Big budget titles with a grand scope are like eating a full meal; Islanders by comparison, is like eating a package of ladyfingers. It's light, simple, and oddly serene.
The Islanders, a minimalist city builder by Grizzly Games is an experience that I find myself returning to in between bouts of The Division 2 or Red Dead Redemption 2 as a wake cleaner.
Islanders is available for Steam for a very reasonable $ 4.99. I start with a very small, procedurally generated island, and I am given a choice between two sets of buildings. These buildings have themes; I might be asked to choose between a lumber mill and a lumberjack abodes, or a mill and farm plot. Once I choose, I put each individual building down somewhere on the island. As everyone knows the real estate knows, location matters.
The first "level" only requires me to get 20 points by placing the buildings in the right place, but the games slowly ramps up to requiring dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of points, demanding a perfect placement. Once I place my buildings, I get to choose another pack. If I do not optimize the placement and generate enough points with the next set, the game is over and I get another fresh start on a new, random island.
Failure is not a barrier in this game; I went through about 10 small islands in a few minutes while figuring out the rules and strategy. The game has a calmness. Botching a settlement is not a state state so much as it is a natural end to my little civilization.
Sure, the game can be repetitive, especially early on. I always found myself choosing between woodcutters and farms, or breweries and woodcutters. As I played the game, I'd hit the extended plateau. I would master the first few combinations of buildings offered to me, then finally encounter something new and struggle with it for a while, then crack the code.
Islanders finds its stride when I earn enough points to unlock a bigger island. This does not change the core gameplay loop. I get a few more options for building types, and I appreciate the extra space, but ultimately I just enjoy the soothing process of opening packs of buildings, placing them in high point areas and repeating. Over time, each bare island turns into thriving little civilizations. It's tickles the same part of my brain as seeing my SimCity turn into a thriving metropolis without demanding the same effort or applying all that stress along the way.
Although I still find myself longing for a little more control over the individual pieces . Sometimes, it takes a while to get my picturesque fields and farms lined up just like the buildings come out of the box at stubborn angles.
Islanders is a beautiful example of intent in design. Its three-person development team did not make a great, elaborate game. They focused on the core experience of the new islands and the soothing gameplay loop of quietly building away. I only compete with myself – I can see other people's score when the island finishes, but the most prominent information focuses only on my best attempts. I walk away from Islanders with the same feelings I do as making a delicious cup of tea or combing through the sand in a zen garden.
I find myself dabbling in Islanders here and there. After gunning down the enemies or carefully aligning resources in a survival title, sometimes my brain needs a little help winding down. Islanders is perfect for that; It's a breath of fresh air in my game rotation