Right now, even as you read this, thousands of gamers from around the world are at their job or school — yet they’re daydreaming of little island castaways.

No, they’re not so concerned with the gang from Lost or Survivor. Instead, they’ve fallen for a lovable cast of characters fending for themselves on Isola, a fictitious island in the mega-popular casual game, Virtual Villagers.

This runaway hit – which challenges you to micromanage the lives of these shipwrecked men, women and children — has captured the hearts of many for its accessible yet addictive game-play, attractive graphics and soothing music.

And so we here at Gamezebo are proud to unveil the next installment in this life simulation series: Virtual Villagers: The Lost Children.

Yep, you read it here first, folks. The talented folks at Last Day of Work Games has been hard at work on a sequel that doesn’t mess with the tried-and-true formula that made Virtual Villagers a resounding success, but has added a handful of goodies to satiate fans of the game and newbies alike.

But before we get into the new features, here’s a quick refresher for those who haven’t yet clicked their way through Isola: Played from a top-down perspective, gamers must help villagers collect food for the tribe, build structures, research new technologies (such as farming and medicine) and, of course, mate to create offspring, which is achieved by using the mouse to drag an adult male onto an adult female; if they like each other, they discretely enter a hut and ahem, wait for a stork to bring a baby. Over time, kids grow into adulthood, and then can contribute to society by assisting wherever help is needed. Villagers learn skills over time, meaning they may be more adept to one task over another. It’ virtually impossible not to become attached to these villagers over time – but alas, some will grow sick and may even die.

Another unique feature with Virtual Villagers – and other games from the designers at Last Day of Work – is the "persistent" nature of the story. That is, even when you turn the game off and launch it again later, some of the events continue to evolve without you around. A child, for example, may be an adult when you boot up next, and ready to train as a worker, technician or fisherman! Or an adult may now have graying hair and will be walking slower.

OK, onto the new stuff. Without giving away too much, Virtual Villagers: The Lost Children begins as a couple of villagers from the South Isola (the location from the first game) enter a cave, fall down a waterfall on the other end, and show up in West Isola, where a handful of scared children are found surviving the island. Here, players are taught the key mechanics of the game – harvesting food, such as fish and coconuts, having babies and building huts to house the increase in population, and researching technologies to help evolve the society.

More so than in the first game, the many puzzles and milestones are better integrated into the continuing story. Examples of such puzzles include figuring out how to pry open a crate that washed up on shore, building a hospital to better treat sick villagers or developing new tools to cut through harsh vegetation to get across to the other side. One of the more exciting puzzles is discovering and deciphering secret writings on a cave wall. Or finding a special collectable "gong" piece on the bottom of some water. It’s also fun to have villagers create special stews from hidden herbs as you don’t know what affect they’ll have on the tribe once consumed.

Another new feature added is collecting items, which gives kids something useful to do on the island. Divided into four groups – seashells, butterflies, beetles and pebbles – children can find these nearly 50 colorful goodies on the beach and other areas. Speaking of kids, now offspring resemble their parents!

Eek – we’ve said too much!

If this nearly final version of Virtual Villagers: The Lost Children is any indication, fans of the original will love this sequel as it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel ("if it ain’t broke…"), yet it offers a more compelling story, new puzzles and technologies, and the ability to find collectible items that all help to refine the game-play. Be sure to check back with Gamezebo for our official review of the game when it launches later in February. Be sure to clear you calendar, folks!