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More Games Where You Build The Little House, Please

It's nice not to lose sometimes

A screenshot from the game "Summerhouse:" A red and white restaurant in front of some train tracks, with trees to the right. A blue sign that reads "Restaurant" is on the front of the building

This morning I tooled around in the demo for Summerhouse, a game featured in today’s Wholesome Games showcase. After being let down by building game Cities: Skylines 2 (I have hope, though!), a little game where you build tiny houses is just my speed.

Summerhouse is a pixelated 2D game where you just plop down bits of buildings, choosing from different doors, windows, roofs, and details like chimneys, signs, plants, and graffiti. The game’s Steam page says, “While there are some little secrets to uncover, there are no rules, and you can’t win or lose. Just chill out, build to your heart’s content and soak up the atmosphere.” In the one level available in the demo, I built a hotel and a restaurant, scrolling through available awnings and grass heights to tell a little story about a seaside inn.

A hotel in the game "Summerhouse:" A three story white building with blue windows. A red sign reading "Hotel" is on the top right. A man in blue playing the guitar sits on the top level of the building

It’s reminiscent of games like Townscaper and the upcoming Tiny Glade: little diorama games that eschew the resource management and city planning that make games like Cities: Skylines fun but also stressful. You just get to make nice things, and imagine visiting or living in the nice things. When you’re done building in Summerhouse, you can press a button to replay your whole build, zipping through your miniature urban planning in a satisfying movie that made me feel like I’d been really productive, instead of just thoughtfully clicking buttons for a while.

Building games with win/lose conditions often seek to replicate this kind of relaxing freedom. Dorfromantik, one of my favorite games from 2021, has a mode that lets you keep building once you’ve lost a campaign, adding tiles to fill out your pastoral world without constraints. Similarly, Mini Metro and Mini Motorways (two games I love but am terrible at) have “endless” modes that remove the gridlock and station overcrowding that ultimately lead to your downfall, letting you just build cute little transit systems to your heart’s content. These kinds of modes let you focus on one of the pleasures available in these sorts of games, and they’re always a welcome change of pace for me. (Plus: life is hard, and it’s nice not to lose sometimes.)

I know I could find the same joy if I’d just unlock everything in Cities: Skylines 2, so I could just build cool cities without butting up against the game’s systems. But when it comes to Cities: Skylines, this has always felt a little bit like cheating to me, though I can’t say why, and I can never quite bring myself to do it. (In the case of Cities: Skylines 2, whose tech requirements are stretching the bounds of my aging graphics card, I’m afraid my computer can’t handle that much freedom, so I’m waiting for the game to become a little more playable on my hardware first.) 

So it’s nice to have a game like Summerhouse, where I can just create things without stress, and try to decide the perfect potted plant instead of engineering the perfect tax rate for a residential zone. Summerhouse has an expected release date of 2024, and I’ve definitely added it to the pile of games I’m excited about.

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