Updated: January 25, 2021
After one reaches a certain age, i.e. becomes a grumpy dinosaur, discovering new games becomes difficult. Somewhere around mid-30s, you settle into a pattern, and don't just randomly go about playing any which title comes your way. Time become precious, patience thin. And so, the likelihood of a Magellan-style discovery is very slim.
Yet, it's happened again. I found a game so brilliant, so captivating that I found myself hunching over the keyboard for more hours than socially acceptable, I'd go to bed anticipating the next morning so I could play again, and in between, I'd dream about the game's dynamics, while its tune plays out its quirky beat through the land of brainy REM. A time jump back into childhood. Ladies and gentlemen, comrades - Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic - an absolute gem of a game!
Get your hammer, your sickle and your enthusiasm
There are many unique facets to this title. Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic is an indie game. It's not easy finding a perfect indie game. It's a game in continuous development AKA early access - something I usually dislike. But ...
It's an urban-industry simulator, where you take control of a socialist state economy. Your goal is to build prefab cities and surround them with soot-spewing factories, so you can manufacture goods for the glory and benefit of your republic. And you can also export them for a neat profit, if you're capitalistically inclined.
The idea of a game focusing on a specific period isn't new - we've seen this in the legendary Transport Tycoon Deluxe - or perhaps OpenTTD, where you can start your enterprise anywhere between 1950 and 1980. Then, you start building industries, shipping stuff around and making dough. Similarly, Workers & Resources allows you to begin your communal experiment in 1960, 1970 or 1980, optionally locking your technology to the period.
However, where Soviet Republic diverges from TTD is in that you also have to build cities, plop a bunch of buildings for your residents, and then give them everything they need, as befitting a socialist state. You need to take care of their food, clothing, culture, and most importantly, transportation. You need to send your people to work in your shiny (sooty) factories, and there are all manner of means to achieve that - bus, trolley bus, train, or, oh ye capitalist, a privately owned car!
Here, Soviet Republic becomes Cities Skylines, except you have a much greater degree of leeway in getting your people's needs right. You can be nice and give them everything, or you could deprive them ever so slightly, so that you make more profit. If you decide to play with limited budget, this may actually be a necessity early on in the game. Hint: Best started with unlimited money until you figure it out.
Finally, your factories will process raw goods and turn them into products, which you can sell, either to other socialist countries in rubles, or to Western countries - in dollars. Thus, Workers & Resources assumes the third aspect of urban simulation, and that would be the wicked and fun SimCity 4, where you can import and export commodities, including power, waste, coal, and much more. But then, there are also global price fluctuations, and dollar-to-ruble ratio, all of which make your economical adventures extra perilous.
I was quite interested to begin with - the game price is low (29.99 in Amerikanski currency) - but when I realized that you get the best of all worlds in one, the city aspects from Cities, the transport aspect from Transport Tycoon, and the world aspect from the last of the Three Urbaneers, I knew, deep down, that this was going to be fun.
Alas, before you can enjoy the fruit of your labor, comrades, you must learn how to play. In this regard, Soviet Republic is quite different from the rest, and much more challenging. One, object placement on the map is finicky. You need to figure out the angle for each and every building just right. Road and rail can curve only so much; there's another limitation right there. Terrain elevation is also super-annoying - yes, you can terraform and level terrain, but only a bit, which is not quite how it works in real life. But this means you have to plan carefully where you put your cities and factories, otherwise, you may end up with unsolvable placement puzzles.
Furthermore, each manufacturing plant has its own layout, with input and output connections. For example, a steel mill needs coal and iron - two inputs. You need to connect these to the factories that produce the raw goods. You can do this using "automatic" factory connections - very accurate placement required - you can use factory junctions - but then you need both careful placement and forklifts to shuffle goods about - or you can connect your mill to warehouses and open storage areas, and then use either trucks or trains to shuffle the goods over. Finally, you also need transport stations - one or more - so your workers can report to duty at the assembly line. The more everything the better, as your factory will be able to achieve higher output capacity. Quite often, my mill would have anywhere between 50 and 500 workers at any given time, and depending on the amount of input, the production efficiency would vary between 5% and 80%.
It took me a long time to figure out the ins and outs of every industry. Here, the game lacks quite severely in that there are no good blueprints or official guides explaining how to do the connections - the in-game tutorials are quite confusing - and how to avoid gridlocking oneself with inaccessible factories. What I did find is a bunch of Youtube videos, but I don't really want to spend 35 minutes watching someone else play just to figure out what I'm missing. Which is why I intend to write an industry guide for this fabulous title sometime soon.
After about 5-6 hours, I finally had it figured out. The placement problem remains, but I now know what it takes to build a thriving, working city. You need space, you need trial and error, and you need to plan ahead. Of course, eventually, chaos settles in, but that's part of the gritty, sooty, imperfect beauty of Workers & Resources. No matter what you do, your "world" will not be pretty or orderly. City grids are most likely not going to happen, and you'll end up with wavy, concentric rings of streets following the hilly topography. I did try grids, and they are okay - but wrong for Eastern Europe prefab architecture. Your industry will also be scattered around, but at least you can use conveyor belts to carry ore from the hills to the plains, where you have more freedom in placing the factories just right.
