By Alice O'Connor on May 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm.
With a long weekend in full swing for (many of) us here in the UK, why not kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy a pleasant little management simulator? Those scallywags at molleindustria released To Build a Better Mousetrap on Thursday (International Workers’ Day, that was), putting players in charge of developing, making, and selling goods, as well as–sigh, I guess–making sure your rodentine workers are happy enough. Apparently that’s quite difficult to juggle, and arguably the happiest outcome doesn’t involve you at all.
As one would expect from molleindustria, it’s a ‘political game.’ (Not that all games aren’t political–avoiding detection by reproducing political values so central to our culture we scarcely notice them–but this is more overt.) But if you don’t fancy any of that talk, hey, it’s a pretty fun video game too!
To Build a Better Mousetrap is about managing and balancing the needs of three different areas: a research and development team, a manufacturing line, and the unemployed. Manufacturing endlessly make goods to sell. R&D develop newer, more exciting, and more expensive products, but also can create automated research computers and manufacturing robots to replace workers. The unemployed, well, they get hungry and upset.
Workers receive a regular supply of cheese to keep them happy and working but grow more and more unhappy over time, wanting more cheese to keep their spirits up then disrupting work if they’re ignored. You can up wages, but that comes out your retirement fund. Heck, why not save trouble by firing them and bringing in an idle mice? And if they start revolting, bang ‘em up! It’s all done quite simply by dragging mice around the screen and adjusting little wage valves, but quickly gets hectic.
And oh, it’s quite elegant. Rather than reeling off political texts and quotes, To Build a Better Mousetrap’s reflects its politics in play. To keep your business going, you need to keep people happy and fed enough that they don’t kick off but not so much that they eat into your profits. You can fire them if they hold up work, then if they get so unhappy unemployed that they start to smash at your foundations, you can bang them in the slammer to cool off.
On the attempt where I ‘beat’ the apparent goal of retiring with a giant vat of cheese, I had focused on new products for a while then shifted to automating as much as possible. Only, needing to also keep developing new products meant that I couldn’t devote enough R&D time to building a full lineup of machines. I needed to keep a few mice on, miserable, earning the highest wage but turning unhappy almost instantly after being fed. Every unemployed mouse was imprisoned by the end. The fat cat (a mouse you give that role at the start of the game) did get to retire in old age having produced 185 items. Hooray.
It’s a game largely preaching to the choir, of course, but does so in a pleasing way and heck, it’s fun to play. Happy bank holiday weekend, everyone! Especially if you are working this weekend.