Fat Cat Simulator 2014: Play To Build A Better Mousetrap

Making that cheese, that cheddar, that Gouda, that mozzarella...

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.

My race to automate was just kicking off.

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.


  1. Arkanos says:

    I know it makes me a bad person, but I won by locking up everyone who revolted against The Company, and turning all the tasks to automation. Only had to make 105 products to get there, too. But in my defense… those jerks get pissed off even when they get paid as much as possible. They’re all “I’ve been working for you for so many years, you need to bankrupt yourself to pay me!”

    Which is not at ALL how real companies in the real world work. They’d rather let the workers go poor. :(

    • Arkanos says:

      My next win, I replaced all the workers with machines but left the brains under mouse-power and paid them the maximum wages while they worked to make better products. I won with 129 products. Now to try to win with automated research. :D

      I don’t think it’s possible to win without replacing some mice, though. And honestly, I think it is the factory-worker mice that need to go. :(

      • Arkanos says:

        I’m surprised, but I won in 127 products after replacing all my smart-mice with computers, but leaving the factory workers as mice. Still, the most “efficient” method is to replace everything with machines.

        • Arkanos says:

          Yeah, I just can’t do it. It isn’t a problem of not paying my mice enough… there just isn’t enough demand for the products to support a pure-mouse workplace. If I sell too much, the factory line stops(for some reason), I don’t get paid enough, I can’t pay my workers. But if I replace either side, R&D or manufacturing, with automation then my costs are low enough that I don’t have a problem. And if I replace both, my costs are relatively non-existent. I just can’t… keep a pure-mouse workforce. No matter how hard I try. :(

          • tormos says:

            I think the factory line stops if all the mice in the bottom row are either protesting or in jail

          • Arkanos says:

            Yep, demand goes down slowly after you introduce a new product and after you hit 6-cheese per product it takes longer to design something new than the length of demand lasts so you run out of money.

          • Arkanos says:

            It is supply/demand issues. There is a gray-bar that fills up as you produce a product and per each feeding-cycle the maximum size of it goes down, until you make a new product. Sadly, this makes it neigh impossible to keep a fully mouse-only company. Either way, I much prefer the insurrection-ending. It is way better than locking all the mice up while automating all the work, and letting just one guy become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

    • Viroso says:

      How do I lock’em up?

      • SuddenSight says:

        If you pick a mouse that is currently protesting, the security cat at the bottom of the screen will move over one space to allow you to incarcerate them.

    • Crafter says:

      I have been able to retire after 98 products :
      -nobody ever got any raise, everybody works for one point.
      -you complain about your salary ? you are fired, someone will do your job for one point
      -you revolt ? go in prison (or to work for minimum wage, if I have just fired someone).

      I also built some computers and robots but not too many in order to still have some workers.

  2. AlexHeartnet says:

    I tried replacing all the mice with automation. They got a little…upset…because they didn’t have cheese to eat anymore.

    In a more just world, all this automation would mean the mice could have their cheese without actually having to work for it.

    • tormos says:

      Which is essentially what the game (and the author) are advocating. Have you gotten the “revolution” ending yet?

    • Gap Gen says:

      This is kinda the way the world is going, though. Automation is killing a lot of jobs (although to be the power imbalance caused by neoliberalism and poor monetary/fiscal policy in the wake of the recession is also to blame for high unemployment), and yet society vilifies unemployment. There are a lot of assholes who don’t accept that certain social trends are systemic rather than a sign of individual personal flaws, and as automation eats up jobs (many of which wouldn’t have been all that fun anyway), we’re going to have to find a new way to value people that isn’t based on fear and hatred for the disenfranchised. So basically we’re fucked.

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        Bluerps says:

        Yeah. As always. :/

      • AngelTear says:

        As Marx said, the means of production tend to advance but the power relations and the structure of society tends to be stable, until the point where the two are irreconcilable and something breaks.

        I agree with AlexHeartnet, with enough automation the costs of production and the man-hours would be so low that people could get many products without having to pay for them. But then, people call you communist, as if that was a bad thing. If you extend that idea as far as it can go, most jobs, especially repetitive jobs could be automated, and humanity would be rid of the biblical curse of having to sweat for one’s food, so it could focus on everything else that cannot be automated, mostly things that require creativity.

        If you’re interested in these ideas, an interesting (and free) series of documentaries was made that explores them better than I can do here. It’s called Zeitgeist and I think the second one is the best place to start:

        • tormos says:

          you guys these ideas are interesting but Zeitgeist is a super terrible way to explore them. It includes, among other things, 9/11 conspiracy theories and whatnot. Just go read Chomsky or something instead.

          • AngelTear says:

            That’s why I suggested to start from the second one. It cuts down on conspiracies and is also a lot more propositive instead of just critical.
            (Not that the 9/11 conspiracy is necessarily false, but it puts a lot of people off just hearing it mentioned, and I wanted to avoid it as it’s completely off topic)

            Obviously reading Chomsky is excellent, and more people should, but I thought a (free) film might be more accessible.

    • Karsus says:

      How is that “more just” for the poor bastard who owns the automated systems?

  3. SuddenSight says:

    I’m not what certain message this game is trying to send, and I don’t think it achieves it.

    I played through twice. The first time I focused on automization, switching to computing once all my mice started rioting. Then I got a full row of automatons and all my mice started a no-work nirvana dance.

