Title: Farm Manager 2018 Released On: April 6, 2018 Genre: Simulation Reviewed On: PC (Standard) Developer: Cleversan Software Publisher: Playway MSRP: $19.99 USD / $24.99 CAD
I’ve been itching for a game like Farm Manager 2018. As a kid, I played a ton of games like Sim Farm, Knights and Merchants, Caesar III, and SimCity. Then I got into console gaming, which (until relatively recently) didn’t provide much in terms of real-time strategy (RTS) games and city-builders, and so they fell off of my radar a little bit. Fast forward to present day – I’ve become a big fan of games with an agricultural focus such as Farming Simulator and Staxel, enjoying strategic gameplay that encourages careful planning. When I first heard of Farm Manager 2018, the prospect of a game that melded my love of farming (full disclosure: I grew up on a farm and my day job is agriculturally-related) with the planning and management typically associated with city-builders was incredibly exciting.
I wasn’t disappointed.
This isn’t to say that Farm Manager 2018 isn’t without bugs or potential areas for improvement. But the core experience is immersive, deep, and most importantly, fun. Having grown up on a dairy farm, I have a basic sense of some of the ‘behind the scenes’ management that goes on in farming operations, and so I feel relatively qualified to determine the level of realism that Farm Manager 2018 delivers, and how much of a ‘farm management simulator’ it really is (note that the game doesn’t claim to be a ‘simulator’, this is just my interpretation of what it’s trying to achieve). And in my opinion, it delivers a great sense of managing a growing farming operation without ever making it feel like work. Over my time with the game there were a few instances of frustration and confusion, but when the dust settled (pun intended) I felt very satisfied by the robust and enjoyable experience that the game provided.
The game features three different modes, which essentially vary the level of guidance that is provided to the player. Campaign mode walks you through various stages in the (re)development of your family’s old, run-down farm, introducing the player to the game’s mechanics and different components by providing relatively straightforward and easily achievable goals. Scenario mode provides the player with a range of different situations to jump into that test their ability to work towards a certain goal within a given timeframe, such as to build 30 greenhouses. Finally, free mode gives you all of the tools and none of the guidance, so that you can build the farm of your dreams without any instruction regarding what you should be working towards. I feel that the three modes offer a good variety in terms of the level of autonomy given to the player, and would cater well to different tastes (e.g., a tinkerer could play free mode and try different things, while a goal-oriented player could work through the campaign or scenarios).
After playing through Farm Manager 2018’s campaign (which took me approximately 22 hours) I felt well-equipped to take on the remainder of the game’s tasks. It does a good job of introducing the game’s mechanics such as cropping (on small and larger scales), orchards, greenhouses, the various types of animals and their needs, and the multiple types of processing/manufacturing buildings. It slowly adds the ability to construct new types of buildings and buy machinery, easing the player into understanding how all of the components of their farm work together. This was a great way to understand many of the game’s systems, as there are several complex menus and statistical pages that might be difficult to grasp without the explanation that’s given. There are some items that would benefit from a deeper introduction, and I think the developers would do well to add in a “help” menu where the player could go for a refresher on some of the particularly difficult items, since if they accidentally close the window explaining how to do something or interpret a certain menu, there isn’t any way to get back to those details.
At times the campaign did move somewhat slowly, leaving me feeling as though I needed a speed even faster than the “3X” option., which I left the time set at for most of the campaign. Generally, the “1X” (real-time) speed option felt painfully slow, and I often left the speed at the max setting for extended periods – this becomes less of an issue as your farm grows, however, given that more issues pop up and more tasks must be assigned. As I neared the end of the campaign, I found myself feeling overwhelmed (in a good way) at times with the number of things that required my attention, and operating at maximum speed was no longer a viable option. Ultimately this left me feeling as though the time scaling was relatively well-balanced, given that in similar games, the early stages are often relatively simplistic/slow-moving and things become increasingly hectic as your farm/city/colony grow.
