It's always exciting unlocking a brand new card in a card game. Unfortunately my newest card is a corpse card, because one of my villagers just starved to death while trying to make a baby with my other villager in their freshly-built house. How tragic! I needed four berries by nightfall to feed both of my citizens, and I only had three. Starving to death during the act of coitus feels especially brutal, but at least he died trying to improve the community.
It's not the last villager I'll turn into a corpse in Stacklands, a game from the amazingly prolific Sokpop Collective. Stacklands is a village building game played entirely by stacking cards on your desktop. You begin with just a single five-card booster pack, and opening it gives you a villager, a berry bush, a rock, a log, and a coin.
Drag the villager card onto the berry bush and it'll generate berry cards, which your villager can eat. Drag the villager onto the rock or log and it'll produce a stone, some flint, or a stick. Combine cards (like the flint and stick, which will make a campfire) or sell your spare cards for coins, which can be spent on more booster packs. Eventually, buying a new pack will give you a second villager which will double your workforce but also give you an extra mouth to feed, and there's a ticking clock when it comes to food. Every few minutes, night falls and each of your villagers will need to eat. If you don't have enough for everyone, you'll wind up with a fresh corpse card.
(I did, at one point, have two corpse cards. I stacked them and created a cemetery. Then I assigned a living villager to the cemetery… and he promptly dug up the two corpses. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.)
It's mostly a very relaxing and casual little card game where you drag and drop cards onto other cards (putting a mushroom or an apple onto a soil card will produce more mushrooms or an apple tree, for example). Try to keep a steady food supply to meet your villagers' needs, sell your surplus cards for new booster packs, and occasionally discover new resources.
But it does get absolutely frantic at times, such as when a mysterious portal card suddenly appeared on my desktop and, a minute later, unleashed a small army of goblins on my village. To defend yourself in Stacklands, you just drag your villagers onto the enemy cards and watch them battle, with the fight usually going to whoever has the most health points. There is a way to train your villagers to be militia members, giving them increased HP. Once, a slime appeared and began slithering around my desktop, and after killing it, in true dungeon crawler fashion, it split into multiple smaller slimes.
Even minor disruptions, like when a rabbit card starts hopping around my screen leaving poop cards everywhere and jostling my neatly arranged stacks of cards around, can add a bit of tension to the casual, gentle vibes.
As you progress, new and more expensive booster packs introduce idea cards to your village, giving you recipes for building structures, like a house where two villagers can create a baby (unless one starves to death before conception) and the baby can grow into an adult villager. In one game I built an iron mine, stuck a villager in it, and produced a regular supply of ore for crafting or selling. Building a garden will lead to better food production, a market will let you sell cards for more coins, and there are all sorts of other structures of the kind you'd find in traditional village building games. There are even exploration cards, and dropping a villager onto one will take them to a distant meadow or old village to do some nosing around, periodically producing a resource card, a treasure chest, or maybe even a monster.
In my most successful run so far, which lasted 22 days, things were going smashingly for me. I had three villagers and a market that doubled my income and my village was flush with apples and mushrooms and cooked meat. Then a giant rat popped out of the booster pack I'd bought and killed two of my villagers (it has twice as much health as either of my citizens). While using my last villager to explore a catacombs card, a direwolf pounced. I tried to drag my cow card over to help me fight it, but the cow attacked me instead of the wolf.
My final villager, killed by an enormous wolf and his own cow. A very sad end.
I'm fairly obsessed with Stacklands right now—it's only a fiver on Steam and I'm loving the chill experience, the busywork of growing food and keeping my cards nicely arranged, and the little discoveries I make in each game. But I'm also digging the moments when everything goes wrong and my villagers perish horribly. There's apparently a boss fight in there somewhere, too. We'll see if I can survive long enough against monsters, starvation, and furious livestock to find it.