    The second time I tried to get there with no computing or automation, but after the fifth product upgrade or so I stopped getting rewarded for completed products? The game just played a sad noise and the product disappeared, with no new food.

    It looks and feels nice to play, but I would like more instruction on what is going on. And the game has neither made me consider my opinions of labor and automation, nor do I feel the game accurately reflects the interaction between union and labor. Lost products feels like a really cheap way to make the no-automation/computing course fail. And labor disputes seem like they are solved a little too easily.

    The graphic design is nice, and the controls are intuitive (at least when I actually know what I am controlling).

    • tormos says:

      the not getting rewards for things means one of your factory workers is sabotaging production. You need to figure out which one (scan the production line until you see where boxes start to look misshapen) and then drag them off to jail and bring in a scab, er, replacement, sorry.

      • Arkanos says:

        Not quite. Even if the boxes are perfectly well-formed, they just won’t go through the end. They’ll back-up really far.

        • tormos says:

          per my comment up above, that’s a slightly different problem where the boxes stop getting sold if all the mice in the bottom row are protesting or in jail (presumably because there’s no longer adequate demand)

          • SuddenSight says:

            Either way, the game is rubbish at sending a political message.

            There are so many problems you can have from trying to keep a mousey labor force (wages, striking, apparently sabotage). And the only punishment for firing everyone is that they get a little rowdy.

            Meanwhile, the machines always work perfectly from the start (no need to upgrade, no maintenance, no dangers, no technicians required to operate).

            I understand now that the author wants to advocate automation, but the game seems to have little to no connection with how real business works.

            Still, a good game to look at for the excellent graphical design.

          • Gap Gen says:

            “There are so many problems you can have from trying to keep a mousey labor force (wages, striking, apparently sabotage). And the only punishment for firing everyone is that they get a little rowdy.”

            That sounds pretty much like how the post-2007 economy works. I assume that there’s a button you can press to ignore a deepening social crisis and just order more water cannons?

          • Lacero says:

            I think you’re projecting more sense on to the game than it possesses. I had everyone locked up and a fully automated factory printing money until retirement.

            As always the problem with political games turns out to be they’re bad games and bad politics.
            (shout out to the redistricting game which manages both really well)

  4. Viroso says:

    Can I not bankrupt?

    • Arkanos says:

      Sacrifice your workers to the gods of automation! Or fire them all and let them revolt, rather than throwing them into jail.

      • Viroso says:

        I just kept making automatons and then randomly a bunch of mice started dancing. What?

  5. Om says:

    So what exactly are the victory/loss conditions?

    • Frank says:

      these might be spoilers, but…

      win — full cheese vat
      lose — everyone protesting or incarcerated on the first floor

  6. fightclubdoll says:

    I like the concept. The art is less than inspiring, but the idea is especially intriguing to me.
    The notion of unemployed mice, is pretty irresistible, too, then again, I may be part cat.
    I wonder if my best laid plans would work out?

    …You win. I’ve got to try it. =-)
    Thanks for the info.

  7. darkshadow42 says:

    Looks like you can win through quite a few different means.

    First time I lost due to a revolt, causing all the mice to replace the jobs with machines and computer and started dancing while the cats were locked up.

    Second time I went bankrupt as despite paying them loads the mice still sabotaged research/production

    Third time I won with going pure product no machines, paid as little as possible any works who started protesting were promoted to R&D which made them happier. That worked well until all the jobs were full and I had to put protesters and saboteurs in jail.

    I then tried winning by going full automation, seems like there aren’t any victory conditions for that and nobody is happy as nobody gets paid. The second time I seemed to trigger both a revolt and retirement at the same time which was best of both worlds :P

    • Ditocoaf says:

      I won by going full automation at one point. You need to rely on workers to research quickly (and also upgrade the product every so often to keep demand high), but once you have enough machines to do most of the work, you can just watch the unemployment line closely and toss people in jail as soon as they start breaking things.

  8. Harlander says:

    I built a utopia where none need scrabble by the sweat of their brow to survive.

    You’d think the rabble would be more grateful than to lock me up, really. No matter. It is a sacrifice I make willingly.

  9. Consumatopia says:

    Without any automation, without any wage increases, continually switching dissatisfied factory workers to design, dissatisfied designers to the unemployed, and unemployed to the factory, I retired after producing 86. Switching through all three states seems to prevent the mice from becoming criminals–factory workers eventually want to be promoted to design (even if design pays no more). Designers eventually want more money–instead, fire them and their wage demands fall as they become desperate. As long as you don’t leave them unemployed long enough to start banging the ceiling, you can put them back on the factory floor.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I could “improve” that to 73 by emphasizing research over production. The release notes ( link to molleindustria.org ) shed a bit more detail on the connection between the mechanics and the message.

      EDIT: 54! Do some research at the beginning with the conveyor belt idle.

      EDIT: I’m an idiot! The obvious thing to do here is to focus the mice on building the first computer, then fire/jail them all and have that one computer build everything else. I retired after producing 24 units–which still don’t think is optimal, you want to produce only the 6-piece units, but to do so without having a bunch of unsold product between designs is tricky.

      • likethemagician says:

        I took your advice about building one computer and having that design the rest. Only paid one office worker three pay periods of one cheese to get that computer. Jailed everybody else. Then, I didn’t sell anything until I hit 6 cheese per item and retired in 21 items.

        • Consumatopia says:

          Awesome! We are very good at exploiting mouse labor! ;-)