And then, I realized - I was hooked. Hours would whistle by as I worked my way through the industry chain, trying to get everything working. Workers & Resources is quite complex, and it takes a lot of effort building your industry. For example, to build cars, you need steel, mechanical components, fabric and plastic. To manufacture steel, you need coal, which requires coal ore, and iron, which requires iron ore. Plastic - you need oil and chemicals. The chemical plant is one of the more complex structures, and it needs crops, gravel, wood and oil as raw materials. For fabric, you need crops and chemicals. And so on and on. As you can see, the plot thickens quite a bit. Oh, I forgot electronics, which need electronic parts ...
Speaking of crops, this means agro-farms with their fleets of tractors, combine harvesters and trucks to ferry the harvest to silos. If you plant too late in the season, you miss a whole year, so you may need to import crops. When the winter kicks in, the roads gets snowed over - you will need plows to keep them clear. There's always a risk of fire, hence fire stations with their armadas of trucks. You can buy Soviet-made or West-made equipment.
There are four or five different storage facilities - for different materials. But here, there are rules, too! You cannot mix aggregates. However, you can limit the amount of specific goods in warehouses. You can also build distribution centers, which have their own fleets of covered and open-hull trucks, and you can assign them tasks - anywhere between two and two dozen buildings and commodities they need to load and unload at and then transport stuff around. Hell, you can even set the percentage of goods capacity at the destination, which will determine how busy your trucks will be.
In fact, here, there's similarity to another all-time favorite of mine, the oldie but goldie Caesar III. In this gem of a city-builder game, you had raw industries, which shipped their stuff to workshops, and then you carted those off to warehouses, and onward to markets and foreign trade, and you could set warehouse limits and whatnot. Similar, except instead of pottery, wine and marble, you dabble in tractors, chemicals and electronics. Fantastic.
Then, once you finally start making exportable goods, you will be able to load them onto flatbeds, into tarped trucks, or onto train wagons, and send them over either East or West, where they will be sold at the customs houses at the edges of your region. Different goods, different prices, different currency rates.
Cars, trains - and nuclear fuel - are the most profitable goods you can have. Yes, as you can imagine, you can also build nuclear plants, a chain of five buildings, a dozen materials, and a whole lot of profit if you pull it off. But there's great satisfaction seeing your trucks carry the completed fuel rods in sealed containers off to the border. 50K profit per ton early on in the game, 200K later, that's good quiche.
I also managed to build my car factory - my first blueprint was VW Beetle, and soon, I had a cargo train running to and fro, often loaded with ~20 cars at a time, which would return some 50K per trip. Amazing and utterly satisfying. Even with unlimited money, it took me some 15-20 hours just to get to this stage. Of course, along the way, I figured out many different ways how to improve things further, but that's what the industry guide is for, after all.
At this stage, I didn't mention power - energy supply. That's a whole separate ballgame. Immensely complex and frustrating and hard. You need to import power before you can produce your own, spread high-voltage lines everywhere, provide heating. Not for the faint-hearted. On me todo list, for when I feel brave.
Don't forget the people
The one ingredient you can't really buy - workers - well, you can, but it costs a lot. You will need them, and lots and lots of them. Some factories only take 10-15 workers, but others can go up to 500. Just to get everyone to their work place takes a lot of effort. At the moment, I have hundreds of buses and about half a dozen trains just doing the work commute. It's all busy and chaotic and magnificent.
There are a few things you can do to improve your workforce efficiency - education is the primary one. Many people will not work unless you build kindergartens. You also needs schools and universities to train engineers, who are vital in some of the more complex industries, as you can imagine. There are three types of higher education facilities - technical, medical and communist studies. The first allows you to research technologies, like chemistry (a prerequisite for the chemical plant) or semi-conductors, for instance. Since the game is being developed all the time, some things aren't there yet, but I expect we will see them in the future, like further research at the other two facilities.
Food stores, clothing stores, pubs. Museums, cinemas, glorious concrete monuments. Radio and TV stations, which can pump out propaganda, or perhaps, just entertain your proletariat. Football and tennis fields, which must shut down when it's cold, fierce winter. Heating, fuel, chaos, addiction. This game is amazing.
The music is quirky - synthesized accordion, rousing Soviet-style songs. The graphics are pretty reasonable. Nothing crazy, but then, you get a really good sense of European socialism, plus the design of vehicles and factories is really spot on.
Workers & Resources ran true for me, 97% of the time - I had several crashes, mostly when placing roads that seem to trigger some internal conflict, and on a few occasions, the game complained that it couldn't auto-save, as it was out of video memory, go figure. Other than that, everything was just fine. The game tolled about 25% of my RTX 2080, almost no CPU. The only real downsides are that you have just two regions to play - hilly Eastern Europe with or without preexisting population - I presume more are to come, as are additional industries and focus on shipping and aircraft. The interface is a bit clunky, especially the way different info windows pop up, but there are really niggles compared to the bounty of great fun that the game provides.
Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic is a total surprise for me. I had the game on my wishlist for more than a year before I finally bought it, and I wish I'd done it sooner. It's got everything this grumpy dinosaur needs. It's challenging, complex and utterly fun, evoking emotions that had lain dormant for many a year.
The game advertises itself as the ultimate real-time city builder tycoon game - and I think this is a very accurate definition. The focus is on industry first, transport second, urban development third, and in doing that, it creates a level of depth that I've not seen elsewhere. If you're even mildly inclined toward this genre, you will love it. Do remember that there's an initial hurdle you must pass - the few hours figuring out the dynamics, the building layouts, and how to connect everything. After that, you'll be having tremendous, tremendous fun. Now, there's that feverish feeling again - time to play some more!