The Chillest City Builder on Xbox Game Pass is Leaving Next Week
Build the town of your dreams.
City builders can be some of the chillest games out there — or the most stressful, depending on how much responsibility you feel for the fate of the little digital people who fill your creations.
If you visualize games like Frostpunk sitting at the most severe end of the spectrum, with its punishing weather and resource scarcity, then Townscaper is its polar opposite. Compared to Frostpunk’s frozen wastes, Townscaper’s urban landscape is decked out in Crayola colors with gentle lighting shining down and birds often swooping overhead. And if you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, you have until November 15 to experience its zen-like vibes for free.
Townscaper might not be exactly what you think of when you hear “city builder,” but it is one in the most literal sense. Unlike most city builders, Townscaper isn’t about managing cities — it’s about building them.
In a way, Townscaper feels more like an art program than a game. Using the cursor as your brush, a push of a button first calls forth a patch of ground from the ocean that serves as your canvas. Push it again and a building springs up with a satisfying “plunk” sound, growing taller with each button press.
You can choose which color the structures will appear in, but otherwise, the whole process is automatic. Raising a massive tower is really no harder than setting up a row of houses, as the buildings change form to suit their height on their own. The only other control you have is over the position of the sun, so you can place light and shade to show off your creation exactly how you want it.
And that’s essentially it. There’s no score-keeping in Townscaper, no win conditions or quests. The point is just to build and enjoy seeing what pops up. Because so much of the process is determined automatically by where you place your cursor, there’s plenty of room for happy accidents. That’s how I learned that building onto the side of an existing structure would produce an extension jutting out on stilts, and I spent the next few minutes building the most impractical maze of floating rooms I could, all teetering in the air in one long spiral.
In that way, Townscaper can feel more like gardening than city planning. You’re ultimately in control of everything, but after a while, your town seems to take its own shape, each piece growing out of what’s already built.
It’s the perfect go-with-the-flow game, letting you experiment to your heart’s content without any punishment for leaving one project half-built to pursue another wild idea.
And those ideas can get wild as hell. Much as there’s joy to be found in sculpting quaint little gardens and seaside villas in Townscaper, there’s just as much in coming up with impossible designs and then making them a reality. Speaking of which, Townscaper has no time for reality. It makes no attempt to hold you to the constraints of physics, so your creations have no obligation to obey that bastard gravity that’s always keeping us down, even if you remove their supports entirely to build a floating castle. I bet the citizens of Townscaper don’t age at all, either.
Whether you see it as pruning a digital tree or Photoshop-but-with-buildings, what Townscaper really is, is a catalyst for creativity. Townscaper has just as much story as MS Paint does, which is to say zilch, but when I’m playing it, I can’t help but imagine what’s going on in this little world I’m creating. Who lives in those rickety rowhouses climbing into the sky like a staircase? Do they ever make it down to the docks to look across the bay at the multilevel floating gardens? Could they be in love with the lighthouse keeper keeping watch from a thousand stories up?
Townscaper seems like the perfect tool to rough out your next Dungeons & Dragons city map or serve as an illustration of an impossible city. Even if your town only ever exists in the game