At face value, it would seem like an impossible task: To create a deep, yet wholly accessible real-time strategy (RTS) game allowing even novice players to colonize entire realms. Yet that’s precisely the subtle balance that Forgotten Lands: First Colony manages to strike, offering an incredibly rich, yet immediately intuitive exercise in settlement building.

Featuring a catchy theme, user-friendly controls and lots of thought-provoking challenge, it’s held back from greatness only by a middling presentation, sluggish pacing and a more complex setup than beginners may be accustomed to.

Equal parts business simulation and construction toolkit, as the faceless leader of a burgeoning civilization, it’s up to you to lead your people forward into uncharted territory. Each scenario, set atop a 2D map filled with miniature lakes, trees, hills and structures, starts by assigning certain goals. For example: Build two lumber mills, acquire all nearby land or recruit 18 workers.

To rise to the occasion, you’ll have to command citizens – represented as miniaturized, pixel graphic people – to erect the necessary edifices and harvest the key resources needed to create a thriving homestead. However, there’s only so much wood that can be chopped, gold earned, gems mined and food harvested given a handful of henchmen. Hence you’ll need to set up a working socioeconomic system that enables you to a. Produce enough chow b. Garner enough cash or gems and c. Pump out enough lumber to survive and recruit new help without upsetting this delicate balance.

Thankfully, members of the general populace are more than willing to pitch in, and be assigned certain tasks. Consider the following examples. Workers serve as grunts, and, when drug onto an unoccupied patch of land, can build new structures such as a farm or lumber mill. Merchants are great at making cash, and can help you stockpile gold – needed to purchase additional peons – in short order. Scholars help by researching upgrades, which make buildings more productive. And scouts can be sent out to retrieve resources from natural deposits, helping fill your coffers, gem piles or lumber reserves.

Note that each edifice contains a set number of slots, to which units of any type can be assigned, each adding to its overall productivity to varying degrees. The more the merrier, as far as you’re concerned, as – once a regularly filling and draining production meter reaches full capacity – corresponding resources are added to your stocks in according amounts. The trick being the constant need to juggle who should be working where; whether or not to demolish or enhance certain structures provided limited land to build on; and how to best divide your attention given limited time to complete each scenario.

Later levels go several steps further, adding new structures, characters and dilemmas. For instance, the need to buy land from nomads when space gets scarce; take advantage of special structures like resource silos that offer 50% wood production boosts over confined areas; or recruit veritable armies of plebes to reconstruct ancient ships and sail to a brighter future.

If it all seems a bit overwhelming, don’t be too scared – helpful tutorials and pop-ups readily walk you through the game’s basic concepts. However, the title does straddle an odd line as one of casual gaming’s more advanced outings, albeit not one sophisticated enough to wow hardcore PC strategy enthusiasts. Likewise, expect to play for hours to come: Coupled alongside the option to unlock cool bonus stages, the regular introduction of new concepts and quirks (e.g. markets where you can trade your resources of full building overhauls) provide ample incentive to keep going.

On the downside, the game can be a huge time sink, with no option provided to speed up the clock and skip watching the same tired animations – a longtime RTS staple, designed to prevent boredom’s onset. And while we dig the outing’s colorful presentation and the lots of little attention to detail it sports, this isn’t an eye-popping game by any stretch. There’s only so many times you can watch the same ant-sized people scurry about doing the same things in a handful ways, and while shouting repetitive speech samples (“Worker standing by,” “Right away,” etc.) at that.

A catchy theme, superb play balancing and general tactical soundness do carry the day though, making this a title we don’t hesitate to recommend. Just be aware going in: It’s not nearly as instantly visually arresting or briskly moving as the sort of desktop diversion most casual enthusiasts are accustomed to. Nonetheless, as a means of bridging the gap between one of the world’s most Byzantine genres and the mainstream public, we’ll say this. It definitely makes a solid attempt to break new ground in PC gaming. Sequel, please – ASAP.