Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year
Late last year HipSoft released Build-a-lot, a casual real estate tycoon sim where you buy and construct houses, raise their value, and stack piles of cash behind your desk. The successful paring down of a complex subject matter was a huge hit, and we learned just how fun it can be to have the power of bulldozers and million dollar incomes at our disposal. The sequel, Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year, has just been released, and a critical question immediately came to mind: why not call it Build-a-lot-more? Ok ok, so I'm no marketing genius, but according to this game, I might be a real estate whiz.
The over-arching theme of Build-a-lot 2 is to improve each town's value by meeting goals set by each area's mayor. Tasks range from building a number of houses/buildings to earning a set amount of cash or increasing rent income to a certain level. All the while you must manage three things: cash, workers, and materials. Money rules them all and is used for every action you take. With money you must ensure you have enough materials to build new houses or upgrade and repair existing ones. Workers are necessary to carry out your plans, and the more you have the more jobs you can undertake at once.
Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year doesn't deviate much from the formula established by its predecessor, which is a very good thing. With a few simple mouse clicks you travel from town to town buying up empty lots and building houses in their stead. After drafting the right blueprints you can build several types of houses, each requiring more upkeep, materials and resources to construct. Bigger houses bring in more rent, and in order to meet each level's goal, you'll have to rake in as much cash as you can.
The game gradually unveils new buildings as you play, creating a wonderful sense of progression. Each new item gives you a nice bonus as well. Parks, for example, help raise the appeal of nearby properties, whereas buildings such as coffee shops share their earnings, and workshops offer discounts on your materials and labor. It all comes together into a satisfying experience that gets even better as the game goes on.
Analysis: Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year is one of those rare cases when a sequel does nothing but improve upon the original. Everything is bigger and better than the first, from an increase in building types to more levels and much better replay value. The new set of buildings is a great addition and adds loads of depth without complicating gameplay. Painting houses, while a seemingly trivial inclusion, is strangely satisfying (try painting a $300,000 house pink and tell me you didn't enjoy it) and integrates right into gameplay. And at long last, players don't have to worry about property taxes!
Build-a-lot 2 is better than the original in every way, which is a major feat in and of itself. It sounds complicated and perhaps a bit too number-heavy for casual players (we aren't all financial masterminds), but in practice it's as simple and straightforward as can be. This game is set to be one of the best casual games of the year.