I applaud the game for utilizing a full-year cycle of four seasons, however winter can drag on, particularly if you haven’t built any greenhouses or have many animals to take care of. At times I wished the game would let me fast forward through winter to the beginning of spring, when fieldwork picked up and there were an abundance of tasks to complete once again. That being said, I think that all seasons could be shortened a bit, as I often found myself having all of my field preparation completed very early on in spring, with the crops being ready to harvest in early summer. In fact, depending on the crop being grown, you can actually grow and harvest a crop twice in one growing season, which is fairly unrealistic. This reinforced my belief that the game’s seasons are in need of some (albeit relatively minor) adjustment.
Not only did my desire to speed through sections of the campaign almost get me into trouble at several points (by almost missing the window to grow a certain crop in a given growing season, for example), it also led me to realize that the mode seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. Farm Manager 2018’s campaign struggles at times with deciding whether it wants to act as a full-fledged tutorial, or as a goal-oriented campaign that lets you achieve the goals as you see fit, but teaches you the basics along the way. At one point, I’d already harvested a field of wheat in early summer, and when I reached the next stage of the campaign a little later on, it asked me to harvest that field with a newly-purchased combine harvester. Had I not been able to load a save from about half an hour earlier, I would have had to wait another full in-game year to be able to complete the task and move forward in the campaign. I ran into more issues further down the line, as in an effort to fill my time I had expanded my dairy operations, but then the campaign asked me to construct even more cowsheds, leaving me with no choice but to delete the small ones I had built to make room for three of their medium sized counterparts.
These issues left me feeling as though I had very little freedom in expanding on the elements that had been introduced to me, by essentially punishing me for having my own ideas about how to go about developing my farm (even though the entire time I was mindful of the goals set out by the campaign). I understand that the game wanted to slowly introduce its various mechanics, but once those are introduced it should be up to the player to use them as they see fit. Several of the goals of the campaign were slightly too restrictive for my liking, and progress already made when a goal appeared wasn’t taken into account (e.g., if the game wanted me to breed 30 cows, it had to be 30 new cows, despite the fact that I’d likely bred 50 by that point in the campaign).
While it may seem as though I have many complaints, Farm Manager 2018 does manage to get quite a few things right. The natural flow of farming, with larger workloads during the growing season and calmer winters, is very evident and requires the player to think ahead to ensure that their time is used effectively and they have the appropriate number and mix of workers (permanent and seasonal) to effectively direct workflow. This forces you to develop ways to earn some income during the off season, and also ensure that you’re prepared to endure a period of time without any incoming crops – for example, without the ability to harvest any grass or straw, it may become difficult to maintain a steady feed source for cows (without having to buy grass or silage). Permanent employees also come with various skillsets (e.g., proficient at using machinery, harvesting from orchards, caring for animals, and more), which can have a noticeable impact on things like how quickly the condition of equipment deteriorates or the quantity of crop harvested from a field, so the player needs to carefully consider the farm’s needs when hiring new workers.
There is also significant depth to the number of options available to the player in deciding how to develop their farm. Want to stay relatively small scale and build little fields, care for a few cows, and some rabbits? Go ahead. Want to construct a series of humongous dairy barns and some equally massive fields to supply feed for your cows? Or maybe diversify your operation and sell fruit juice and sheep’s wool? You can do that too. Farm Manager 2018 offers a substantial number of building types and functions. While all the animal building types essentially function the same way (buy some animals, over time you can breed them to build your herd) they generate different products, and can even feed into manufacturing plants such as slaughterhouses for a higher investment (but also a heightened return). These types of decisions are where I feel that the game really shines, as often you are forced to contemplate multiple variables in choosing how to develop (and ultimately manage) your farm. Costs/cash on hand, available space (or the cost of new land to expand the farm), workforce, long term goals…these all come into play. Not to mention that the layout of the farm also plays a large role in how efficiently it operates and how quickly tasks are completed. You can see your workers moving and performing their assigned duties in real time – and in considerable detail if you zoom in far enough – and they need to get from their assigned home to the task (or equipment if it’s required) in order to get the job done. That being said, the game suffers from a lack of any ability to queue up tasks for your workers and/or machinery, which leads to some frustration as you watch an employee walk to a tractor, pick up the required implement (e.g, a manure spreader), fill it up (if needed), drive to the field, complete the task, drop off the implement, park the tractor, and walk back to their house – and only then can you assign them to fertilize the next field. This may only take an extra 10 seconds at either end of the task (when running the game at maximum speed) but without the option to assign multiple tasks to a worker, I often found myself waiting for them to return to their home just so I could assign them an identical task on the next field over.
