A Game A Day Keeps The Therapist Away


A Game a Day is a series of game reviews by a household of family members battling with mental health disorders.  We focus on games that are family friendly, fast paced and fun.  We won’t always agree, well um, we might never agree, but at least we’ll play.  And everyone knows a family that plays together stays together. 

Today we are reviewing Islanders by GrizzlyGames

“I like mindless games that are relaxing, the marketing was perfect for me.”

When islanders first popped up on my Steam “You May Also Like” list I knew it was the game for my wife.   Cute, colorful and peaceful.  She loved the X-Box game A World of Keflings and I thought this might become her new night time ritual.  Having played several rounds of the game myself I sat them both down separately with a keyboard and mouse and clicked the New Game button to get them started.   All comments and quotes are factual word for word accounts of what happened.

“Where’s the tutorial?”

I paused game. 

“They don’t do tutorials for games any more.  They like people to learn by experiencing the game. It’s more fun this way, I like learning this way don’t you?”

“No, it sucks. Why do they only show me how to rotate the camera?  What do I do with this house?”

There is no tutorial to start and despite what my wife thought it was easy to pick up and play.  In the very beginning selecting a house or building forces a hint bubble to pop up in the left corner and let you know how placement and scoring occurs. 

“I died.  I wouldn’t think you could die in this game.”

“This looks like shit.  YOU can’t move stuff.”  

The randomly generated island is peaceful and minimalistic.  You, being the empire builder, are asked to select between two different building packs.  For instance, Farm or Woodsman.  Each pack will open with several buildings or objects to place on the empty space on the island.  If you choose farm you may get to place a field, house or barn.  If you instead choose Woodsman you could place a wood cutters hut, house or mill.  You must determine which order to place the buildings and strategize how to place them to gain the most points.  A wood cutters hut will get you 1 point for every tree it is near.  A mill will get you 6 points for every wood cutters it surrounds.   After placing several packs of buildings, you start to figure out the best way to use the space on the limited island. 

“Crap. I died.  Maybe if they didn’t stress how relaxing this was, I wouldn’t be so pissed off.”

“Well that was a problem.  I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.”

And yes, you will lose if you run out of space or don’t make enough points to move to the next island.  It was a bit confusing at first figuring out what the points meant but if any of us had taking the time to consult the hint pop up, we would have found that the higher number is the point total you must reach to get a different pack.  The yellow circle increases to show how close you are to completing the island as well as the fillable grayed out island that appears to the right.  I didn’t pay either score any mind.  Reaching enough points to move on to my next island I wasn’t sure if I should finish up the one I started.  Learning later that there was a maximum number of points you could reach on each island, I decided to stick with each before moving on to see how close to the top score I could get. 

“It made it look easy in the video, now they have me learning math, and I like math.”

“I like how all the buildings are slightly different.”

The game is extremely peaceful with no distractions other than the occasional passing bird.  I did miss seeing people and cars moving from building to building like most placement games.  To me seeing their tiny lives being influenced by my poorly planned decisions makes me feel one with the world.  I’m sorry this game does not allow me that connection.  I didn’t understand the ramification of placing buildings over tress or flowers, it didn’t seem to negative influence my score, but it did get rid of their availability if in the future another building needed to be near them. 

“This looks like crap.  Why does everyone want to be near the statue?” 

“And it lets you just put stuff on top of these big rocks, would you think you could do that?”

There is a kind of cutesy clumsy mess that emerges from placing the buildings to gain the most points.  It became like Tetris, trying to squeeze L shaped buildings into impossible nooks created from my past mistakes. I tended to lump the houses and mansions close together creating a pile of buildings that seemed impractical and didn’t look too aesthetically pleasing.  There isn’t any resource gathering needed to advance, only the placement points received from building.  My strategy quickly went from making the island look nice to randomly scrubbing around to find the highest point total.  It didn’t make for a challenging game in my opinion, but I was in the minority.

“I like it.  The music is charming.”

“Pretty unique.  I think it’s fun.”

After refreshing my wife’s memory of what a plateau was and hearing her yell out “What’s a Resort Oasis,” I checked in on her city.  She was huffing and puffing as she placed the buildings much like I had, randomly at first and then lumping them based on points.  She had just told me she liked it now I wasn’t so sure.

“This is the ugliest town I have ever seen.  It looked relaxing, this ain’t relaxing.” 

I did find it relaxing but relaxing in the way that you might find staring out at an ocean.  It’s cool for a minute but after a while you want to go jump in.  I could see the potential of future islands especially when I ran into the Resort Oasis. The massive object only fit a few places which meant the difference between adding 50 points or subtracting 20.   MY wife and son each played and lost three times but continued their missions.  A lesser game would have been given up on by now.  Once my wife figured out you could rotate the buildings before placing them the complaining about the look of her island subsided.  She isn’t familiar with city building games such as Sim City, Cities or Anno so the inability to connect the buildings with roads and watching the people move around didn’t both her. But my son did.

“There’s something special about seeing the cars moving around.  I miss that.”

So, I was glad he agreed with me.  I watched him zoom around the island constantly, always rotating before placing a building.  It was a little more than he should have but it brought him joy.  I felt the need to zoom in on the first couple of islands but there wasn’t an option.  Once I reached the 3rd island and stared at the large edge of a rock formation I wanted to zoom out.  After being pissed that the only place I could find for a temple would cost me a negative 85 points I opted not to move on to my 4th island.  I was bored but I wasn’t too sad for the developers when I quit and realized there were 50, 000 players with higher scores.  More than anything I wanted my wife to like the game.  After an hour I wasn’t so sure. 

“It was good.”

Blah.  Crap.  I’ll look for another game tomorrow. 

However, the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised.  The family met together for the first time and talked about it.

“I played again last night before bed.  It really is relaxing.”

“Yeah, I want to play again tonight.  Thanks Dad.”

Awesome, Mission Accomplished.

Categories: Game Reviews, video games
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