What Makes Management Sims Great?
If you play enough modern titles, you will inevitably, at some point, find yourself numb to the violence that has made itself at home with the most recent games. A dozen AAA releases a year featuring a first-person military shooter or boring open world and a dull protagonist cut from the same piece of thick cardboard as last year can become quite grating as every session seems to blend.
The cure to this grave illness has been indie games for a while now. Gems such as Celeste and Hollow Knight have started to gain legitimate attention and are complete departures from the copy-pasted open-world objectives. In contrast to the mainstream, playing these indies gives you an appreciation for the amount of work small teams put into these games, every interaction and level unique due to the team's personal touches.
However, another growing trend is the increasing difficulty of some seemingly cute and innocent games. These games are undoubtedly masterpieces, but it often feels as if a state of panicked stress has replaced the irritating ubiquity of the yearly franchises as you try to make a dozen pixel-perfect movements in a row during late Celeste levels. Both of these types of games have a place in the industry; however, there is room for a different kind of game; a more slow-paced experience.
Many people believe that these are casual, easy games, but that isn’t the case. Management sims are an excellent opportunity for the player to explore slow and deliberate thinking instead of the twitchy reactions that come with most games.
These titles give the player opportunity for creativity, spatial and logical reasoning, and much more. For most people, these are not skills tested consistently. There is also tremendous satisfaction in completing a project within a management game. Automating a section of my Factorio factory is far more satisfying than leaving behind another room of lifeless ragdolls in a shooter, even if the moment-to-moment gameplay is not as explicitly “fun.” There is also an essential distinction between management games and management in games. You’d be surprised to see how many titles have little touches of spatial puzzling to make the action seem less mindless.
Management in Traditional Games
The Witcher 3 has several inventory menus. You can customize protagonist Geralt’s armor, weapons, and other gear, as well as his horse’s armor. You can craft potions using ingredients found in the game world, each with a unique effect. Taking too many potions can cause damage from alcohol poisoning. You can also slot upgrades known as “mutagens” into limited inventory spaces to improve Geralt’s skills further.
Certain materials are worth selling instead of using, but determining which is at the player's discretion. These mechanics are examples of management that optimize Geralt by giving him minor advantages over opponents in the open world. You can almost consider them two different games; one takes place in the inventory menus to improve the other in the open world. Next time you notice a game with some mechanic inspired by management sims, take note. The Witcher 3 is far from unique in this strategy, but it requires another level of commitment to creating a game that exclusively revolves around management.
City Builder games might be the first subgenre you think of within management games. This subgenre has two different types: casual or survival. Casual games, such as Cities: Skyline, have the sole goal of placing buildings and other infrastructure until you’ve gone from a small plot of land to a metropolis.
Gain cash by making room for more civilians and make decisions to improve the economy, such as free transportation to reduce traffic or restricting a coastal district to certain types of businesses to improve their output. It’s a low-stress environment for future politicians or anyone who would enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor manifest in a vast city, and you might find hours slip away before you can blink.
Survival games, such as Frostpunk and Surviving Mars, are different beasts. It boils down to a stressful slow-burn that can shave years off of your life as you watch your civilization’s oxygen meter in Surviving Mars deplete with no way to recover it. These games also exist in the Real-Time Strategy genre, with features that tend to overlap.
My favorite of this group is They Are Billions, the post-apocalyptic zombie flavor of the subgenre. This category is usually more about space and resource management. In They are Billions, resource management uses sawmills and quarries to gather resources, barracks to train soldiers, and walls and other defenses to keep the endless hordes at bay. Loads of other buildings such as farms, inns, warehouses, and research centers affect your progress.
The less compact your territory is, the more you need to invest in new resources to keep it sustainable. It’s more about functionality than appearance in this case, as one ill-defended corner of your settlement can topple hours of progress in seconds. If you want a chance of making it to the end, you’ll need to plan ahead of the threat. In contrast to more casual experiences, every second can feel like an hour as you run through the countless possibilities that stem from placing a building in the wrong spot.
Online Management Games
The Civilization games are the quintessential online management game. You’re duking it out with other players, representing a different historical nation. Negotiation, deception, and simultaneous economic and physical power over your opponent are essential.
Joining the Civilization games are Anno and Age of Empires. They are perfect for history buffs, as fighting a human is often more exciting than a predictable computer.
You have tycoon and business management games on the less morbid side of the genre. You can find a lot of these titles on mobile devices and Steam. Idle Supermarket Tycoon and AdVenture Capitalist are a surprising amount of fun.
On PC, Rollercoaster Tycoon is a classic. These titles are more about optimizing cash. Cookie Clicker has a straightforward and efficient design, cutting out everything but the essential, and that’s part of its charm. It's like running a business with the bonus of not having to respond to angry customers.
Factory management games like Factorio are about maximum satisfaction. There is a lot more freedom in these games, and you have to get creative so that, with enough skill and effort, you can get the factory to run itself without any of your input.
Factorio, and most other games in the subgenre, are about as much logical thinking and creativity as you can spare. Try them at your own risk; however, I have known more than one friend to lose weeks to these games once they got sucked in.
Sports also have a place with management sims. Football Manager, Pro Cycling Manager, and more are popular due to the built-in interest of each sport, so getting the player’s attention isn’t difficult. World Championship Boxing Manager is a classic in this subgenre, as you spend time managing boxers in how they train, when they rest, and when they fight.
For its time, this game was a big step away from the arcade-inspired games that dominated sales by allowing the player to see the slow but steady progression of their boxers. Boxing is the perfect sport to adapt to this format, as boxing in real life requires a lot of time, effort, and strategy in training to see results in a real fight.
This slow build to extreme satisfaction defines what makes management games work, and World Championship Boxing Manager™ understands that perfectly. It was revolutionary at the time and, to this day, stands toe to toe with some of the most significant management games. These games focus on individual teams or athletes, giving the player a much more intimate connection to their success than managing a vast city. It’s also worth mentioning World Championship Boxing Manager™ 2, as it will shortly be joining this genre’s roster by reviving what worked in the dated original with modern touch-ups.
The management sim genre is an important one so that players have an opportunity to step away from the endless bullet hell that is modern AAA gaming as a more intelligent alternative. If any of these sound interesting to you, give them a shot, especially if you haven’t dabbled in management games before.
If you’re interested in something new and a little different, take a look at World Champion Boxing Manager™ 2! It may scratch that itch for you by reviving what worked from the original and a ton of new features to bring it up to modern standards. If you're just as excited as we are, add the game to your Steam wish list!
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