‘Outlanders’ Is a Charming Community Building Game, Laced with Desperate Survival
Outlanders is a mobile strategy game (found in Apple Arcade), which the player act as the leader of a small community requiring homes, food, and resources. Each leader has his or her own personality and, therefore, has their own goals, whether they be selfish, social, or otherwise. The player is required to construct and grow the community according to the leader’s goals, while keeping their villagers alive.
The game features a beautifully vibrant illustrated style, with music sounds and a setting that provides a soothing atmosphere. Listing to the soft thock while a villager hammers together the frame of their house is incredibly delightful to me.
And yet, the community abides amide the constant presence of possible doom — making Outlanders simultaneously one of the most relaxing and stressful gaming experiences I’ve had in a long while.
Any misuse of resources can lead to the villagers dying off one by one at a slow, but inexorable pace. As the leader of the village, the player has the decision of where to direct those resources, as well as the ability to set proclamations to boost or inhibit behaviors that may make or break the community, such as eating less food, demanding abstinence to prevent more babies from being born, or encouraging free love to increase the population.
The population balance is always precarious. Too few villagers and it’s impossible to gather resources in a timely fashion to both continue construction of the community. However, too many quickly leads to starvation, as they consume more food than they can gather or grow. Since children in the game are useless eating machines until they age into adults, this can quickly become untenable if your villagers are too eager to reproduce.
In one scenario, struggling against the onslaught of incoming children turned out to be entirely pointless. I found myself audibly shouting at the screen, “Please stop popping out babies! You’re all going to STARVE!”
To no avail. In the end, I was left muttering about how they all got what they deserved after all the adults in the village died off in droves, leaving the children—who are unable even to pick fruit from the vine—to wander around the empty landscape until they also died of starvation. All I could do was squatted on the couch, clutching my phone and shaking my head in horror at the terrible, macabre scene.
On another level, the game offers a charming nod to the horror genre. In this community, a religious leader calls for his people to prepare a mysterious ritual, called the Wickerbread Man. The player then has to produce enough bread for the creation of a monstrously large baked effigy in the middle of a lone field, while also maintaining and feeding their growing population.
Outlanders was completely consuming, sucking up five hours of my day in a single sitting. Since I last played the game, the developers have released new levels and introduced a sandbox mode that allows the player to build a village just for the sake of building a village.
Although I’m excited for the new levels, I’m not sure I’ll dive into the sandbox. For me, part of the enjoyment was the challenge of strategically meeting the leader’s specific targets, while also keeping the community healthy and happy.