Life according to the Settlers

Posted by: James on: Tuesday, 30th August, 2011

Did you ever get the urge to just build? It’s one of the most satisfying things to do in a game world – so satisfying that even action-heavy games like Assassin’s Creed II and GTA sometimes feel (mistakenly) that they need to include a section where you can pimp out a settlement or set up multi-million dollar businesses.

Settlers II is a game from my childhood that once swallowed up every waking moment I wasn’t at school – and even when I was at school I played it in my head. Thanks to it gets to take a second sizeable chunk out of my life.

What’s interesting this time around, though, is noticing a few of the ideas implicit in the game. The premise is that you’re shipwrecked on an island. You don’t know if this island is inhabited and you don’t expect help any time soon – so it’s time to settle! The goal is to build a functioning community and at the same time tool up to deal with the foes that you’re bound to encounter along the way.

So you start off by building woodcutters and sawmills so you can make planks to construct huts from. The builders from the wreck will obligingly start work on the buildings and anyone with no particular skill will simply help carry stuff. In many ways this starts out as the perfect socialist society – anybody with a talent is stepping forward and offering their services for free, often just moving from job to job without any rest at all – they love it that much.

Settlers II shipyard scene

A lovingly animated game. Lots of green, lots of blue.

One of The Settlers’ charms is that each little fellow is lovingly animated. Seeing the miller sleeping outside his mill, the brewer sampling his beer by the tankard and the hunter prowling in the wilderness after a deer – it all makes for quite a beautiful experience: it all seems so Utopian, until we bring in the military.

In order to recruit soldiers to defend your kingdom and conquer your enemies, you will obviously need a sword and shield per new recruit – fair enough. What probably doesn’t make it into the US Army training manual, but is perhaps nonetheless true to life is that you also need to give them a whole keg of beer apiece. What was once a peaceful Utopia now has drunks running around with swords.

So now your rookies are hanging out in their guardhouses making a dent in their kegs – you need to get them trained up. At no point in the game so far has anyone needed money – of course most of the population haven’t explicitly needed food, water or sleep either, but bear with me.

In order to train your troops, you need to give them enormous gold coins. What do the soldiers do with coins in a society that doesn’t use them? It’s never adequately explained – maybe they hope to cash them in when they get back to capitalist society – who knows? Capitalism in The Settlers seems to be a rather clever device created by the govenment (you) to attract and manipulate its footsoldiers. Get a guy drunk so he can’t think straight, then promise him riches that you know full well have no value – you might as well be offering him mountains of tree bark for all the good gold will do him here – and you have your perfect soldier.

Gold + Beer = Soldier

Gold + Beer = Soldier - The Settlers equation

Settlers II is still fun after several years, but it has some annoying quirks. Resource management options are all handled at a high level – you dictate for instance, the percentage of axes your metalworker will make: rather than specifying a number of axes to be made, you create a general policy on axes – e.g. that they should be equal in importance to scythes or hammers.

It’s a fun demonstration of how a real centralised system can fail to cope with local issues – whether that be not enough grain going to a slightly out-of-the-way the pig farm or the need for speed bumps on Great Barrier Island.


Settlers II Gold (GOG version 2011) – a little help for fellow gamers

If you want to manipulate the game, I suggest you look at This has some helpful hints about replacing missions and using custom missions.

I looked all over the place for user-generated maps, but didn’t manage to find many until I came across a forum that suggested I search in German – the game’s original language. If you’re in the same straits, try searching “siedler 2 welten”. I found this page had some good links off it. Martin J’s maps are fun if you like huge sprawling empires and ship building.

Big caveat: Ship building was disabled in Settlers II Gold apart from in the main campaign. You can play a user generated map and get completely stuck because you can make a harbour, but you can’t tell your ship builder to build anything but tiny boats.

The workaround: If you want to play a user-generated map with ships, you’ll need to go to the directory where Settlers II is installed – then go to data -> maps. The maps folder contains the central mission maps. You’re going to overwrite one of these, so don’t forget to take copies before you alter things.

Now take the map you want to play (if it’s user generated it’ll be a .swd file, which is essentially identical to a .wld file so rename the extension with impunity!) Rename your map to  ‘miss208.wld’ and save it in the above folder (settlersII\data\maps).

Depending on your  map source you might also have a .rtx file, which goes in settlersII\data\missions and should be named MIS_0008.RTX.

You’re all set – start Settlers II and select ‘Roman Campaign’. Select the mission ‘The Grey Island’ and you’ll find yourself playing your custom map with the ability to build shipyards and sail the seas!

N.B. if you don’t have all of the missions available (i.e. you haven’t got to The Grey Island yet, don’t fret – there’s another workaround):

Go to your install directory and find the mission.dat file in the ‘save’ folder. It can be opened in a regular text editor. The contents will look something like this: 1100000000. There is a number for each of the ten missions. 0 = mission is not playable, 1 = mission is playable. Rename as you like and save.

Good luck!

1 Response to "Life according to the Settlers"

Thank you! I’m surfing the net for hours and, finally, found a good site that explains how to create my custom missions, and be able to use the shipyard.

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A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

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