As I watched the news unfold during that long dreadful election week in the United States, I played Islanders to keep anxiety at bay.
Despite being released in 2019, this game was one of my best gaming companions of the dreaded year of 2020. When I first bought it, little did I know that it would be the soothing experience I needed for the heavy times we were living in.
The wonderful low poly islands of Islanders were created by Grizzly Games, a small team of three hailing from Germany. Islanders is a minimalist strategy game focused on city-building in beautiful and colorful islands. The Grizzly Games team has managed to create something that is quite different from what we’re used to seeing in city-building and resource management titles.
You see, Islanders takes all the high stakes and stress this genre has thrived on for years and delivers a soothing take to strategy games. The best part? It manages to be a relaxing yet highly engaging experience. It can be a truly challenging game as you go further into playing but it never pushes you to do so in an aggressive manner.
The gameplay of this game is pretty straightforward: you start with a small set of buildings that can be put down on an island. Whenever you place something on your island, you get rewarded with points. These points vary accordingly to the location you’re putting the building on and what other structures will be surrounding this new addition. You keep doing this and gathering points and you will keep unlocking new structures and expanding your inventory.
This means that perfectionists like me enjoy looking out for the optimal place to put down a specific building. Turning and twisting the map looking for that sweet spot and finally managing to find truly feels rewarding. And when you get to a city big enough, you unlock the next island you can travel to.
But once again, Islanders never demand you to do so. Beyond the fantastic relaxing music and the minimalist look and feel of the game, this idea of merely nudging the player is something that has been built into the gameplay itself. You can stay on your current island and keep building on it or you can go to this new and bigger island, exploring a whole different world. It’s always up to you.
The islands are made by procedural generation and they offer a wide range of biomes and weather effects that are great for replayability. You will want to keep exploring each new island and creating something special in these places. There is something to be said about Islander’s underlying message to gently let go. Every time you reach that certain amount of points on an island, the game kindly reminds you it’s time to move on with your journey and build something new. It’s a bittersweet feeling every time that moment comes. You have to say goodbye to all you’ve created on that colorful patch of land and explore something unknown.
It’s a good lesson in knowing when your work is done and letting go of your creations. Or maybe I’m just too sentimental for my own good.
Carry on, traveler, there are new worlds to see and cities to build!
Islanders is available on Steam for a very low price.