When I envision tropical isles, I can’t help but think of the 60’s sitcom Gilligan’s Island with its seven stranded castaways. After a storm beached the S.S. Minnow, they were on their own…without “a single luxury.”

Virtual Villagers is a similar tale with a few twists. While you begin with seven castaways, none are trained (sorry, no “Professor”). Your first priority is to help your villagers secure a fresh water supply, forage for food, build huts and adjust to their new island home. It’s essential since your tiny tribe will be in their “tropic island nest” indefinitely.

So, how did they arrive in their present circumstances? Well, there once was a beautiful island where a happy tribe lived and thrived…until a huge volcano destroyed it. Fortunately, a few survivors escaped in a rickety boat that eventually ran aground on an unknown island. That’s where you enter the picture.

Virtual Villagers, from Last Day of Work (LDW), bears many similarities to the developer’s previous game, Fish Tycoon. A village simulator or, more appropriately, a villager simulator, your chief task is nurturing your little clan, teaching them the basics of survival. As the community grows and prospers, these villagers become more curious about their surroundings. So, in addition to guiding their day-to-day lives, you’ll also help them explore their isle and solve its mysteries.

A simulation in the fashion of The Sims (2000), itself being a spiritual successor to Little Computer People (1985), Virtual Villagers is basically a life simulator. Daily activities are performed such as eating, drinking, planting crops, gathering food, building and repairing huts, doing laundry, propagating and eventually succumbing to old age and death.

Unlike its forerunners, however, this simulation has some specific goals to accomplish along the way in the form of puzzles (16 in all, some with built-in dependencies), though not necessarily in a linear fashion. Plus, there’s a “conclusion” after which life still goes on.

Since it’s a real-time sim, your little tribe continues about its existence even when you’re not overseeing it. Come back several hours later and you’ll discover that your villagers have improved their skills, given birth and completed tasks. I don’t recommend leaving them on their own too long, though. I made that mistake and returned the next day to find that all but one of my villagers had died of starvation. Oops!

Play mechanics for Virtual Villagers are pretty simple. When you click on an inhabitant, a white circle shows they’re selected and you’re given a brief bit of info about them, specifically their name, skill and the action they’re currently performing. Go to the Details Screen and you’ll discover additional facts such as age, gender, health, likes and dislikes. It also shows how they’ve progressed in skills, including Farming, Building, Research, Healing and Breeding.

Villagers are easily directed, too, allowing you to influence their behavior, teach skills, explore the island and “introduce” the opposite sex (the only way to increase your population). In essence, they learn from what they’re taught as a virtual pet would. For instance, instruct them to forage by plunking them down on a berry bush. It may take several tries, but they’ll eventually get it. Drop them at a table and they’ll research, earning the tech points needed to increase their abilities in Farming, Construction, Medicine, Science, Fertility and Spirituality.

Virtual Villagers is a relaxed, slow-paced game (just like Fish Tycoon). As such, it probably won’t appeal to casual gamers who want a quick fix. It requires time to derive a sense of reward. This relaxed play-style, however, will allow you to accomplish other tasks while your villagers go on with their lives, checking in on them occasionally to see how they’re faring. In this regard, the game can be very rewarding. In fact, you’ll grow to care for your “little computer people,” relishing in their achievements and sorrowing over their eventual passing.

An engaging game, you’ll be fortunate when Virtual Villagers washes up on shore near you in the coming weeks. When it does, take good care of its namesakes and they’ll reward your efforts. You already know what happens if you leave them alone too long.