Slow Down With These Serene City-Building Games

These stressful times have seen more people playing video games than ever. The high-octane shooter is a great way to release your stress and let go of all worries. For others, sports games are more stimulating. There are a variety of games that focus on quiet, unfussy tinkering for those who prefer their heart rate to drop. The hallmarks of the serene and minimalist city-builder are a top-down view, softly oscillating music, and careful placement of buildings, accompanied by a satisfyingly tactile plinkthese are all hallmarks.
It's simple. What if we simplified the city-building game SimCity? Even removing actual citizens from it? Imagine beautiful buildings that were created from grassland, water, and virtual rock. These what-ifs have accumulated into a series of trancelike gaming experiences over the past few years. Slowly expanding towns soothe stress and are less hectic than blockbuster action.

In 2019, Islanders was followed by Townscaper and Cloud Gardens. While each is unique, they share a common commitment to decluttering and upending the urban planning often found in video games. Paul Schnepf (one third of Islanders' development team) describes his game over Zoom as "a distillation of fantasy" offered by series like Anno and Age of Empires. He says that the game allows you to create your own kingdom or realm, and is filled with complex production chains and micro-management of resources. Islanders offers a gentle reprieve from these demands and is designed to be played in 20-minute chunks.

The simplified game will present you with a small area of land surrounded by turquoise waters. You might build a seaweed farm, or a lumber yard. The numbers at the bottom-left corner will indicate their location on the landscape. Although Islanders doesn't have a lot of numbers, it helps to reorient them around a simple puzzle-type game. Make an island, earn points and move on to the next archipelago loop. It feels like you are daydreaming at the beach. There is always sandbox mode which makes it even more relaxing and allows you to build your city.

Despite its polished appearance, Islanders is a product of an undergraduate program at the applied sciences university HTW Berlin. This is actually the university from which Dorfromantik was born two years later. The two small studios involved themselves in each other's work informally. Dorfromantik, like Islanders, is a city-builder that has been reimagined into a puzzle game. However, it has a greater debt to tabletop strategy games such as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. The game's minimalist aesthetic is replaced by a more relaxed, hand-drawn aesthetic that is closer to cottagecore. Quaint villages, steamboat-filled waterways and golden fields stretch organically across hexagonal tiles pieces like a bucolic prewar vision Europe.


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