Virtual Villagers is a downloadable real-time simulation game developed by Last Day of Work, the creators of Fish Tycoon and a number of other casual sim games. Take charge of a village of crash survivors and help them carve out a living on a jungle island. Teach them to farm, help them research scientific advancements and expand their population. It's a remarkably addictive game that's easy to play but impossible to stay away from!
You begin with a small handful of untrained villagers. Teach them to perform various tasks such as farming, building, researching, breeding and healing. An extremely helpful tutorial guides you through the game's basics, but everything operates on a simple drag-and-drop mechanic. Want to train a scientist? Drop a villager on the research table. Need to pick berries for food? Drag someone over the berry bush. Villagers may not take to a task immediately, so sometimes you'll have to be persistent.
Once you get everything started, it's time to leave your people alone. Virtual Villagers plays out in real-time so even when the game isn't running the villagers are working hard. Each time you play you'll see the fruits of their labor and can give them new directions or just check up on their progress. You can also adjust the speed to anticipate any gaps in your playing time or to get things moving a little more quickly. Virtual Villagers is just as much about waiting as it is playing.
The strategy in Virtual Villagers comes from how many villagers you assign to each task and how you choose to upgrade your abilities. You accumulate Tech points by getting people to do scientific research. Use these points to upgrade your population's building skills, farming abilities, etc. With each new level opens more possibilities of exploration and survival. The trick is managing which abilities get upgraded first and how you use those new skills to better your village.
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Your main goal is to build a thriving population, but there are also various mysteries to solve along the way. Some are fairly obvious, such as the large boulder sitting on the north end of the village, but others you must seek to discover. In all there are 16 puzzles waiting to be unearthed. As you accumulate tech points and upgrade your abilities you can explore each new mystery and see what surprises await you.
Analysis: I've had a blast playing Virtual Villagers. It's a great blend of casual gaming and strategy, which, honestly, is a tough balance to strike. Throughout the day I wonder what my villagers are up to. Are they still farming like I taught them? Any new babies in town? It's always great to come home and check up on my new family. It's great to see the little surprises, such as random events or the occasional new discovery.
Each time I fired up Virtual Villagers I only played it for ten or fifteen minutes. Really, that's all that's required. It's no different than playing a game of Solitaire just to pass the time, only now I actually accomplish something in the long run. Enticing players to return is one of the toughest jobs a casual game designer has, and Virtual Villagers does it extremely well.
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If the game suffers from any drawbacks it's that sometimes there just isn't much to do, especially later in the game. In the beginning you must coddle your village and make sure everyone is working hard to keep the population alive. But as you gain villagers and start farming, it's safe to leave your people alone for days at a time. The occasional random event must be dealt with, but otherwise everything runs smoothly. Of course, if the game required your constant attention it wouldn't be casual, would it?
Virtual Villagers is a great simulation game that doesn't require a lot of time but gives you the satisfaction of an intricate game. You'll have a lot of fun managing your population, teaching them new abilities and exploring the island. You'll know how addicted you are when you wake up in the morning and your first thought is "I wonder how my village is doing?"
Cheers to Urizzato and Brieya for suggesting this one! =)