 1602, and as a seven year old it blew my mind with its complexity. I had always been a fan of real-time strategy games while growing up, and Anno 1602 was neat in that it made trading and maintaining an economy equal to warfare and fighting in importance.
My memories are hazy now, but I remember Anno 1602 being just a bit too complicated for me at the time. I managed to get surprisingly far into the game, but didn't get a handle on how to manage my soldiers while crafting a functioning economy with working supply chains. I would go on to play similar but slightly less complex games like the original Tropico, and from there the Anno games would recede mostly into memory.
Until, that is, Anno 1800. Released in 2019, Ubisoft intended Anno 1800 to return to the series' roots. When I saw it on a deep sale on Steam, I took the plunge and bought the "Complete Edition," which comes with all of the DLC previously released for the game. The question I'll try to answer for you here is this: Was the game worth the $50 asking price?
In short, I'd argue that it was. The game is a true gem, offering ease of access alongside a gamut of deeply complex systems that will have aspiring city-planners staying up until five o'clock trying to determine the most efficient place to build a row of new farmhouses.
In contrast to my memory of Anno 1602, Anno 1800 makes easy all of the complex parts about establishing trade routes, settling new islands, and keeping civilians happy. The UI is easy to understand, and the map is simple to navigate. And yet, while each individual part of the game is accessible, taken together it becomes a complex puzzle that takes time and effort to fully grasp.
And that, in my opinion, is where the fun begins. The game is constructed around evolving and developing your islands, with each island having its own settlement. You start of course with one island and one settlement, which you begin to build with a population of farmers. Once your society becomes complex enough, you unlock a new class of citizens called workers. Once you have a thriving town with a few thousand happy workers and farmers, you unlock artisans, which again adds another layer of complexity to your burgeoning settlement.
As you can see, while each individual layer of Anno 1800 is simple and easy to approach, it slowly but surely builds upon these layers until you're suddenly juggling several layers while trying to maintain your supply lines, keep citizens happy, and expand your society to new islands. All the while, you'll also be conducting diplomacy/warring with AI controlled islands, and also engaging in global expeditions that take you beyond the local map you start at.
Whatever you put your mind to in Anno 1800, you can likely do. If you want to turn it into a complicated tower defense game, for instance, you can do that. I was delighted to find I could build extended quays alongside my harbor, from which I could entrench cannons to defend my island from pirates and other AI enemies. Of course, I could have also invested those resources into gunboats who could then patrol the waters I hold. Really, the options are unlimited.
Like most Ubisoft games that have released in the past decade, Anno 1800 features impressive simulation capabilities in terms of displaying your citizens' daily lives. You'll see people going to the pub, walking around streets, cutting down trees, fighting fires, and even staging protests from time to time. It reminded me of a scaled up version of the NPC simulation featured in other Ubisoft games like Watch Dogs 2 or Assassin's Creed Odyssey. While this may not necessarily always have a gameplay impact, it's quite enjoyable watching your citizens live out their daily lives within the civilization you've created.
In sum, Anno 1800 was definitely worth it to me. I probably wouldn't buy the Complete Edition unless you can get it on sale, but luckily it seems to go on sale frequently enough. To me it feels like it exists at the perfect intersection of the simulation, city-builder, 4X, and real-time strategy genres. It perfects what made Anno 1602 so enjoyable to me over two decades ago, and promises to keep me occupied for many months to come. If you have played Anno 1800 before, or decide to take the plunge and buy it because of this article, please let me know what your thoughts about the game are in the comments below!
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