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Late To The Game: SimCity BuildIt




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Everyone who knows me knows I waste all my free time (and there isn’t much of that!) playing freemium games or free-to-play games. I am always asked how much money I blow on them, and the honest answer is not that much. I have a tendency to avoid paying as long as I can, and to try and push through the “paywall”. Many games have come and gone, but I am now about three weeks into SimCity BuildIt.

Long ago, I was a huge SimCity fan. I played it on my Super Nintendo, and then on computers. I follow most of the major releases and have tried them on and off, but I will be honest — I did not participate in the big fancy 2013 release of SimCity, the one where you could only play online (which was removed later due to brutal connection problems). I skipped that one, mainly because the majority of the people I knew playing it said not to bother.

About a month ago, I got my first Android tablet, and obviously the first thing I did was check out what games were available in the Google Play Store. SimCity jumped out almost immediately. I figured I hadn’t played a Sim game in a while, so why not try it out?

Controls:
Relatively straightforward. The game defaults to the classic isometric view when you start each time, but I find I immediately change it to a top-down view. The reason for this is because once your buildings start getting taller, it is pretty much impossible to tap on anything in the isometric view. You always end up tapping the wrong thing. So the top down view (at least for me) seems to be the best.

SimCity BuildIt has the standard zoom-in-and-out, swirl-around, side-to-top-type view controls. Nothing fancy or new here, pretty much the same as any other building game.

I do like how far you can zoom out and in though, it gives you a helicopter view all the way down to building level. The only time I really zoom in or change the angle is when I want to admire my beautiful city.

Game Play:
“You build stuff, right?” Well, you do. That being said, the game itself plays quicker than I thought it would and without hitting that damn paywall.

You start off in the standard SimCity empty space, and the little icons are blinking, telling you that you have residential and industrial zones to build. The residential zones are always free and the starting industrial zones are free (but later, as you unlock the larger ones which have more production slots, they start to cost). A change for SimCity BuildIt is also that roads are free, at least to build — later, when you need to upgrade them, it will start costing you money. So be VERY CAREFUL off the start — have some sort of plan in your mind, because if you have to demolish the streets later after you’ve spent needed money at the start, you will be kicking yourself. There are more pressing needs for that money at the early levels of the game.

You do have a limitation on how many industrial and residential zones you can build, which is tied to your level. As your level increases throughout the game, more zones of each type are available, but there are always going to be significantly more residential zones than industrial. The industrial zones are used to build your basic building blocks such as wood, iron, plastic, seeds, etc. These are what you need to upgrade your residential zones as they call for different upgrades. What you need to upgrade a building to house more people (and build apartments) is completely random, and sometimes the roll of the dice gives you brutal requirements — but thankfully, there is an option to wait 30 minutes for the game to generate you another set of blueprints. I find later in the game as more and more building blocks (resources, etc.) become available with your higher level that this option is a saving grace, because for the larger buildings, you need some items that take forever to build.

The commercial zones are still there, but they don’t behave like they used to in previous games. They don’t upgrade like the residential buildings, but instead act as factories like your industrial zones, to build items needed to upgrade the residential zones.

The gameplay loop is the standard funnel build, where the factories in the industrial zones make the items that your commercial stores need to build the things that your residential zones need to upgrade. That’s it for the basic buildings in the game — pretty straight forward as I said, you will quickly learn which items are the most necessary, and you’ll develop your own build cycle based on how much time and effort you put into the game. I will note that you can spend ‘cash’ to add more building slots to the commercial buildings; stay away from doing this until about level 20, save that in-game cash for as long as you can and don’t spend it, as you will need it later. This is the tricky paywall that you don’t want to fall for.

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I should mention at this point that you do have an inventory, which is limited in size. You can expand it for free as you go along by collecting certain items to build 10 inventory spots.

Each building will have a little thought bubble pop up and tell you what your residents require to remain happy, but also will contain complaints. Complaints are red and needs/thoughts are blue. TIP: make sure you always click on the blue bubbles as they will randomly give out the items you need to 1) increase your inventory size and 2) increase your map size, as you only start out with so much space. I did not know this for the first 15 levels (which come really fast), and therefore probably missed out on quite a few free objects needed to increase my storage space early. Again, stay away from buying these items with your in-game cash, you don’t need to as the game seems to know what you are missing and will give it to you with those random blue bubble clicks.

I will state here that as your storage size increases and the map size increases, you need more and more of the same items. This is part of the freemium plan, to fill your inventory with the items you need to increase your inventory size. This isn’t a con to the game — it’s just how free-to-play games work. You will hit the end when you don’t need them any more, and you can sell them off in the store to other players (which I will touch on later). They are worth quite a bit of money, but don’t sell them, you will always need them.

