Stacklands starts simple: Open a deck of three cards, each with a resource like “rock” or “wood”, then stack them to craft new resources. Sell cards to get coins, which can be spent on larger packs with different resources. It’s a familiar gameplay loop for any management simulation enthusiast; it puts players in an eye-catching state of flux reminiscent of Dorfromantik, with its ambient tile placement puzzles. But Stacklands‘ A deceptively simple package hides deep gameplay that sucked me in for hours.
Stacklands‘ The visual design is simple, which makes the game easy to use. A banner at the top of the screen displays card packs you can purchase, and board space allows you to place or stack resource cards. It opens up like a big alchemy game, where a lot of the fun comes from trying crazy combinations – like using two villagers to create a new villager (a third card is required, which I’ll let you figure out for yourself- same). Some of these configurations are more obvious, like “staff” and “flint” making “campfire”. Eventually, you’ll throw two corpse cards together to see what happens. But that’s not all for you to figure out: as you buy decks of cards, you’ll come across “idea” cards that offer recipes for more advanced crafting.
The challenge intensifies, but it never feels like a steep learning curve. The first big hurdle is feeding the villagers. This is how I initially lost control on my first run: berry bushes have limited uses before they disappeared, so I had to craft something renewable. My villagers starved to death before I could figure it out. On my second run, I stockpiled food before realizing there was a maximum card limit. The game also throws silly curve balls. Random chaotic cards appear in card packs, such as a ‘chicken’ that produced an ‘egg’ – ideal for making an ‘omelet’ – but the fucking chicken also roamed the playing space, causing mayhem. My pretty stacks of cards have become a disorganized deck.
As you increase the number of villagers, you will have to defend yourself against giant rats or goblins that emerge from the “strange portal” cards that appear. The late part (which took me about three hours to reach) naturally turns into battle planning. Equip villagers with specific weapons to transform them into mages, warriors and more. Weapons and armor are described with firm irony, with helmets like “rat crown” or “rabbit hat”. Eventually, you’ll need to assemble your best A-team to fight a final boss. It is in agreement with loop herowhere each passage — or day cycle, in Stacklands‘ case – allows you to build a stronger fighter.
Stacklands completes one of the most immediately accessible and engaging card-based roguelikes I’ve played this year. It took almost no time to learn, and it will consume so many of my hours to come.