I need books and games that scratch my itch for improvement
June 19, 2018 7:37 PM   Subscribe

I really like well-written fiction books in which people work hard and fix up their town or farm or family business whatever. I also love games where you work to fix and upgrade something. What are your favourites?

Not looking for self-improvement or psychological stuff. I do like games where your character develops a skill, but I don't want something where you earn skill points via xp gained by fighting or questing and then assigning them to different character traits. (I love RPGs, but that's not what I'm looking for here.)

I have The Sims. I love games like the Chocolatier games, Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons, Stardew Valley etc. I dislike Diner Dash type stuff or anything with match 3 type gameplay.

I can't think of any book examples at the moment, but anything calming with steady progression and hard work would fit the bill.
posted by Stonkle to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The Secret Garden?
posted by praemunire at 7:43 PM on June 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

Henry and the Clubhouse.
posted by Melismata at 8:00 PM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might want to look for books people describe as "competence porn". One common example is The Goblin Emperor.
posted by jeather at 8:08 PM on June 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not fiction, but American Kingpin would scratch your itch very well. Both the building of the criminal empire and the building of the evidence to knock it down are detailed very effectively.

It very much felt like fiction.
posted by rw at 8:22 PM on June 19, 2018

The Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce is like this! It deliberately goes against the grain of the typical genius hero fantasy story (which she's also written before) — it's all about hard work, persistence, and practice.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 8:25 PM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Voodoo Garden is a charming garden-tending game with idle-ish aspects (it doesn't work as full idle) and cute ghosts. It wouldn't scratch the itch long term because it's very limited (here's your trees; here's the critters that bounce between them), but it's got nice music and is relaxing. It's worth it's $3; I'm not sure I'd claim it's worth twice that, but for the price of a coffee, it's pleasant.

Banished (also on Steam) comes highly recommended by people I trust. I became aware of it during a phase when I was burnt on city builders of all sorts, but it's on my wishlist to pick up next time it's on sale.

The Martian by Andy Weir is a terrific "learning skills as I go so I don't die a horrible death millions of miles from home" story. If you've seen the movie, you know the plot; the book does contain a number of incidents that the movie cut.

Books labeled "competence porn" are more likely to be about already-competent characters, rather than learning skills or finding ways to apply them. (Still awesome, though; you might explore those anyway.)

If you like romance, Ellen O'Connell's historical novels may be right up your alley. Otherwise, Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle might be worth checking out - it's not about building a place, but it's very much about developing skills and building a life.

Reddit thread: Any novels where the focus is on building a village or settlement? Suggestions with multiple "oh yeah, that's good" reactions include:
* Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
* L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Saga of Recluse novel Fall of Angels
* Red Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson (mixed reviews from comments)
* Jack Whyte's 'Dream of Eagles' series
* The Company by K.J. Parker
* Terry Mancour's Spellmonger
* Dies the Fire - SM Sterling
* Stephen King's "The Stand"
* Dragon's Wrath series by Brent Roth
* Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:32 PM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Try James Michener’s Hawaii, which literally starts at the bottom of the Pacific eons ago and builds until the modern era.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:46 PM on June 19, 2018

I don't know if I should recommend this one because it's a book pretty far into a series and it's kind of a climactic book at that and there's a lot of stuff that went on before it, but....I Dare by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller features a guy who's been told his entire family is dead, and since the family has a huge enemy after them, the family policy is to not look for each other just in case. He's always been kind of the lowest ranked in the family (even though he's oldest) because he never learned how to fly a ship and the family business is ships. So he's mostly just been an excellent shooter and gambler but otherwise not up to much in the books beforehand.

Looking for a way to rebound and regroup since he's had to generally abandon the home/planet, he and his two 'hands (think "gun hands") decide to move to Surebleak, a freezing cold, totally lawless New Old West town where people run territories and only get to run those territories by being gangsters who shoot each other. And our hero manages to take over a territory, take over some other territories, make friends with others who run territories because you don't have to shoot everyone if they're not assholes.... He also cleans up the place, gets a newspaper and a school going, gets tons of cooperation from everyone, and basically ends up running the planet, which he has vastly improved for the better.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:11 PM on June 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is a great example of this!
posted by spindrifter at 9:24 PM on June 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Stardew Valley!
posted by stoneandstar at 9:41 PM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do city builder games scratch this itch for you? They're at a larger scale than the books and games you mention, but for me there's a pleasure in arranging the buildings nicely yet efficiently, and slowly expanding what the city's able to do (and discovering I haven't planned well enough and have to rebuild a bunch of things). The Anno/Dawn of Discovery games do this well, and there's a game on Steam Early Access called Factorio which is about using a factory to build a bigger factory.

All of these games have some kind of combat, but it's mostly a case of setting up defences.
posted by Merus at 11:21 PM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seveneves I think falls into this in various stages, there are multiple sessions of “starting from a new normal” and building an escape, a community, a society. A lot of post apoc fic has this really.
posted by Iteki at 12:20 AM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's YA, but I re-read this every so often: My Side of the Mountain. All about the details of building a cozy shelter in a tree, and making it homey and liveable.
posted by profreader at 12:40 AM on June 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just started playing the crafting/farming game My Time at Portia and am really enjoying it so far. (It's still in alpha/early access so be prepared for some clunkiness here and there.)

Slime Rancher is really cute and has a casual mode if you want to focus more on farming and less on fighting.

Another I've been eyeing but haven't tried yet is House Flipper.

Factorio is interesting but wound up feeling a little too cold & dirty for my tastes.

Terraria is a different sort of game but scratches a similar itch for me.
posted by gennessee at 3:05 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love this kind of thing too and the Swiss Family Robinson is perfect for this!
posted by peacheater at 3:41 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

A couple of kids' books:
Island of the Blue Dolphins.
The Girl Who Owned a City (caution: it gets preachy on libertarianism)

Dragonsdawn, by Anne McCaffrey (not the first in the series, but the first chronologically and you can definitely read it standalone)
The Just City, by Jo Walton (a group of philosophers, with the help of the goddess Athena, design a city to work just like Plato's ideal city)
posted by gideonfrog at 4:23 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

The origin of all builders: Robinson Crusoe!
posted by Yavsy at 6:15 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Possibly Hatchet by Gary Paulsen?
posted by darchildre at 8:58 AM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball (a memoir about the first year starting and running a farm)
posted by tangosnail at 1:22 PM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Takenoko, a board game famous in the board-gaming community, is evidently a calming game. It's about tending a garden and keeping it in balance. I can't personally vouch, as I've never played it. Here's Wil Wheaton playing it, though.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:58 AM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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