Farming is in my blood. My grandfather was a second-generation farmer, and we were practically raised on the family farm during the summers. I’d like to think this is why I’ve always latched on to agriculture simulations, dating back to SimFarm on MS-DOS. I’ve spent more than twenty years waiting for the next farming game to scratch that same itch. Mercifully, the upcoming Farm Manager 2021 is supposedly putting out similar vibes, while still delivering a more modern feel. Is this the game I’ve been pining for, all along?
My Grandfather always said that life is better on the seat of a tractor. Honestly, I’m inclined to agree with him. There was just something about the deliberate, plodding pace of a tractor that would immediately set me at ease. Rather unexpectedly, about an hour after firing up Farm Manager 2021, I realized I had settled into the same chill vibe that I always enjoyed while working on the farm.
Starting from scratch
There are a handful of different ways to play Farm Manager 2021. My mode of choice is the campaign, but there’s “Scenario” and “Free mode” as well. The campaign drew me in because it did such a great job of guiding you through the foundational years of establishing a homestead. Your job is to rebuild an old, dilapidated farm into something a bit more modern and, to put it bluntly, functional. Once you’ve gotten through the rather tedious process of the initial clean-up, this is where the gameplay begins to take flight.
Apparently, the mandate is to go all-in on the livestock trade to start, thus kicking off the continuous cycle of building stables, housing for employees, storage for manure, warehouses and barns for storing feed, etc. As I alluded to earlier, the storyline does a good job of introducing key concepts such as access to electricity and proper roads. It then builds upon these new mechanics for each consecutive set of objectives. Before long you have a hearty herd of cattle, with a new dairy processing plant to support it.
At the same time, you also start to cultivate and harvest your own feeder crops. The key concept is that these fields will eventually provide sustenance for your existing critters, ideally introducing the ability to be an entirely self-sufficient farm. The problem when you start, is that it seems impossible to get an accurate read of how much of each feeder crop should be planted. As the pace began to pick up, eventually my herd required the purchase of feed from independent sources to support our rapid growth.
Throughout all of this process, you also start to learn about growing crops during off-seasons through the use of greenhouses. Additionally, you’ll begin to acquire the equipment needed to support the needs of your rapidly expanding crop production. Pro-Tip: if you don’t purchase the necessary implement to progress the growth of plants, eventually your staff will rent the required piece of gear. In most cases, it made more sense to just splurge on equipment just so you don’t have to ever mess with it again.
Just when you think you’ve finally reached capacity on dairy production, the objectives takes an evil turn and now asks you to switch over to goat and sheep cheese production. Most normal people would just continue to build out their existing set of stables and add extra capacity for goats and sheep. Instead, I just opted to sell every head of cattle I owned and repopulated all stables with our new cash crops. Sure, it wasn’t what I assume they were planning for players to do, but to Farm Manager 2021’s credit, it allowed me to progress anyway. This was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to curveballs being thrown throughout the storyline.
What I liked most about Farm Manager 2021, on a purely design level, is the way that each system layers upon itself to create a shockingly deep and all-encompassing experience. For example, there is a mission early on where you are micromanaging a team of employees working on planting and maintaining a field. To complete the objectives, you have to peel back the proverbial onion and observe all of the employee/micromanagement mechanics going on under the hood.
However, once that mission completes, you have the option to switch employees over to being CPU controlled and you never have to micromanage again. That said, if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, you can do so at any time. It’s purely up to you and your level of anal-retentiveness, to determine how you’d like to proceed.
Additionally, for each type of crop introduced, the gameplay received some new additions. You’ll need to buy (or rent) special equipment needed to support the growth of a variety of plants. Not to mention supplies that are essential to the cultivation process. Oh, and it never hurts if you pull in an employee that specializes in plants, as opposed to the other key avenues of expertise, such as animals, machines, endurance, manufacturing, and beekeeping. Yes, you read that right. There is goddamn honey harvesting. This game has officially thought of everything.
The sheer amount of detail and thought that’s gone into the overall design is extremely impressive, though a bit gamey. A perfect example of this is the fully-featured in-game economy. Throughout the year you will see the value of crops, on-hand grains in storage, and manufactured goods vary greatly. I frequently found myself observing the last few months of pricing trends to make any effective buying or selling decisions. However, there was one key factor that wasn’t considered: spoilage. I held on to some dairy-based products for an entire calendar year, which shouldn’t be possible or sanitary. However, simply the fact that I had to resort to a nitpick like this speaks volumes for the overall product.
My only other serious complaint is that the overall economy seems a bit off. It feels like the values of sold goods are frequently much higher than I would’ve anticipated in day-to-day life. On the other side of the coin, the cost of purchased goods, especially new farm equipment and facility construction, feels like it’s way too low. Full disclosure: I’m not a professional economist, so this is purely an assessment based on how this balance feels. In my personal opinion, it’s slightly off-kilter. That said, a majority of the time it feels like this works in the player’s favor. So at the end of the day, is cutting the player a break a bad thing?
I genuinely feel like I can’t do Farm Manager 2021 enough justice, simply in words. Despite being an insanely niche product, the work that’s gone into making this a fun and fulfilling simulation experience is extremely evident. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to relive the good old days of SimFarm glory or looking to explore the genre for the first time, both will find something to enjoy.