In city builder Patron, my biggest import is snow and my biggest export is dead peasants

Patron survival city builders
(Image credit: Overseer Games)

There are city builders, and there are survival city builders. The difference is, when you don't take care of your citizens in city builders they'll move out of your city. If you don't take care of your citizens in survival city builders they will die horrible agonizing deaths, their children weeping, their bellies empty, their frozen bodies left twisted on the ground where they fall.

It's a big difference! Patron is a city builder and colony sim, and as you've no doubt guessed, it falls into the survival category. I'd compare it to Banished but I never played Banished, but lots of people are comparing Patron to Banished, so I'll go ahead and say: It's probably like Banished. Beginning with a small handful of peasants, you build houses and roads and various production buildings, gather and manage resources, and try to expand your tiny town into a thriving city.

There's also a "social dynamics system" in Patron, where your peasants react to the decisions you make and the laws you pass, but I haven't gotten to play with any of those systems yet because my peasants keep dying before they can form opinions about how bad I am at keeping them from dying. The culprit is winter. The very first winter.

In my first game of Patron, it all seemed pretty simple. Just do the usually early city building stuff: build enough houses, mark trees and rocks for gathering, set up production buildings like a hunter's cabin, fisherman's hut, sawmill and coal mine, and so on. Things seemed mostly fine, though when I zoomed in to watch my peasants work, they seemed less than efficient, walking all the way across the map to hit one rock with a pickaxe, then walking all the way back to dump off the spoils. They also seemed to be completely ignoring the dirt roads I'd thoughtfully drawn for them, which are supposed to make them move faster. Come on, peasants, get it together.

(Image credit: Overseer Games)

As I was mulling over ways to make my small town a little more efficient, winter arrived like a big icy slap in the face, and suddenly everyone was freezing. A minute later everyone was starving. This led quickly to everyone being dead. In a way, I'd finally found something my peasants could do quickly and efficiently.

I started over, this time putting down some storage depots near my production buildings so at least people wouldn't walk to hell and back just to dump off some wood and stone. I raced as fast as I could up the research tree, hoping to upgrade my town center so I could start farming before snow began falling. I marked massive swathes of forest to be chopped down so I could get my sawmill cranking out enough firewood to make it through winter. And I upgraded the production rates of my hunter's lodge and fisherman's hut, hoping to produce enough food to last until spring.

The frenzy of research used up all my gold so I had trouble building new structures or upgrading existing ones. The wood chopping frenzy I'd set out for my peasants meant no one was doing anything else. Winter came. Everyone froze, and then starved, and then died.

(Image credit: Overseer Games)

Screw winter, I decided. Winter is just a big bully and the best way to deal with a bully is move halfway across the world. I started a new game on a tropical map, and things went swimmingly. My citizens were blissfully fishing, gathering, and ignoring my roads on a lovely map filled with palm trees. "Winter" came and went and there wasn't a single flake of snow.

But while my peasants seemed happy, I wasn't. I couldn't help feeling like I'd used a cheat code by selecting a tropical map. And it's hard not to think about the volcano on this island, which for all I know is just waiting to erupt and kill all my peasants with liquid rock instead of frozen water. I decided I needed to genuinely make it through at least a single proper winter in Patron, so I left my tropical paradise and started over on the map that's wiped out all my peasants twice.

So, here I am again, but this time I'm much more careful. I don't mark too many trees for chopping so there's not a timber-geddon occupying everyone's time. I finally notice that the homes I build can be upgraded with insulation, meaning less firewood or coal will be needed to keep them warm in winter. I also discover ice fishing can be researched so I can keep the fishy meals coming year-round. I buy my gatherers bigger baskets, my fishermen bigger nets, and teach my hunters trapping techniques that improve the amount of meat they produce. Spending this much gold on upgrades means I can't do much additional research, which pains me—I find it difficult to resist a big, locked tech tree crying out to have its secrets uncovered. But my main priority is to keep my humble peasants from instantly turning into corpsicles when the snow begins to fall.

(Image credit: Overseer Games)

November rolls around and I hold my breath. The map goes white with snow. I've only just managed to start building a coal mine so it's all going to come down to firewood and insulation to keep people warm. I zoom in and stare down at my peasants, silently commanding them not to die.

And… it seems fine. No angry red snowflake icons have popped up over my citizens' heads. My people are warm? They're warm! No hunger indicators, either, so the food also seems to be holding out. My little fisherman stands on his dock casting his rod as the snow falls around him. Ice-fishing, baby! My peasants are still stubbornly ignoring all the roads I've built for them, but no one is dying.

Spring comes and I let out my breath. Everyone survived and I can start researching again! I manage to save enough gold to unlock farming, building a tiny orchard and wheat field and even buying a few clucking chickens. I build a dock so I can trade goods with the outside world. I even grow my population a tiny bit after some refugees of a civil war on some other map sends fresh peasants my way, hoping for a new life.

(Image credit: Overseer Games)

Yes, peasants! I welcome you with open arms. Come to New Snow Town, the town where snow doesn't instantly kill you, where there's all the fish you can eat (and there's really nothing else to eat), and where you can freely ignore the roads even though someone was generous enough to draw literally dozens of them for you. We may not be that efficient, but at least we're not all dead.

I'm enjoying Patron and will definitely be playing more in the near future now that I've gotten past the first few winters. If you try it yourself, I'd advise taking it slow for the first couple seasons, don't rush to research everything, and focus on upgrading your early buildings instead of building too many of them. And if you figure out how to make peasants actually use the roads, please let me know.  

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.