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Considering I'm currently trying to create jobs and happy lives for more than 1,000 virtual citizens in Anno 1800, you wouldn't necessarily think of management games as stress relievers.
Management games demand attention. You have to both hold a grand vision for your operation in your head at the same time as dealing with many small-scale problems. But I think it's because of the way that management games take up so much real estate in your head that they are helpful for dealing with real-world stress - they simply don't leave space for thinking about what's going on outside of the game.
Anno 1800 is a game about building a nation out of humble beginnings. You start the campaign with control of a single untouched island. You lay down a marketplace, a few houses, and send some villagers to work cutting down logs and turning them into timber for your buildings. Soon you'll need to place farms - some for food, some to raise sheep for wool - and create production lines for luxury goods like work clothes and beer.
As you unlock more advanced technologies you need to upgrade your workforce. Your farmers become workers, who in turn become artisans. However, these socially mobile citizens leave their old roles behind them, roles that need to be filled. So whenever you convert a 10-person farmhouse into a 20-person workers home, you need to place a new farmhouse somewhere to keep your farms and logging camps working. And all these people, from farmhand up to artisan, have specific, increasingly demanding needs to be kept happy. Artisans want soup, for instance, which requires red peppers, beef, kitchens, and a canning factory to make. All of which demand workers of different grades to staff.
In this way, Anno 1800 becomes like trying to balance a weighing scale. Every time you place a new, advanced building you workforce is consumed with the new jobs, requiring you to build new houses to attract the labour, which increases the demand of commodities, which needs more factories to produce, which need workers to staff, and so on, and so on.
Not all the resources you need can be found on your starting island so you need to build ships to explore the ocean, finding new land masses to settle, building new towns and starting new production lines. You then need to create trade networks to ferry all these resources and goods between islands, making sure each population has what they need to work and be happy.
You can see how this game quickly becomes complicated. At any time the weighing scale can tip into shortage. You run out of sausages for instance and your workers become unhappy, or you place an iron factory and you don't have enough artisans to staff it so production slips across your industry as your different factories work on skeleton crews to keep all the different workplaces running. These shortages can lead to riots, bankruptcy, or being deposed by your people.
Managing all of this could be stressful. In a real-world version of this, I imagine it would be intensely challenging to deal with. However, in a game, it becomes intensely satisfying. You have your hands on all the levers of your nation's industry. If there are problems it is entirely within your control to solve them. There's no delegating tasks, no bureaucracy holding you back from acting, and no one to answer to.
Maybe the takeaway from this should be that the key to happiness is to become a dictator.
Featured Image Credit: Ubisoft
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