Visually, Farm Manager 2018 looks excellent. As mentioned, there is a surprising level of detail at the “ground-level”, and when zoomed out (which is how I played 95% of the time) the graphical quality remains excellent and things change visually depending on what’s happening on your farm in real time as things develop and progress – there is also a distinct visual difference between seasons, even dependent on temperature at times (e.g., snow can melt in winter if the temperature goes above freezing, it doesn’t just stay white throughout the whole season).
Farm Manager 2018’s user interface is workable, but would benefit from some enhancements. It does a good job at providing basic information in a useful and relatively visually-appealing manner, but I feel that it could be further improved. The bar that sits along the top of the screen (which allows you to track the amount of eight products of your choosing that’s presently in your storage) would benefit from adding in the ability to track expiry dates and/or prices of the commodities, so that you aren’t forced to consult with a menu to see that information for the items you produce/sell the most. The buy/sell menu for products is somewhat clunky, as it often presents items several times (e.g., if they have different expiry dates or are in different storage facilities) but there is no option to sell only that “stack” of product – this makes it very difficult to sell the products that are going to expire first, and I often found myself just selling the entire amount of product I had just to avoid the hassle. The windows that pop up when you click on something (e.g., a building, field, worker, etc.) appears directly in the centre of the screen, and often blocks you from looking at the thing that you clicked. While this isn’t a major issue, having the window open in the corner of the screen would allow you to maintain a visual connection to the thing that you are managing and not have a significant portion of the screen consumed by the information. That being said, items that require immediate attention pop up as notifications and leave an icon in the top right corner of the screen until dealt with, allowing you to triage the things that are demanding your attention and ensure that major issues are dealt with in a timely manner.
The game also suffers from a few bugs, such as tractors or workers getting stuck while performing tasks, however Cleversan Software has been extremely responsive to player feedback in addressing issues and releasing updates in the time since release. A few times I encountered something that forced me to exit to the main menu and load back into my saved game, but overall the experience was relatively smooth and the hiccups were minor. It could perhaps be better optimized, as I found that regardless of the graphics settings I chose, the game ran well in the early stages of developing my farm, but felt as though it was chugging as the farm became very large and the number of processes on the go increased (even though my CPU/GPU usage remained relatively low). Despite the occasional lag in opening a menu, this had a minimal effect on the gameplay, however I am slightly concerned that this issue would become more prominent with larger farms (I never reached the absolute maximum possible farm size).
I didn’t touch on some other additional (albeit minor) features in the game such as the ability to repair equipment, but suffice it to say that I feel that the game presents a level of realism that’s believable without becoming overbearing or detracting from the gameplay. Overall, I had a great time with Farm Manager 2018. It’s deep enough without feeling overwhelming, but allows the player to decide how “into the weeds” (pun intended) they get with respect to reading spreadsheets and tracking commodity prices. It provides an excellent variety in terms of building and crop types to allow for substantial player choice and self-direction – regardless of mode – while the three distinct game modes provide for a nice variety in the level of prescription with respect to overall goals. The decisions you make when playing feel as though they have consequence, which is essential in this type of game. Despite a few minor bugs and some equally minor pacing issues with the campaign, I would definitely recommend this game to fans of city-builders, simulators, and/or farming games.
Final Score: 7/10
Farm Manager 2018 nails the feeling of managing a farm. It throws a lot of information at you and requires you to manage a host of variables – all while keeping it fun. Some bug fixes and tweaks are necessary, but if you’re looking for a building/management game and have an interest in farming (or even if you don’t), this game will certainly keep you entertained.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the developer.