Aah Little Atlantis
"...In this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent.... But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea."
But one god pitied the poor Atlanteans, despite their hubris; and though he was only permitted to smite Atlantis with floods and falling stars, he used these powers to shepherd them to safety, as best as he was able. This is your mission in Aah Little Atlantis, a pixelated turn-based strategy game where you try to save as much of the Atlantean populace as you can, using nothing but floods, meteors, and the populace's own panicked fleeing.
Your tools are floods and meteors, and you will deploy one of each on a single map tile, once every turn. Your charges are little Atlantean sprites, who will flee in terror from the ravaging deluge you let loose upon them, though they are oddly sanguine about meteors and will happily run toward them. There are kings, soldiers, merchants, and peasants, who after you unleash your floods and meteors on your turn will move away from your flood as best they can, in order of rank (Rescued kings are worth more than soldiers, soldiers more than merchants, and so on. The gods have very Platonic notions of aristocracy.). There are three ways for an Atlantean to be saved: He can hop on a boat, which holds four citizens and will move one space each turn unless something stops them; he can board a raft, which holds a single Atlantean and are created when palm trees are flooded; or he can head to the highest ground, which happens to be made of the meteors you keep shooting at the continent.
Of the many things the instruction pages leave woefully unclear, the most essential is the importance of terrain height in playing the game. Each terrain type has a different height, from light-blue shallows, through yellow sands, light-green grasses, dark-green forests, up to gray mountains; and Atlanteans will only move from one type to another if they are of adjacent heights. No jumping from sand to mountains for our little pixel-sprites. There is a gauge to the right of the screen that shows when each terrain type will flood, starting with the shallowest, so if you can't get Atlanteans into boats or rafts, you will need to herd them to higher ground. Since meteors are the highest, safest terrain, the only way to get Atlanteans onto safe ground is to coax them to the mountains first, then throw enough meteors near the mountains so that the surviving populace can stand secure and dry.
Analysis: I'm belaboring the game's instructions in the hopes that I can make it clear how to play, because the instructions in-game just don't explain enough. The rules are really pretty simple (flood, meteor, repeat), but the gameplay is unusual enough that an in-game tutorial, or at least some clear, step-by-step instructions, would be very useful. Instead, we get a couple of pages of rudely splattered text and smallish diagrams that are bound to scare a number of potential players towards something less intimidating.
The unkind handling of the game's learning curve is a shame, because once you learn how to play, Aah Little Atlantis is a unique, rewarding, casual strategy game. You only have a couple of simple choices to make every turn—what to flood, what to smite with meteors—but the implications of each choice are complex. Can I flood one side of the island without scaring too many citizens on the other side away from safety? Should I sacrifice one king to ensure that everyone else is blocked from soon-to-be underwater territory? Should I risk herding citizens to boats on the lowlands, or should I take the longer route towards higher ground? Aah Little Atlantis is a surprisingly deep and variegated game, and while you could probably crunch the numbers to find the optimal solution for every level, it's also fun to simply wright catastrophe unto Atlantis and see how its citizens react.
Aah Little Atlantis has a unique concept, a funky lo-tech aesthetic, and some wonderful, casual, strategic gameplay. It is simply too bad that the muddy instructions make the learning curve steeper than it needs to be. Once you get past it, you can get along with the business of rescuing Atlanteans, and occasionally smiting them. For even a kindly Sinker of Continents cannot escape his nature.