Many people might find the world of real estate intimidating, but HipSoft’s tycoon game Build-a-lot makes it seem easy. With a few clicks of the mouse you’ll be building, buying, renovating and selling properties in no time – and having a blast doing it.

In Career mode you assume the role of a contractor who works with the mayors of eight different towns to improve property value and curb appeal. In each level the mayor gives you a specific set of goals – typically three or four – to complete in a set time limit such as build a post office, build four Tudor-style homes, earn a rental income of $60,000 per month, or earn a total of $250,000 cash.

Achieving these goals requires balancing various resources and managing your all-important cash flow. You’ll start each level owning a certain number of vacant lots, which can be developed any way you choose. You can build a variety of different houses, from modest one-level ramblers to ostentatious estates, mansions and even castles. You can also build other structures like banks, workhouses, sawmills, museums and skating rinks.

Build-a-lot‘s interface is simple and very easy to get the hang of. To construct a building, for example, all you have to do is click on an empty lot and select the type of building you want, and your construction crew will get to work – provided, of course, you have the required blueprint, enough workers to do the job and enough building materials, all of which cost money. Again, ordering these items is as simple as clicking a tab from the menu at the bottom of the screen and selecting the appropriate icon.

To increase a house’s value you can upgrade it with amenities like hardwood floors, French doors, indoor tennis courts and a wireless intercom system. An upgraded house will yield more rent per month and can also be sold at a higher profit. However, beware of property taxes and repairs, which will sap up money and materials.

In addition to houses, you can construct various buildings that grant unique advantages. Building a workhouse, for example, lets you hire new workers at half price and also gives you the ability to inspect houses so that they never have to be repaired. A bank lets you collect interest on your money, and with a post office you can receive letters at any of the houses you own that typically contain some kind of check or refund that gives you a little boost of extra cash.

The best part about Build-a-lot is that you don’t have to know a lot about real estate, or be a serious number-cruncher, to succeed and have fun. The game has a wonderful tutorial that walks you through the basics, and through exquisite pacing introduces new challenges and gameplay concepts in a manageable and logical progression.

It also adds to the experience greatly that each mayor has a distinct personality that influences what he or she asks you to do. One mayor, for example, is partial to Tudor-style homes and will ask you to build a lot of them; another wants to attract wealthy retirees by building estates on premium lakefront land, while another is concerned about safety in her hillside town and makes a fire station the first priority. When you’ve completed each town, the mayor will give you a valued and unique personal possession as a memento.

Aside from Career mode there’s also a Casual mode where you can play each of the eight towns separately and start from scratch (with no blueprints) with the goal of raising a certain amount of money in as fast a time as possible. You can post and compare your best times online with other players, and your record also shows the number of workers and materials used.

It’s hard to find anything to criticize about Build-a-lot. It seems a shame that several of the buildings in the later levels (such as the cinema and rink) only show up once and don’t add new services to the game like the bank or post office do.

But this is a minor nitpick in the face of all the positive things Build-a-lot offers. Remarkably, it manages to take a topic that wouldn’t interest a lot of people and makes a game that pretty much everyone can enjoy without knowing a lot about how real estate works.