26 February 2014

Getting started in Banished

This guide as a whole is intended for people who have little or no experience with the game. If you've played a bit and think you're doing everything right but still have failing settlements, the "Distribution" and "Miscellaneous advice" sections might be good places to check.

The PC strategy game Banished from one-man-show Shining Rock Software was released last week. I'd been looking forward to the game for quite some time, as it scratches a particular city-building itch that I've had for years. Part of why I've anticipated it so much is that to group it in with traditional "city-builder" games is actually a bit of a misnomer: it's decidedly a village- and town-builder. The goal isn't to expand into a bustling metropolis through long ages: it's simply to get your small group of settlers to survive through each winter.

The game's causality and timing are also more realistic than your typical city-builder. For instance, plopping down a house doesn't cause a new family to materialize from nowhere, and instead gives one of your young couples a place where they'd be comfortable to raise some kids, encouraging natural population growth. And planting that orchard today will give you a nice yield of fruit, sure... three or four years from now when the trees have grown. To some this may sound tedious, but for others of us it's a godsend.

It's not flashy, it's not grand—but it's committed and it's grounded. It has no combat, but you'll instead find yourself locked in battle with the elements. When things go wrong it's brutal: an early frost can destroy your yield from farms, and whole families and neighborhoods can succumb to disease. But when things are going well it's downright cozy: smoke drifts up from chimneys and the townsfolk go about their work in the fields and forests. If you ask me, it's the perfect game to play with a big mug of tea.

It's not a game I'd necessarily recommend to everyone, but if what I've described sounds appealing to you, I'm here to offer a few tips for getting started in Banished. I'll note that these tips are based on my experience with the game so far and advice I've seen on the forums and wiki (and you should definitely play the in-game tutorials to learn about the interface, building placement, etc.). There may well be other approaches to the game, but they're likely more challenging and could discourage new players from the game. I'd recommend starting according to the following suggestions, and then after you've gotten a feel for the game, if you want to see if you can get away with breaking these rules, by all means do so (I know I will be). My suggestions also assume that you're on a valleys map with a fair climate and disasters turned on.

My primary piece of over-arching advice for this game is this: You're better off drawing your assumptions from the real world instead of other strategy games. Specifically, make sure you keep in mind that Banished takes place in the pre-industrial world (most people seem to think it's medieval-era while it strikes me as clearly colonial-era, but at this scale they're not terribly different). The game's not perfectly realistic but it skews farther that way than many others, and so by remembering the setting you'll have a much better chance of guessing the proper course of action. We'll see how this applies in several particular cases below.

Your settlers have three main needs: food, warmth, and shelter. Most of what you do in the game is going to be related—directly or indirectly—to keeping up with those needs as your population grows. We'll start with the basics of those needs and then move on to other important concepts.


Obviously you have to ensure that there's enough food for everyone to eat. Unlike in other strategy games, wherein a few farmers can support armies of soldiers and specialists, probably around half of your population in Banished is going to be involved in food production. (This is still a fair bit lower than what you'd find in actual pre-industrial societies, but much higher than in a game that's focused on expansion or combat.) Before you expand any other area of your economy, you'll first have to expand your food production in order to support it.

Be mindful of how you do it, though, because there's a "trap" in the Easy and Medium difficulties of the game. You'll start off with seeds for crops, and so you might assume that it'd be wise to start with farm-based food production from the get-go. You definitely should not do this, however. Farming does have its advantages, but it's not well-suited to the early game. Crop fields are more efficient in terms of land use, but not as efficient in terms of labor. When you're first starting the game space isn't an issue, but the size of your workforce is. The first thing you should build (even before houses) is a gatherer's hut in the middle of the nearest dense forest. You'll get more food per gatherer than you would per farmer, and gathering is far less susceptible to the weather, which is important in the first few years when your food situation is likely to be tenuous. You'll also get a good variety of foods, which is important for the health of your settlers and harder to achieve with agriculture. Follow it with a hunter's lodge, and repeat the process in the other nearby forests. Placing a forester's cabin near the gatherer's hut will help it be more productive after a couple years, once the trees they've planted have grown, because edibles are more likely to grow near old trees.

As your population grows you'll have more available workers and will be harder pressed for space and can start to shift toward agriculture, but to attempt it from the start is a recipe for failure.


There are two ways people stay warm in Banished: houses stocked with firewood and warm clothes. In addition to the constant pressure for food, there's going to be a similar pressure for timber for firewood. You may get a fair stock of wood from any initial land clearing, but you should set up a forester fairly soon (and as stated above, it'll aid in food gathering in the long term). The logs felled by your laborers or foresters can be used by a woodcutter to produce firewood, which the settlers will take to their homes. Each woodcutter's shed is fairly productive but can only employ one person, so you'll have to steadily place new ones as you expand to keep up with demand. 

