Townscaper is one of those small snatches of joy I heavily associate with the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020. The stress-free city builder was a tiny game that became a huge sensation that summer. Like other collective obsessions of that year, it inspired a trend that’s only now truly coming to fruition. Although Townscaper’s developer Oskar Stålberg tells me he doesn’t spend time tracking gaming trends these days, he’s aware of the wave of Townscaper-like projects in the works and often reshares their dev updates. He also tells me he thinks the new games in this style are getting more complex. 

“I love that it’s called Townscaper-like,” says Stålberg when I ask if he would have preferred the budding microgenre to have a non-referential name. “At least I’m trying to use that term as often as possible to increase the chance it might stick. It would be lovely to have my work immortalized like that.” 

There’s a good chance the name will stick, given the number of games going for a similar vibe to the extremely low-pressure building that Townscaper popularized. One of my most anticipated cozy games coming in 2024 is Tiny Glade, a lovely little pastoral castle builder that cites Townscaper as its main inspiration. It also has buildings that react to what you’ve built around them—fences that grow gates when you draw a road near them, for instance—similar to the way Townscaper sprouts gardens in enclosed groups of houses or plops stairs in as you add taller buildings. Like Townscaper, Tiny Glade says it has “no management, combat, or wrong answers.”

Tiny Glade, the in development game about “doodling castles.” (Image credit: Pounce Light)

We’ve also recently seen the reveal of lo-fi seaside builder Summerhouse which says it has “no rules or restrictions, just pure creativity.” Then there’s the historical Chinese building game Eaves, which I only became aware of because Stålberg shared one of its posts on social media. Same goes for Monterona, which is full of row houses and canals and also clearly states it has “no goals, no pressure.” Oh, and there’s Islands & Trains too, another blocky sandbox builder with “no goals, no timer, no stress.” They’re all currently in development and chanting the same low-stakes refrain.

Small sensations

While Townscaper was still in early access, Jacob Ridley chose it as his personal GOTY pick in 2020. At launch we gave it an 80% in our Townscaper review—a big score for such a small game—and called it “an absolutely joyous little time waster.” It was pervasive in 2020 and remains a popular recommendation for casual players.

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By fcjyy