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You will notice as you play that there are buildings that appear to be broken down; a boat dock, a funny tower (circled in red below) and an airport (circled in red below). You can pay money to revive these, but only when you hit a certain population count. You will first get the dock, then the tower, and then the airport. The point of the dock and tower are to do little collecting missions to obtain gold keys which you can then trade in for fancy buildings that increase your population significantly. The airport lets you open up “Paris”, which is simply a new option to build French-inspired buildings that lead to higher happiness and population.

At the time of writing, I still have only unlocked the dock, but I can say that the benefits are tremendous, so unlock this as soon as you possibly can. The dock will require you to fill up 3 cargo contains with items from your inventory. You get paid for putting them there but of course at a lower value than what they are worth but then when all three are full you get a gold key so it’s definitely beneficial.

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There are other buildings in the game and you will notice that your sims will start whining and complaining about police and fire services. I suggest letting them suffer initially so you can build the bigger versions that have a larger area of effect; there is no sense in wasting money on the smaller ones. There are also transit buildings, gambling buildings, entertainment, etc. These you can honestly avoid until you have filled whatever your current map size is. I’d suggest spending your cash on items needed to expand the map and inventory, once you have this kind of surplus. You can then go back and add these fancy options later.

Parks are the last thing on the list, these do help with happiness and upgrading quite a bit but only buy them sparingly if you can, you can use the cash elsewhere until about level 35. NOTE: I am not one who likes to pay for stuff, but if you want to spend your money and buy in game cash, go nuts on these buildings. That’s what these buildings are for, to trick you into buying them with your real money. You don’t need to do this, though, and can buy them later in the game when you want to push for that final maxed-out map.

I should touch on the store, which you must have an active online connection to use. It simply is a store with six slots (to start) that you can sell your extra inventory items through. In my opinion, you should always put the max price, as it appears everyone in the game has too much sim money and will buy it within a few minutes. There is also another building above the store that serves as a way for you to see other peoples’ items for sale. It refreshes every 30 seconds, so you will almost always find what you need. When you visit peoples’ cities through their store, always remember to look around their city, as there will be a little blue icon shaped like a present that will give you random items. This is extremely beneficial, as this is another way you can get the items you need to increase the map and inventory — but also, it will usually give you a ‘rare’ item for free. It also goes above and beyond your max inventory count, so you don’t need to worry about not having inventory space — but keep in mind that you will then need to clear some items from inventory back on your own city.

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That’s pretty much it for the main gameplay, EA is normally notorious for trying to get you spend money, and I was very surprised with this game, because it actually seems like they are giving you a chance to play without spending a fortune on in-game money.

I will say that their pricing scheme is way too expensive for what you get. There are two types of currencies; the standard simoleans, which is what you obtain by upgrading residential zones and selling inventory and then spend on the fancy buildings, sewer, power, etc., and then there is the in-game cash, which is what you spend to speed things up, open more slots, and so on. The cost of buying simoleans with cash is ridiculous, it is not even close to fair. You might as well continuously build the quickest inventory item (steel) and constantly sell it in the in-game store. The only other thing the cash is good for — and they still don’t give you a great deal — is for speeding stuff up and opening slots, like I said earlier. This can also be avoided by the random chance of obtaining it. One thing that pops up randomly a few times a day is a little blue bubble (like the ones I mentioned earlier) that looks like a video play button. You will only see these if your device is online and if you touch it, you will be asked if you want to watch a commercial for another game/app on Google Play. Do it, it’s worth it, it only runs for 20 seconds, and then you have an option of picking from three boxes as a prize. They’re cash, gold keys, simoleans or other random rare items that will help you.

City Layout
If you’d like help on how to lay out your city, check out this article on SCbuildit.com.

Update
There was a game update at the time of writing this article. EA has added a new feature called ‘scenarios’, where you are given tasks to complete with really good prizes. It seems that most of the scenarios are simply attempting to force you to rebuild the airport, tower and other things that help you bring in the Tokyo and Paris buildings. They have also added another city, London, to the game.

Final Thoughts
Overall, this is a great game if you are a SimCity fan and don’t like paywalls. You can definitely get away with playing it without paying a dime.

Pros
No forced paywall, playable without paying.
Great graphics.
Easy controls.
Addictive.
Runs really well, quick loading time.
No internet connection required (but see my con below as there is a downside).

Cons
Depending on your wifi/internet connection, the speed of buying from others can be aggravating. It always seems like someone else purchases the items you want before you do. You can click the button to remove, but it costs in-game money AND IT DOES NOT GIVE THE ITEM BACK.
There is no ability to take items down from your store.
You MUST play this game with an internet connection in order to get all the bonus inventory items (via looking at other peoples’ cities or the option to watch the video commercials for other games in Google Play).
You cannot cancel items in your build queue, so make sure you plan ahead.

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