Firewood in their home will let them survive the winter, but to continue being productive in the cold your settlers will need warm clothes. These are made by a tailor and come in three types: hide coats (made from leather from either deer or cattle), wool coats (made from sheep's wool), and "warm" coats (made from both leather and wool). The first two types are equal and offer moderate ability to work outside during winter, while the third takes more resources to produce but allows even longer outdoor activity.


Each of your settlers needs a place to live. It's how they'll escape the elements and it's where they'll keep their food. As stated before, unlike in other games homes don't come pre-loaded with a family. Your population ages and grows naturally (though be aware that an "age year" is actually four times shorter than a "visual year") and you'll have to build new homes to accommodate that.

Refusing to build new homes will slow down the rate of population growth since there's only one breeding couple per home, but it won't stop it entirely because new homes will become available for young couples as your older population dies. If you're happy with your current population levels, build few or no homes. If you want more of a labor pool to draw from, build many new houses, but be aware that the children born won't come of age for several years and that each new house will require firewood and each new child will require food and clothes (so plan ahead).

The basic homes are made from wood and those are what you should be building in the early to mid game. Stone houses are more efficiently heated (they need less firewood) but require a lot more resources to build, including iron. You can always upgrade wood houses to stone down the line. Boarding houses are large and intended as temporary housing in the event of a sudden shift in population: either allowing a large group of nomads into your town or upgrading many wood houses to stone (which will displace the family inside).


When you start the game you'll have a wagon for storage, and maybe a barn, depending on difficulty level. The first thing you should do when you start is designate a stockpile area—if you choose an empty spot it'll be available right away. If you don't have the barn, you'll want to build it within the first couple years.

Stockpiles store "hard" raw materials (wood, stone, iron, coal) and chopped firewood. Storage barns hold food, "soft" raw materials (wool, hides, etc.) and finished goods (tools, clothes, etc.).

All resources need to first be in storage before they can make it to their final destination (your builders won't take wood or stone directly from the land and need a stockpile, for example) so you'll need to make sure you have sufficient space for everything. If you find yourself running low on space but can't build new storage yet, you can lower your resource limits at any building that generates them. Before long you'll also need to raise the default limits—anything collected beyond them will be discarded.


Distribution logistics aren't something you have to worry about in most city-builders: typically, if you have enough of something, it'll instantly find its way to those who need it. Not so in Banished. You have to be very mindful of how your resources are making their way around your village. I think the way the settlers respond to poor distribution could be improved, but there are definitely ways to prevent it from getting to that point in the first place.

A slightly built-up sub-community
First of all, while you may have seen some lovely screenshots of other people's built up, centralized towns in the game, you shouldn't be trying to emulate that from the start. You'd do better to start off with several, largely self-sufficient sub-communities that are near the resources you're working. Over time you'll expand them and they'll probably start to merge in the center, but collecting everyone in the middle to start will be inefficient and possibly deadly.

Each area of resource production should have nearby the homes of the people working it and the appropriate type of storage. So, for example, if you have a forest being used for gathering and logging you should include: a couple homes at the edge of the forest for the workers, a storage barn for the food being produced, and a stockpile for the logs. I'd recommend this exact setup for each of the nearest few forests, plus a hunter's lodge in one or two of them and an herbalist in one if you find health is getting low. If you can find a forest that borders a lake or river so much the better, since that will let you bolster its food production with a fishing dock.

For your next-tier producers (woodcutters, blacksmiths, tailors, taverns), the first of each should go near the storage barn of a forest that's producing a good amount of food (and for the woodcutter, near a stockpile that's getting logs). For subsequent placements there are three factors you need to consider and try to balance: availability of food to support the workers, an even spread among your sub-communities, and proximity to the resource they use (blacksmiths near an iron mine, tailors near a sheep flock, etc.).

The overall goal is to minimize the amount of unnecessary walking, because any time spent walking is time not spent working. Homes should be near workplaces, workplaces should be near appropriate storage, storage should be near homes. Obviously that will quickly become hard if you're trying to build all your homes in one area, which is why you should go with sub-communities.

As your population increases and you inevitably start getting larger clusters of buildings, a market can be a big help in maintaining efficiency. It's the job of the vendors there to do most of the walking for your other settlers, going out to storage areas and bringing the goods back to a central location. Markets cost a lot of resources, though, and early on you could find better uses for the vendors, so don't be too eager to build one (though feel free to leave a green in the center of some buildings the right size to accommodate one eventually).

There are a couple other important things to consider with markets. First is that if you're not careful your vendors can drain the storage areas of supplies in their effort to stock the market, so you don't want too many of them. Despite the default worker limit on a market being 12, one or two should suffice when it's first built—start there and adjust as necessary. The next thing to consider is that the market will only serve the people whose houses fall within its yellow range ring. If a house is not inside it, its inhabitants will go to a nearby storage barn instead. This can lead to an awkward situation wherein hungry settlers will walk by a well-stocked market to get to a storage barn with food. I think that logic needs to be fixed, but if you use smart distribution and don't overtax your barns with vendors it should be pretty avoidable. When you're placing your markets try to get large coverage of homes, and also make sure that any homes falling outside its range have adequate storage areas to draw from instead.

