The Virtual Villagers are back again, struggling to survive in a foreign land, worrying about food, heading indoors to procreate and ever so slowly earning tech points that allow you to progress throughout the game. This time, in Virtual Villagers: New Believers, your miniature citizens are stuck sharing the island with a group of masked “heathens,” some of which are fairly benign and others that chase your offspring away from that lone mushroom just when you run out of food.

Gameplay runs pretty much the way it did in the previous installments of this Last Day of Work franchise, except this time you get to pick your starting crew of five. Choose wisely, you’ll need at least one child if you want to survive the early stages before you’re able to start farming. I went with two men, a nursing woman, a working woman and a child. In retrospect, I would have chosen two children and ditched the useless nursing mom (useless in the game, nursing moms are far from useless in real life of course).

Once you’ve chosen your new villagers and skipped through the intro (or watch it, whatever you prefer), you’ll find yourself standing in a circle of bamboo with a single hut ready to be assembled. That’s when the work begins. Do yourself a favor, create a Master Builder as soon as possible. I didn’t, and I’m stuck with several Adept Builders, two who are about to keel over from old age, and no way to continue because I’m out of huts to build. If you don’t force them to keep working and create Masters yourself, you’re up a creek. Supposedly, according to the awesome walk through over at Jayisgames.com, I still have some hope of getting them up to Master status, but it’s going to take a lot of work.

This installment also adds an additional skill- Devotee. Mostly, they stand around worshiping whatever god they follow. In addition to the usual tasks of acquiring tech points, advancing your skills, building new huts and solving over a dozen puzzles, you’re also tasked with converting the heathens. While I feel I should be disturbed by this, since I’m a pagan and it smacks off the sort of nonsense the missionaries pulled on the Native Americans, it’s still adds a little something different to the game and increases the challenge, thus increasing the amount of time it will take you to beat the game. Another fun new aspect is the ability to unleashes various forces by expending energy. While most of these forces are designed to scare the heathens away from something you need, “instant bloom” is extremely useful before you get your farm, as it causes mushrooms to pop up, including the food-supply enhancing red shrooms.

I’m also happy to report that, for the first time in Virtual Villagers history, I’ve managed to NOT kill off my entire tribe during the first run. Every other time, I’ve had to restart at least once because I accidentally starved everyone. The villagers seem to be a little more independent when you aren’t actively playing the game. Just be sure to set preferences for all your villagers so they wont sit around in the middle of the field doing nothing.

Virtual Villagers: New Believers is available at Big Fish games for $9.99. However, if you join the club, you can get it for $6.99. The club costs $6.99 per month, but that goes towards a game credit, so it’s worth it if you’re planning to buy a game, since you can cancel any time.