Slumlord Simulator review (PC): Less of a Sim, More of a Puzzle

Slumlord Simulator is the anti-Simcity. There are no sprawling metropolises and happiness meters here. Instead a cryptic red bar measures the growing anarchy in your tenements. All while a box displays a thesaurus worth of words to describe each new level of hatred your tenants feel towards you. The goal is to wring as much money out of the people as you can in order to escape to Bermuda before you’re killed by an angry mob. Good luck!

Right off the bat, this is a niche of a niche game. I would not call this a strategy game; it’s more like a puzzle. This is not a free-form management game as the store page implies. There doesn’t seem to be any actual simulation. I enjoyed it and had fun, but it certainly was not what I was expecting.

slumlord simulator review pc - forest or meth
My very own dystopian slum! Everyone is hopeful and my reputation is well established as man of neutrality. I can not possibly perceive how that might change as I fell forests and invest heavily in meth labs.

How to Become a Property Manager!

Gameplay is straight forward. You’re greeted by a 3×4 grid of trees with a single tenement near the center and no explanation of what comes next. You have a variety of actions you can do on each tile adjacent to a tile you’ve built upon. You can leave the forests as they are and use them as shelters for meth labs; or you can cut down the trees and build improvements. These bring in more money and cause your tenants to wanna kill you a bit faster.

All improvements are temporary except for tenements. Tenements net the most money, cost the most to build, and stops tile from generating income for the 10 turns it takes to build upon. Temporary improvements are an instant access to income and include running illegal drag races, allowing drug smugglers to use the road, and leasing the land to farms and factories. You also have some actions available at your office each turn. This is mostly improving your personal security. Lastly, you have a variety of “schemes” you can do. These are the more evil ways to make money. They includes things like using unpaid interns as workers and bootlegging moonshine in the basement.

slumlord simulator review pc - schemes within schemes
So many schemes to chose, it makes me wonder if I wasn’t actually Wile E. Coyote torturing tenements filled with road runners.

Not a Simulation, But Still Fun

The reactions of my tenants appeared to be hardcoded to decrease at the same rate no matter what actions I took. There are events which prompt you for decisions and are reminiscent of a visual novel. However, they will always occur on the same turn number and never change. Losing is not by an abstraction of a community’s tolerance towards your terrible land management skills, but instead by random chance at the start of each turn. You can lower this chance by investing money, but the game is still only won by luck or by save scumming. Which is the route I eventually took just to see the end game screen.

With all that negativity out of the way, I enjoyed the game. You’ll quickly find you have little control over how your AI tenants respond to you. Furthermore, you as a landlord are only allowed to make bad choices. Success is not measured in how great of landlord you become. Instead, it’s in how much money you manage to pocket for yourself. All of this frees you from the pesky OCD tendencies of city management to become a truly despicable slumlord.

Your goal is to escape to Bermuda. This requires earning a small amount of money and waiting a certain number of turns before you can make your trip. As you grow ever closer to your goal your tenants will become angrier with you. If unopposed an angry mob will storm your office and kill you. You have to find a way to delay this long enough so you can finish making your preparations and escape. You’ll be deciding between preparing for your trip, spending money to build more tenements, investing in private security, or suppressing the anger of the people.

slumlord simulator review pc - all bad choices
I’m not sure what the posters actually accomplish. I imagine slumlords don’t show their faces very often to their tenants. This could have only increased my survival chances had I simply remained anonymous.

A Strange Sense of Humor

The game presents these actions with dark and ironic humor. Your main source of income early on is divided between running meth labs, selling you’re tenants private information, and deciding which of their utilities you’re going to shut off the for the day. I personally found that I preferred running a fake lottery for the first 30 turns. After this I invested heavily in enforcers to keep to people in line. Some of the choices are ridiculous and specific enough that I questioned whether there was some kind of context I was missing while playing.

It had never occurred to me that a landlord would think to put up big brother styled posters of themselves or steal their tenants’ TV antennas for some quick cash. It all works towards allowing the player to truly step into a unique role of someone who genuinely and comically doesn’t care about other humans. After enough games of being murdered by an angry mob you’ll eventually grow calloused to their threats as the same complaints pop up no matter what you do. Saving yourself will become your only priority.

slumlord simulator review pc - victory
A great debate within in the gaming community exists as to whether or not save scumming should be tolerated or crucified. Sometimes I’d say its acceptable. In a grand strategy game, you may have made a mistake 40 turns ago and only now realize it. I would not call this case as justifiable. But I grew tired of losing….

The Score – 60

I enjoyed the game. I can forgive the frustrating design choice where victory or loss comes down to a hundred or so dice roles. It would actually be a simulation if I could win based on making correct and strategic choices. Eventually I realized Slumlord Simulator isn’t trying to do that. The game drew me in when I realized I was playing a puzzle with only one or two solutions. I would find myself thinking about solutions between short play sessions. My mind fully engaged with solving this impossible puzzle that had fallen into my lap. I would have aha moments, fail, rage quit, and return with a slightly revised plan and new hope.

However, I’m not sure if I could have beat the game without save scumming. Though I came within a few turns once or twice, it ultimately came down to random chance. The game is also completely unknown on the web. Besides a few lets plays, it’s near impossible to find any information about the game to get help with winning. The lack of information is going to bite you when you encounter glitches or mechanics that don’t seem to be working properly.

Should You Buy It?

The game is short but there is some replay value. A high score section on the main menu prompts you to try and win with the more money in your pocket. However, for me this is one time play through. That aside, people might obsess over a game like this. I’m not sure I would outright recommend this game to the general population, but if its sounds even remotely interesting from the store page or this review I would say buy it. It’s not a perfect game. But its unique enough that it stretched my thinking and challenged my ability to plan ahead. Most importantly, I found it fun despite its flaws.

What did you think?

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