Tabletop Review: City Builder
by Justin Jeffers on June 28, 2012

City Builder
Publisher: Cerberus Games
Release Date: June 7, 2012
Cost: $4.99 (PDF)
Get it here: RPGNow.com (PDF)

City Builder is an Excel spreadsheet that is designed to be used as a tool to calculate the statistics of a settlement based on some variables entered by the user. As a fan of Excel I thought this would be a fun one to review. I was also curious to see what sort of city building this would actually entail. Users should note that this is an .xls file, so it is compatible with Excel 2003 (and beyond).

Overview

This workbook consists of three worksheets (basically, three different spreadsheets): “notes”, “inputs”, and “population”. The notes worksheet contains instructions and comments about using the workbook, and what things are presented in the population section. The inputs sheet is where you are going to put in your variables, and then the rest will be calculated for you.

In theory, this is quite nice, as you can quickly and easily calculate the demographics of a city. For example, the first number you can enter is the “base population” which apparently consists of adventurers and tradesmen, the figures that pop in then are everything from spouses and children to master tradesmen (these will be on the population spreadsheet). You can then go to the population spreadsheet and mess with the percentages that are used to calculate exactly how many of each type of person is present in the city. There are groupings like “Government”, “Clergy”, “Merchants”, “Laborer”, etc.; within those groups are more specific designations like “Scribe”, “Shoemaker”, “Lumberjack”, etc. whose numbers are further customizable via percentages. In a given row of an occupation there are numbers for the spouses, children, and how many individuals of a given skill level there are. Skill levels range from “Least skilled” to “Master” and are symmetrically distributed, meaning there are as many least skilled workers as masters (they use the same calculation formula), and then the same thing with “Barely skilled” and “Highly skilled”, etc. until you reach “Average” in the middle.

The other variables you can mess with (well, you can mess with all of it but then you risk ruining the way it’s set up) are the number of people supported by one acre of land, some mysterious “magic multiplier”, the number of acres on farmer can support, and the number of people one farmer can sustain. The last number is simply the previous three numbers multiplied together and should not be marked a yellow input cell, since it contains a formula. Oh well. The magic multiplier somehow affects the number of people a farmer can sustain, so I guess the spreadsheet assumes magic enters the agricultural equation at some point. Of course, you can get rid of it by just changing it to 1 (making it have no multiplication effect).

Ok, so what’s the problem? Well, let’s start with population ratio. With a base population input of 5,000 we get 11,802 total population, 4,536 of those being children. That figure doesn’t seem right to me at all, I would imagine a 1/3 of the population being children at the most, and that is including everyone under 16. Unfortunately there is no indication of what qualifies as a child, so it is hard to imagine what the creator of the spreadsheet is assuming. Is he assuming that medieval-par reproductive health was to a point where a total population of about 12,000 people could really bear and support 4,500 children and 7,500 adults? That city would be overrun with children! Maybe appropriate in the right scenarios.

OK, next problem. With a population of 11,802 the town size in square miles is calculated as being 0.13, not counting farmland. The entire town is less than a quarter of a square mile? Something is terribly wrong with this calculation. That makes the town cover only 687 square feet. I think I’ve lived in apartments bigger than that. Is everyone considered to live on a farm? I imagine the makeshift town from Blazing Saddles for some reason.

Anyway, there are some weaknesses in this spreadsheet. Let’s move on to final thoughts.

What Do I Think?

First off, this spreadsheet is NOT worth five dollars, in my humble opinion. My price? Realistically, one dollar. Look, this took some time to set up and format and stuff, but the end result is not something I’m confident in using and I’m in doubt as to how fully-conceived this whole thing is. What I’m saying is, if you are going to make a spreadsheet and call it “City Builder”, it should at least convince me that I can calculate demographics and topography for a believable city. The population sheet is the most interesting, but the entire thing just cranks out numbers the same way every time, it just scales with population.

Ok, now if I can get off on a quick tangent here: WHY in the world would I want to know such specific demographics for a city? Well, that’s just my own style and bias there, I don’t want to know specific numbers, I just need to know characteristics. Is it a port town? Bound to be lots of people connected to nautical industries. A mages guild in town? Lots of apprentice mages and trades related to servicing them. Sure it can help give me a basis if characters find themselves in a city I didn’t have fleshed out, ok fine. But this is not a city generator, this is a configurable pre-made city that I need to go through and customize if I want to make it my own.

Alright alright, so you can go through and change the percentages of various trades and other people in the city, that’s one good thing. You can also create your own pre-configured percentages and keep as many around as you like for different types of towns. However, I still argue that this product is weak and needs more work. First of all, the author needs to go through, think about and check some of his calculations. Second, the assumptions that are being made need to be explained a little more. Third, the price should really be more reasonable. Five bucks isn’t a lot, but this isn’t a program or really comprehensive tool, it’s a giant equation. Give the curious a break.



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