Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic 1.0 review: reject tradition, embrace a fundamental revolution in city building

If nothing else, Workers & Resources Colon Soviet Republic will give anyone an appreciation of the incredible complexity and difficulty of building and maintaining a city. On another day I might call it the first ever city building game.

Even a Settlers or Factorio cannot match its extreme focus on logistical simulation. It isn’t realism for its own sake (look no further than the automated vehicles and the ludicrous citizen behaviour to refute that), but a fundamentally different interpretation of what city building means. It’s about co-ordinating all your pieces so they’ll be in the right place to support each other, and how the whole is all that matters, but that whole will fail if you don’t organise its parts. It is… a lot. It’s too much at times. But if you have those times, it will occupy them like nothing else.

In other city builders, you can enable recycling to make pollution go down 10%. In W&R, populated buildings fill bins with “mixed waste”. You must organise rubbish trucks, build them a depot, and a site to dump their collections at. But it’s better to build centralising bins here and there, then later a transfer station to centralise those at for mass collection. The theme isn’t “lol concrete commies”: it’s centralisation all the way down.

Doing some maintenance on water substations in Workers and Resources: Soviet Republic.

Trying to relocate a building and being told

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Hooded Horse

A town looks out a lovely lake in Workers and Resources: Soviet Republic.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Hooded Horse

There’s more. Research (at one of three types of university) unlocks a depot that scours the waste to salvage building aggregate. More research unlocks more facilities to put the remainder through, recovering different materials in the process. Better still to research sorting, so people will separate it at home. This recovers a bigger range of resources (the exact mass of each material in every bin is constantly tracked), and this isn’t half of the detail of one service. Every step means moving material, which means acquiring, fuelling, and instructing vehicles specialised for different resources, and integrating them with the hundred other things you need to provide for your workers in return for all their toil. Being in charge of everything means exactly everything.

This is not a game about painting zones or lowering taxes. This is a game where providing running water (instead of tanker deliveries), immediately turns people into sewage factories. There are trucks for that, too, and pipes and pumps. Vehicles and buildings wear out and need repair crews, or a scrapyard to recover their ingredients. Demolishing a mine or pulling up a footpath (which are the most important things in the world) requires vehicles and workers to dismantle them and take away multiple substances. You can’t demolish an occupied house at all. There’s no “upgrading” a building. If you want a bigger one you must cover for its function while you wait for crews to tear it down and build it anew, a multi-stage process necessitating imports, production, and delivery of a dozen more materials.

You have to build things to demolish things. That might be Workers & Resources in a nutshell. You’re not managing budgets (money is exclusively for imports/exports), you’re organising stuff. Thinking about what all your different resources and vehicles and distribution networks DO, not second guessing what percentage of abstract businesses will vanish if you raise a tax rate by 3%. You must arrange and instruct your little clockwork vehicles and hope they’ll join a well-oiled machine, not another well-oiled machine but you used the wrong oil and now everything’s on fire.

Let’s say it: this sounds like a nightmare. Even after playing on and off for several years, with mods on top (which I’ve played without for this review, and as noted, it plays much the same), it’s sometimes paralysing. But W&R wants you to enjoy yourself.

Though its popular “realistic mode” leans fully into doing everything from scratch, a special interest in simulating All The Things isn’t mandatory. You’re free to switch many challenges on and off at will. Simplify electricity if it bores you, teleport stock into shops to save time, activate infinite money. You can’t automate everything like a Distant Worlds, but you can tone down its demands. God help you, in fact, if you never teleport-build a temporary wind turbine for the millisecond of power needed to activate a satellite town, or use saves and cheats to test a layout rather than risk dismantling and rebuilding an entire district with one train station three pixels to the left.

Play it however you please, because that’s what games are for, and because my god can it be fussy. If ever I pity a town planner, it’s when a decision to plop a quick logging camp down turns into two hours of moving and microscopically rotating buildings and the fifteen or so types of conveyance that move things between them, each with its quirks. It’s more like thirty if you count every type of electrical line and road, which cost different materials, thus strain different industries. Every new build ripples outwards with consequences and competing ideas.

A train ambles through a rainy town in Workers and Resources: Soviet Republic.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Hooded Horse

Dramatic terraforming powers present huge and granular possibilities but endless, endless faffing around trying to get the bloody conveyor to go where it will definitely go. But only if you figure out the exact order needed to place everything, then coax the right angles and lengths out of a treacherous, counter-revolutionary road. The logic of where things fit and overlap is fickle and sometimes maddening. And let’s not get started on its four completely unconnected time systems, or the alien logic of workers who will starve if a supermarket’s lights go out, but teleport home after a shift.

I could recite a litany of frustrations and wishes, but it would be dwarfed by the novella about how absorbing and fascinating Workers & Resources is. I love its conceptual commitment to a planned economy that its genremates observe de facto but don’t examine. Its complex models and processes built for the joy and satisfaction of watching them come together. Its foundations in Slovak history and experience, and its refusal to be like anything else.

Many of you already know you would hate or have no time for it. You ought to trust your own instincts. But some of you are going to adore it like I do. Play it in the simplest modes at first, spend a few disposable towns to pay the deposit of learning its basics, its still scratchy UI, and its esoteric underlying logic. Give it some room, and you’ll be glad you let it take over your life.

Biomes DLC bonus mini-review

3Division and publisher Hooded Horse provided a pre-release build of Biomes, the launch DLC. It is, and I say this with love: fine.

You get three new climates to build in, each with a handmade map, and a place in the base game’s reasonably user-friendly map editor. Each presents new challenges: very long winters (hell no, cold is by far the most punishing problem) in Siberia, fairly irrelevant road-slowing rains in tree-heavy Asia, and a unique water source restriction in the Middle East, whose map also starts with no electricity import points. The latter is by far my favourite (hence the rather limited vanilla screenshots – apologies) because restricting farmland and wells redirects your plans in interesting ways, and your concrete frownslabs actually look nice when contrasted against the sandy yellows.

A desert city in Workers and Resources: Soviet Union's first DLC.

Another desert cityscape from Workers and Resources: Soviet Union's first DLC.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Hooded Horse

It’s disappointing that there are only three maps (no random maps at present), and the new themed buildings are usable only when map editing. I imagine its thriving mod scene will fill in those gaps. Biomes is a nice bonus. A bit underwhelming if you want to go all in, but completely skippable if you’re fine with the default setting. Thus: it’s fine, with potential to become more appealing over time.

These reviews are based on review builds of the game provided by the developer.

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