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The roguelite management sim that’s impossible to put down

Get into a flow state

A green table space with different cards on them in a screenshot from Stacklands. Image: Sokpop Collective
Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

Stacklands starts simply: Open a pack of three cards, each with a resource like “rock” or “wood” on them, 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 sim lover; it puts players into a catchy flow state that’s reminiscent of Dorfromantik, with its ambient, tile-placement puzzles. But Stacklands’ deceptively simple package hides deep gameplay that sucked me in for hours.

Stacklands’ visual design is straightforward, making the game easy to jump right into. A banner across the top of the screen shows the card packs you can buy, and the board space lets you place or stack resource cards. It opens like a great alchemy game, where much of the fun comes from trying wacky combinations — like using two villagers to create a new villager (a third card is required, which I will let you figure out on your own). Some of these configurations are more obvious, like “stick” and “flint” making “campfire.” Eventually you’ll be throwing two corpse cards together to see what happens. But it’s not all on you to figure out: As you buy more card packs, you’ll encounter “idea” cards that offer recipes for more advanced crafting.

The challenge ramps up, but it never feels like a steep learning curve. The first big hurdle is keeping villagers fed. This is how I initially spiraled out of control on my first run: Berry bushes have limited uses before disappearing, so I had to craft something renewable. My villagers starved 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 in silly curveballs. Random chaotic cards show up in card packs, like a “chicken” that produced “egg” — great for crafting “omelet” — but the damn chicken also rambled about the play space, causing chaos. My neat piles of cards became a disorganized splay.

As you grow the number of villagers, you’ll need to defend against giant rats or goblins that emerge from “strange portal” cards that appear. The late game (which took me three or so hours to reach) naturally transitions into battle planning. Kit villagers out with specific weapons to turn them into mages, warriors, and more. Weapons and armor are described with a firm tongue in cheek, with helmets like “rat crown” or “rabbit hat.” Eventually, you’ll need to assemble your best A-team to fight a final boss. It’s in line with Loop Hero, where each pass — or day cycle, in Stacklands’ case — allows you to build a stronger fighter.

Stacklands rounds out to one of the most immediately accessible and engaging card-based roguelites I’ve played this year. It took practically no time to learn, and it will consume so many of my hours to come.

Stacklands was released on April 8 on Windows PC and Mac. The game was reviewed on PC using a purchased copy. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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