Islanders is the most relaxing strategy game ever

The last time I saw beautiful little islands like this, they were being invaded by bloodthirsty hordes in pulse-pounding strategy Bad North. But Islanders is a different kind of strategy game: soothing, charming, and maybe the most relaxing strategy game I've ever played.

You're building cities in Islanders, one building at a time, on lovely little procedurally generated islands. Some are rocky, some are snowy, some lush and green, others grim and gray. You begin with just a few choices of what to build—maybe a farm and some fields, perhaps a sawmill and some lumberjack huts—and go about placing them on your little starter island. You get bonuses by placing your buildings in optimal areas: for instance, place your lumberjack hut near a few clusters of trees and you'll earn some points. Place the sawmill near the lumberjack, you'll net a few more points. Earn enough points and you'll unlock a new building type and refill your inventory of the building types you've already been placing.

There can also be penalties when you place a building. Place two lumberjack huts too close to each other, for example, and you'll be penalized a few points. Building a circus near some houses will net you a bonus, but building it near mansions will penalize you (I guess the rich folk don't like clowns).

You begin on a tiny island that will fill up quickly, and once you've scored enough points you can choose to move on to another, bigger island, leaving your current island behind forever. This can be a relief if your current island kind of sucks and you're jockeying for space for new buildings (once placed, buildings can't be moved or deleted). It can also be a bit sad if you've been enjoying your island and don't want to see it go—though you don't have to leave immediately. You can keep building as long as you have units left and continue to score enough points to add more. It can definitely be hard to leave an island behind when it's full of delightful little homes and industries that you've placed just so.

And that's really it! It's just so wonderfully relaxing to play. There can be, perhaps, a tiny bit of tension when you've nearly run out of buildings to place and you're just shy of reaching the point goal to unlock more or move on to a new island, but otherwise it's an entirely soothing experience, easy to play for a few minutes at a time or to sink into for an hour or more.

If you enjoy city-building but hate dealing with traffic problems, or if you like strategy but don't want to pull your hair out, Islanders is only $5 on Steam

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.