Health & Happiness

Each of your settlers has a personal rating for health and happiness, and you can see the overall averages in the Town Info window. A good variety in food will keep health high, but an herbalist can offset the penalty if you find yourself with low food variety (just be aware that going to the herbalist takes a lot of time, since the settler has to get the herbs from storage and then bring them back to the herbalist's hut to have a concoction made for them—you're better off trying to keep food variety high).

The hospital is primarily used to counter disease outbreaks, which you have a higher likelihood of encountering if you accept nomads into your settlement. Nomads can be a nice boost to population, but an outbreak can wipe out an even larger number, so I'd advise against accepting them until you have a hospital.

Happiness is affected by a variety of things, and there are several buildings you can add to keep it up. Wells provide a place to gather, which makes people happy (and are also essential for putting out fires, so be generous with them). Graveyards will offset the sadness incurred by deaths in the family.  Churches and taverns also make people happy but are fairly expensive to build (and the tavern won't be of use until you have something to turn into alcohol, like wheat or a tree fruit).


In general it's better to fill one building with workers before creating a new one since new work buildings tend to be costly and many industries take time to get running at full capacity. And as I mentioned earlier, you'll probably end up with around one settler in a food production role for every one in some other role. I'm not going to go over all the professions here, just a few that have some important things to note about them.

Laborers: These are your general workforce, who will do things like clear trees, gather stone, move resources. You'll need them to clear a build site before builders move in, and to gather large swathes of surface-level resources. If a person in another profession dies, a laborer will replace them—so you should keep around a couple more than you need to keep things running smoothly as people inevitably pass away. Also, any other type of worker who has no profession-specific tasks to complete (such as builders when there are no building projects, or farmers during the winter) will behave like a general laborer for the duration.

Farmers: The more farmers you have working a field the more seeds will be planted in time to grow to full size before autumn, and the more of the crop you'll actually be able to harvest before the first frost sets in. They'll wait until the field is at 100% yield or Early Autumn, whichever comes first, but there's a button to tell them to harvest immediately. And as alluded to in the beginning, orchards will take several years before yielding fruit.

Blacksmiths: You should build your first blacksmith before your tools have a chance to run out. Workers without tools are far less effective, and a shortage can quickly lead to a spiral toward starvation: food workers produce less food, but can't get more food because the laborers or miners can't produce iron quickly enough for the blacksmith to make tools, and the blacksmith may not have a tool himself, making it that much worse. As people start to die, there are even fewer people in the already ineffective professions, making it even harder to claw your way back up. Not fun; have blacksmiths. Steel tools require coal in addition to the regular wood and iron but last twice as long.

Children: Not a profession, obviously, but they can perform some simple tasks on their own, like bringing food and firewood to their family home.

Students: Also not a profession per se, but they have a significant impact. Having a school basically introduces adolescence into the population: instead of going straight into the workforce, children will become students. When they're done they'll be more effective at their job, but for the duration they're basically useless. Consider carefully whether building a school will be helpful at any given time.

Miscellaneous advice

- I'd recommend keeping the Town Info and Event Log windows open at all times (I put them in top- and bottom-left, respectively). You can keep the top-right empty or put the Professions or Map window there if you like. Of course, you can pin basically any window anywhere you want on the screen if it suits you.

- By default you'll only receive a pop-up notification for accidental deaths. If you want to be notified of old age deaths, there's a button to toggle it on the Event Log window.

- There's a button in the window of each production building that looks like a spiral arrow. Click it to see that building's yield for the current and prior year.

- Make sure any forest-based work buildings have as many trees in their work area as possible. Clear any rocks or iron to give more room for things to grow. Putting a forester with any other forest building will give the area more old trees in the long term, which will boost production. Just be aware that any space taken up by a building is space where things can't grow.

- I'd recommend making your farms the full 15x15 size with 3 or 4 workers each to get the best bang for your buck. Pastures and orchards can be fairly efficient at smaller sizes (though the size needed for a pasture depends on the animal).

- Be conservative with the size of resource clearing tasks you give to your laborers. It may be tempting to have them chop down a large section of forest or collect an entire field of iron, but it will tie them up for long periods of time, preventing them from completing other tasks and running the risk of them starving or dying of hypothermia while en route. 

- If you increase the amount of a resource in the inventory of a trading post and then trade it away, your workers there will immediately try to restock it to that level. Make sure you check all your inventory levels after any trade to make sure they're at the amount you'd actually like to maintain.

- Put some space around pastures. There currently seems to be a glitch that can cause pasture resources to spawn at the far corner of the map if there's no space adjacent to the pasture, causing your settlers to travel long distances to retrieve them, probably dying in the process.

I hope this has been helpful if you have the game or have been thinking about getting it. If you have any corrections or tips of your own, please leave them below. Happy gaming. :)

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