How’s everyone doing today? Feeling bad? Aren’t we all? Maybe you should relax and vibe with a game where you build up an island. No, no, I’m not talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I gotta be on brand here.

Instead, we’re looking at ISLANDERS, by GrizzlyGames. ISLANDERS is a minimalist strategy game where you build tiny cities on islands. It bills itself as a casual experience compared to more robust city builders like Cities: Skylines.

What makes ISLANDERS a casual experience is that there’s only one value to worry about. There’s no population counter, no money, no resources to play around with – only a score counter. Placing a building within the radius of certain other buildings or island fixtures raises a score, while putting it near others lowers it. For instance, clustering houses together gives a huge boost in score, since houses being near each other increases score. Meanwhile, when it comes to placing down industrial buildings, placing buildings of the same type near each other may lower score unless there’s enough resources around to balance it out. Toward the end of a session, some buildings have an innate negative value, which means that you’d have to have prepared a good place that’d raise its value up far in advance.

In score mode, you’re given a limited amount of buildings to place. If you meet a score threshold, you unlock a new set of buildings to place down. As you continue growing your little island society, that score threshold grows, demanding that you get smarter about your building placement to keep the session going. Now, there is one larger score threshold for the island, and if you meet it, you get the ability to start anew on a new randomly generated island, carrying your score onward. Failing to meet the threshold to get new buildings and the threshold to be able to move on to elsewhere will end the run.

Now, here’s a burning question: is it colonialism? It’s honestly hard to say because the game is so simplified that populations and people in general are a non-factor. Plenty of islands do have pre-placed statue buildings on them, but on the other hand, there’s a rare few islands where you get to place the statues yourself. There’s a “shaman” building, which resents being placed near city centers, but are you moving one of your own people into that building or moving a displaced indigenous person in? Again, it’s hard to say.

At the very least, you do try to exploit an island’s natural resources with timber and mining buildings. However, unlike real life, these resources can be relied on infinitely. In fact, you can somehow have two lumberjack buildings drawing from the same trees, if you position them good enough (aka that industrial building problem I mentioned).

It’s a game that’s very divorced from the reality of people settling on land. You’re making little societies devoid of problems (and people for that matter), unlike the reality of, say, Mark Zuckerberg suing native Hawaiians for their land to build another fucking mansion. Fuck you, idiot.

I guess it’s because of that divorce from reality that I can enjoy ISLANDERS without thinking of the broader implications? I dunno, it’s just fun to build up these tiny islands. It’s an enjoyable and cheap game if you don’t think too hard about things, I suppose.

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