a game by Andrew Backhouse
Penciltown is a solo resource management and strategy game in which you help a newly-founded town to survive, grow and thrive. It's print-and-play, and you draw and erase things as you go. It's heavily driven by chance, and its intention is to create interesting stories.
You need a pencil, an eraser and two six-sided dice. You also need the rulebook, which you can print or use on a screen, and a playsheet, which you can print or draw on graph paper.
You start with a single structure. You draw and erase resources as you gain and lose them, and gradually expand your town by paying for and drawing buildings. You make tough tradeoffs since excelling at everything is pricy. Buildings give proximity bonuses and space is limited, so placement matters.
You attract people to your town and specialize them into fighters, clerics, philosophers and more. The giant events table throws problems at your town which you must solve, including increasingly dangerous attacks. Later on you can equip adventurers with potions and gear and send them on risky but rewarding quests.
It scratches that city-building and base-defending itch, but in a simpler, paperier package.
It gets pretty crunchy when it comes to mechanics. It's not "convenient" to play in the way board games can be (move chits from zone A to zone B), which is the tradeoff for the really rich simulation. The question for you is whether fiddle is worth tasty crunch. However, my 55-year-old mum taught herself the game in under an hour, so the complexity is quite manageable.
The game is designed for solo play. If that's not your intended mode of play, skip it - I don't want to disappoint you. If you love solo deep-dives, it'll be really rewarding. That said, I have had a lot of fun playing this with a small group. You just need everyone on the same page.
Chance is a big factor, and it has many ways to mess you around. If you get frustrated at seeing your progress dismantled, this may be one to miss. (It does have a difficulty setting you can lower.) However, if you love lows because they make highs feel amazing, get it - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat never felt so good.
It's long. A game takes 2-6 hours. If you prefer your entertainment bite-sized, you can always play in shorter bursts, but be aware that the arc of your town's ascension takes a while.
The visuals are what you make of them. Gameplay happens in pencil marks that you make. On the other hand, the writing is lush. Events offer 220 tiny self-contained stories, and the other moving parts are full of word-based worldbuilding. The construction and economy game is also really satisfying. This game does the most for people who love systems or stories more than visuals... but if you like making art, drawing a beautiful town as you play is probably a lot of fun.
While the overall flavour is wry, broad-minded fantasy, the writing gets dark in a couple of places, so I'd read through it before you give it to your child.
Penciltown was succeeded by a sibling game, Pencilvillage. If you're looking for a quicker, lighter town-builder, take a look.
Penciltown costs five US dollars.
Important purchase notes
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You may prefer to shop directly on Gumroad's site.
On September 27 2018, I released version 1.1. See what changed here.
Thanks a bunch for your interest, and I hope you buy Penciltown, because it's really cool.
I want to hear from you! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.