I like Stacklands. Like many things that I enjoy, I wish there was more of it. But for what it cost, and what I got, I’m satisfied, and I feel confident recommending it. I have a few minor gripes, but in my time playing, I didn’t encounter any major bugs or flaws. So yeah, I recommend it.
Stacklands is also the first time I’ve played something by Sokpop Collective that I’ve really liked. Before Stacklands I’d kind of written them off as an indie arthouse studio, partly because I’m an asshole, and partly because they didn’t seem to make games with gameplay.
I’ve used the word “Engine Builder” more than I usually would in recent writing, at least for writing about video games, but I think it’s pretty accurate for Stacklands. I guess you could call it a progressive management game instead, but that just sounds like your boss decided switch the team to a 4 day work week.
In any case, here’s how Stacklands works: to start, you’re given a single booster pack of cards. After opening it, you’ll get a few different cards, and a villager. The other cards are also important, but if all your villagers die, you lose.
At least to start, most cards require you to place a villager on them to generate a resource. That’s kind of a cop out, but let me give a few examples. The Berry Bush card does nothing on its own, but when a villager is placed on it, the villager will harvest 3 berries from that card before it disappears. The same is true for cards like the iron ore vein, or trees, though they give different resources. However, some cards like the lumberyard and quarry, can’t be exhausted. They can be harvested any number of times (though usually slower then the impermanent cards).
So, how do you get cards ? There are two primary methods. The first is to buy card packs. You buy them with coins, and almost every card has a coin value. You can unlock several types of card back, and even if you die, pack types that you unlock stay purchasable. Each pack gives different subsets of cards, and while some are available in multiple packs, most pack types have at least one or two unique cards. They also have ‘ideas’.
Ideas are the game’s recipes. You only have to unlock them once in order to be able to use them in future runs. In order to use them, you place the required items on top of each other. A countdown starts, and when it finishes, you get the item from the recipe. One minor annoyance I have is that while you can use a recipe without discovering it, the game doesn’t reveal those recipes if you find them by luck or clever experimentation. You still have to get the idea card.
Villagers can die in a couple different ways. It’s possible that you don’t have enough food to feed them all at the end of a round, and so they starve to death. It’s also possible that an enemy just murders them. Enemies can spawn from exploring certain locations, or buying certain card packs. They can also be spawned by a mysterious portal, which show up on specific numbered rounds. There is one more way to spawn an enemy, but that one’s a bit secret, so I’m not gonna spoil it here.
There are also some other mechanics that I haven’t really covered here, including exploring, villager promotions, and storage limits, but I also don’t have anything useful to say about them in the context of this review.
I do have two gripes with Stacklands, one of which is legitimate, and the other I think might be a design choice, but it’s a design choice that I find really annoying! The second strikes me as something that might have been intended to function like that.
First, the legitimate gripe! When you mouse over a card pack to buy it, you’re given a slowly scrolling list of text in the bottom left corner that lists what you can get in the card pack, and I hate this. I hate having to wait for the scrolling to see what I could get, and I really wish I could either click on the card pack to see a list, or have the text box expand or something. I really wish I could see everything at once.
Second, the “I just don’t like this design choice” gripe. There are a variety of cards that produce cards either when you put a villager to work on them, or when you place various resources on them. It’s never really clear to me where the produced cards will end up. Let’s use the farm as an example. You can plant a crop on top of the farm card. When the farm card finishes ticking down, a new card is created. But when a farm produces, the new card(s) appear someplace next to the farm. Since I was growing carrots by the truckload, I then had to 1. Replant the carrots and 2. Keep moving carrots around to keep everything organized.
Stacklands as a game isn’t long enough for this to become super tedious, and I feel like this is a specific design choice to make growing certain crop types more mentally taxing, but I did find it annoying.
Stacklands is $5 on itch.io, and $5 on Steam. Gametrodon editorial policy, dictates that “The people that make games should be the people that make money.” So buy it off itch.io rather than Steam. Look, you’re probs gonna buy off Steam anyway, so I’m going to make you google it.