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Grab Bag 3

  • Games

It is time once again to look at a set of games – four of them this time! – that I done did play since the last time I played some games, aside from the other games that I played that aren’t these games.

I played all of these throughout 2022, the first game not long after it was released, and the rest in the months after that, all spaced months apart. As you can see, I have handled the passage of time very well. 2022 was a terrible year.

Stacklands

I discovered this game from a Vinesauce stream. Watching Vinny struggle so hard with the game is the entire reason I gave it a shot, because I wanted to see what it was like without missing so much.

Turns out, it’s pretty fun. I like it. There’s not much to it, it’s a simple card stacking management game where you maintain and grow a little village, and it gets surprisingly stressful at times. The way the cards move on the table is pretty hectic, especially the cards that move of their own accord, but it’s very satisfying to interact with. Fun for a few hours, worth the $5+ on itch.io.

The fact that sokpop collective releases a new game every month is crazy to me, and this is just one of them. That also explains why the game is as small as it is. But apparently, this game got such a positive response from people – deserved, I’d say – that they’re planning to release content updates down the line, something they don’t usually do. I’ll be looking forward to playing again when that time comes.

(Note: That time came, I played the updates, and it was good.)

Motorsport Manager

According to Steam Replay, this was my most played game of 2022 with 16% of all my logged hours on Steam for the year. All in January. There were also three entire months that I didn’t play any games at all. Terrible, awful, no good, very bad year.

Anyway, this game also kinda sucks, and that’s a shame.

There’s just… not really anything to do. This isn’t much of a management game at all, it’s just a lot of watching and waiting and hoping for the best. There’s DLC to add entire other motorsports, and they change nothing about the experience. Watch and wait, hope for the best, spend money on an upgrade after an hour, repeat ad infinitum. I’d really like a motorsport management game that’s fun to play and actually has stuff to do and decisions to make in it, but that’s not this one. This one is an idle game wearing the skin of a management game, requiring regular minimal input just to “hold your attention” and give the illusion of gameplay through minor influence.

It feels like a mobile game. That’s because it is.

No thanks.

Software Inc

It is very rare for me to buy anything on Steam while it’s still in early access, because I have a lot of problems with the concept and a bad history with the products. This product, however, I bought ages ago, before my stance against early access got so vehement. I played it a couple times in alpha, but I picked it up again recently in beta, and… yeah, it’s definitely still not finished. But that’s not a bad thing either.

All I wanted was a micromanagement type of game to zone out with (again), and that’s exactly what I got. After sinking a whole day into it, I still only scratched the surface. All I ever managed to do was make some mediocre operating systems and office software, and never got to a large scale either, so I never had my own printers, which also means that I relied on publishers, and when those publishers go bankrupt (which happened surprisingly often) I had to manually order new copies of my software whenever it ran out of stock, which wasn’t fun at all. Really wish there was an option to automatically order copies as needed. That’s all I really have to complain about though.

Well, the game did also warn me when I first launched it that my filesystem being case sensitive could cause problems with the game, which sounds more than a little dumb on its own, but gets way dumber when you consider the fact that all linux filesystems are case sensitive… and I’m running the native linux version. But it didn’t cause problems so that’s just kinda funny.

I would have happily sank even more time into the game, but I had to put it down again because I don’t want to waste all my interest in the game before it comes out of early access, which I believe it will since the game has slowly but surely continued to get updates after all this time. When that day comes, I’ll dive deeper into the game and really figure it out.

Maybe one day I’ll write a whole big thing about why I don’t like early access, but for now, all I can say is I don’t recommend you buy this game now. Give it a look, and if you’re interested, wait for it to finish, then get the DRM free version.

Idol Manager

That’s right, a fourth management game! Nobody could have ever predicted this!

I have no idea what possessed me to play this game, honestly, because I hate the whole business and culture surrounding idol groups down to the very concept of their existence, to the point that I don’t even like joking about it. Logically I should have looked at the cover for this and immediately turned away, but 2022 was a very illogical year. It has some positive reception and one of my friends also seemed to have liked it, so I guess that’s all it took at the time, since I was on a constant search for brain dead time wasters.

And that’s exactly what this is. Brain dead. Not because of bad writing or bad gameplay, both of those things are fine actually, the management aspect of the game is even fairly challenging… for about two hours. The problem starts when the challenge goes away, because after that, the difficulty falls off a cliff and the game goes from idol manager to idle manager.

Once you start making good money, it becomes more difficult to lose money than to make more of it, and the only gameplay remaining at that point is the “management” part of the management game, meaning that you must simply remember to click on all the same boxes and wait for meters fill up to do exactly the same few things repeatedly to make big numbers get bigger. Really, a lot of management games could be boiled down to that if you wanted to be so trite, but the problem is that I’m not boiling it down, that’s just what it is on the surface. Money is the only thing you actually have to manage here, and once that’s taken out of the equation, there’s hardly anything left.

The only way to bring back the money problem is to willingly scale things up dramatically by hiring way more idols and way more staff all at once, but the cognitive load of having so many things constantly and simultaneously happening with or without your input along with having 40+ stat blocks to look at would destroy any potential for fun at that point, and the money problem would quickly disappear again anyway.

So, naturally, the challenge is replaced by random chance. There are random events that can cost you money, reputation, or the mental health of your idols if you don’t make the right choice, which can also be random sometimes, making it frustrating no matter the outcome. Every time you release a single or do a concert, random chance decides the outcome. Idols can take huge hits to their mental health completely out of nowhere at random too, if you allow them to date or use social media. Theoretically you can figure out some of what’s going on behind the scenes and causing those random events to happen by socializing with the idols and asking for gossip, but that’s random too. Hiring new idols is also random, which should be the least bad thing to randomize, but you draw them like cards in a gacha game and that makes me feel so gross. Not a single element of this game is satisfying without the money problem, and it all ranges from frustrating to uncomfortable. So I guess it’s a pretty accurate depiction of the idol entertainment industry at least.

But I mentioned writing earlier, and even called it fine, so I must be playing for the story, right?

It took 14 hours for it to start. I don’t care enough to say anything else about it.

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