Release date: April 22, 2021
Rating: E (Everyone)
Platform: Playstation 4, XBox One, PC via Steam, and Nintendo Switch
A code for the Switch version of this game was provided by publisher Merge Games on behalf of developer Blackstaff Games
Building Up the Neighborhood
Buildings Have Feelings Too! left a strong impression on me from the outset. Its personified buildings have a distinct charm somewhere between “papercraft” and “model train set”. Its tiny traffic-sign people and chipper little soundtrack turn an information-dense game into something that feels perfectly approachable. Even its self-described quirky dialogue is harmless at worst, but soft-heartedly endearing at best.
And hey, it's even sponsored by the Northern Ireland Screen's Ambassador Programme, reflected through a timeless sense of style. It's quaint, and I never wield that word in a diminutive way. It feels friendly, familiar, and even a little bit nostalgic – albeit for a place and time I've never been to.
But how does it hold up when you start to play?
That Board Game Spirit
To my delight, Buildings Have Feelings Too! reminds me of the digital equivalent of a modern tabletop board game. You have a set number of resources in your possession (“hand”), and your goal is to arrange them (on the “board”) such that you attain maximum neighborhood appeal (“points”).
The game explicitly refers to its components as “cards”, for crying out loud:
And without those pesky “other players”, you can (mostly) fiddle around with the pieces 'till your heart is content!
…but Buildings Have Feelings Too! can also feel like a board game in some ways that take adjustment.
There's a lot of Proper Nouns in this game, and so much of your first hour will be spent in “sit down and learn the rules” mode. There's a veritable tech tree of buildings, a dozen little symbols to learn, and a web of resources to consider.
And the light story beats can still throw an occasional wrench in. There was a moment early on where I got stuck because I needed to upgrade a specific instance of a specific building type, with little visual indication on the prime suspect. Something that could've used a clearer tool-tip, perhaps. But it's also just another anchor in an ever-growing web of infrastructure.
It's a lot, and it makes for the kind of system-heavy game that many of us love to sink our teeth into. And once you get going, you really get going. Shuffling things around until you have just the right line-up of “housing-café-office-grocery-housing” is the kind of fiddly work that makes my brain sparkle with delight when the very last piece pops into place.
That's just good gaming, right there.
One crucial difference between a tabletop game and a video game, though, is that the latter usually isn't subject to technical limitations.
In a lot of places, the digital format very much works in Buildings Have Feelings‘ favor. All that fiddly number-crunching that comes with tracking tokens and resources? Done automatically. Sure, all those fine-grained effects are still there and visible should you need to reference them. But most of the time, they're helpfully abstracted away to a low-impact, bird's-eye-view summary.
And the number of pieces you're managing at once would necessitate an absolute steamer trunk of a game box. Being a digital game lets the game include tons more unique little tokens and cards and rules that would make a physical game a nightmare, but are a dream to navigate in video game form.
But as it is \now, Buildings Have Feelings, Too! has some rough digital edges, too. They're mostly paper cuts, from some tiny text being difficult to a overall framerate issues both docked and undocked on the Switch.
In fact, the very first time that I launched a new save file, the game crashed on the very first, albeit very charming, “loading” screen.
On a less technical level, there's also the curious inclusion of Bricks as a limited resource. There's an imbalance between spending them on remodeling and demolition and how much you earn from building, so you could in theory work the game into an unwinnable state. I came close just once, and with the game's diligent auto-save feature, I worry for anyone who might actually get stuck in that way.
As it stands, I'm adoring my time with Buildings Have Feelings Too! despite its hang-ups. That speaks volumes about its innate charm, laid-back play, and strong core concept. I can imagine people who love resource-management games – or even board game junkies stranded home alone – having a perfectly lovely time. As luck would have it, I'm both of those things, so I'm – to borrow a phrase – chuffed!
The only reason I might come across as nit-picky is because I spent so much attention poring over the little details in this game. That in and of itself is an endorsement. And I could go equally far in the positive direction, applauding the fact that you can freely plant little mailboxes and benches along your street.
I absolutely reserve the right to revise this score if the technical side of this game is ironed out. And if I do, I expect that my opinion of Buildings Have Feelings Too! will only go up. It's doing enough right on a fundamental level to warrant that much good will.
Even with a bit of renovation yet to go, it's hard not to admire the handiwork here.