ISLANDERS – Mini Review

Casual Rougelite, City-building?

Not too long ago I decided to pick up a little game called ISLANDERS which is self-described as a minimalist strategy game about building cities on colorful islands. However, it got some media buzz where folks were saying it brought together two genres that normally shouldn’t mix:  citybuilders and rougelites. Was this just a passing fad or something worth your time?

For a studio I didn’t really know anything about, GrizzlyGames absolutely knocked it out of the park with ISALNADERS. It’s deceptively simple, something you can play for five minutes or five hours, and does so while offering a decent puzzle challenge. Let me explain how you play a bit.

Each phase of the game you are given an assortment of buildings that you need to place in order to gain score. In essence, this is a score attack game, so how high can you go? Buildings like and dislike certain things which increase or decrease your score accordingly. If you make enough score in that time, you get to select a new “pack” of buildings and keep going. All the while, you are working towards unlocking the next island, because eventually, you will run out of moves and need a fresh start.

Image result for islanders video game

It’s really that simple! While this may seem too minimalist, its actually something that will manage to hold your attention for several hours. It’s easy to say to yourself, “Just one… more… turn…” which is something you want to see in a game like ISLANDERS.

The more you play the better you’ll get. There’s a weird psychology to the game where you want to make an aesthetically pleasing city, but you also need all the score you can get. After a few runs, you’ll get really good at planning your cities out in advance to achieve both goals simultaneously. That, or you’ll throw beauty to the wind and really get some high scores!

Either way, there isn’t really a “wrong” way to play this one. You may think that needing to hit point goals may make the game a little stressful, but it doesn’t. Play occurs at whatever pace you are comfortable with, there are no time penalties. Failure isn’t a big deal either. Usually, it results in you having made a mistake or just not being prepared for upcoming buildings.

When you are new, this may be slightly frustrating because you will lose games to not optimizing for the late game, but that’s also part of the fun. It never felt unfair to me, there always felt like I had a chance at success even when first starting. Even with 8 hours under my belt, I still figure out new ways to do even better on future games.

The game has a set way it progresses through the islands, which offers variety while still letting you plan ahead accordingly. Really, there is very little randomness in the game. You choose what will come up next most of the time, though you don’t know the exact things a pack will contain, and the packs come up in a certain relative order. Eventually it’ll start giving you random pieces, but at that point you are doing really well on an island. Once you move to a new area, the cycle repeats.

That’s really all there is to ISLANDERS. It has received a few updates which tweak the balance, they have added new buildings, and seems like it will receive further support. For a $4.99 game, it may be a bit expensive for some, but for most it will be worth the cost. I highly recommend this one.

Have you played other strange genre mashup games like ISLANDERS before? What two genres would you want to see mixed? Let me hear your thoughts on this game and those in the comments. If you want to support my writing you can do so via the Ko-fi button below. Thanks for reading and I hope you have a good one!