Developer: SomaSim
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.3
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Spending most of my school-aged years in Northern California as I did, the subject of the mid-1800s California Gold Rush is indelibly etched into my brain. We went on gold panning school field trips to Placerville and hiked the same trails that the miners had a hundred and fifty years prior. When SomaSim’s 1849 went up for review, a glance at the screens filled my heart with hopes for a Gold Rush-themed Sim City. But as any seasoned Forty-Niner can attest, I probably shouldn’t get too excited about every sparkly nugget that catches the light. After all, there’s plenty of fool’s gold in these App Store hills, so it’s best to stay cautious.

1849My assumptions were at least partially correct: 1849 IS a boomtown city simulation. But rather than the open sandbox format of a lot of city builders, 1849 takes a much more focused, scenario-guided path. Players jump from city to city across Central and Northern California during the height of gold fever, helping kickstart a series of small encampments and grow them into prosperous communities. Usually this takes the form of needing to import or export an amount of specific goods from surrounding towns, hitting population milestones, or the like. Upon arriving at the new settlement, players pick from one of three starting package options, which will determine the amount of money and/or free resources the settlers begin with.

The variety of available resources slowly ramps up as players progress, eventually forming a pretty deep economy. One of the biggest issues prospective settlers will face is eventually fitting all of the elements required to keep the town running within the boundaries of the small plot of land, while still keeping necessities like law enforcement and school coverage distributed to the areas that need them.

1849The music is mostly laid-back and twangy, and graphics are a bit on the simple side, but they both have that feeling of splinters and dirt about them that the period evokes. I was a bit annoyed that the sprites for all of the natural map elements (rocks, trees, etc) were ridiculously blurry and low-res when I was zoomed to any degree at all, and this juxtaposition was even more pronounced with them alongside the otherwise crisp buildings and townsfolk. And this was AFTER a pre-launch update claimed to be fixing a high-res texture issue.

I do feel a lack of a sandbox mode limits 1849’s appeal a bit, as the missions get a bit same-y after a while. The problem is, in its current state a full sandbox would soon grow pretty stale too, unless the build area was increased and more upgrade options for businesses were made available. For those with a desire to strike it rich in the gold fields of the Sacramento River valley, 1849 may well scratch an itch. But they also might find the vein of fun runs dry long before they need to worry about someone jumping their claim.

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