I was gifted a copy of Little Big Workshop during the Steam Winter Sale last year, and like most things I acquire during sales, it completely slipped my mind to actually play it until I spotted it in the August Humble Choice. Oops.
I went in with fairly low expectations – although there have been a lot of really great management / tycoon games, there have also been a lot of really really bad ones. This one is absolutely charming, but although I’ve played it pretty compulsively over the last couple of days, truth is – it’s not really anything special.
Little Big Workshop is different from a lot of management games in that it’s not scenario based. Although you have ample opportunities to upgrade your factory, the game never asks you to open a second factory, or take over a dilapidated building in another town. Where you start is, pretty precisely, where you’ll end the game. For some people that might be a point in its favor – for me, it’s a little disappointing.
If you include the tutorial, there are five sets of “milestones” for you to work towards. I have not actually finished the game yet (I ran out of money while working towards my fourth set of milestones, and decided to restart), but I’d hazard a guess that the whole thing could be finished in about 10-12 hours.
This might, in fact, be the most mediocre game I’ve ever played obsessively. There’s very little I can point to and say “This is bad.” I found a way to disable the things that annoyed me most – fixed camera angles, and ridiculous “events” that I found more frustrating than fun. The tutorial is 100% skippable and unless you’ve been away from the game a long time, there’s no compelling reason to do it more than once.
There are some really neat things here – I love setting up blueprints step by step to make the product fit the factory I’ve built. In fact, there are a lot of cool little details in the building of things. You can link identical workstations together with a billboard, and it automatically splits up tasks (mostly) efficiently. Storage areas can be pretty freely resized, you can add shelving for more space, and once unlocked, you can even attach storage areas to different machines to keep the things they need handy, or set one up near your loading bays for finished items only.
When I’m playing the game, I am completely engaged. When I step back from it, I’m not sure what kept me playing for hours. The aesthetic is fantastic. Everything else is just a little bit off what you expect from a good production management game, but not off enough to make it a full-on chore to play. Sure, your workers might be passing out because the break room is out of coffee or snacks, but someone else will just start doing their job sooner or later. They’ll be better after a nap.
I realize this is not exactly a rave review, and I don’t think the small bit of the game I have left to unlock is going to do anything to change my mind. It’s not bad for what it is – a first game from small team with a neat idea. It’s not meaty enough to be a truly great management game, and it’s nowhere near easy enough to be a good casual game. It occupies some weird in between space that I found strangely compelling, but once I’m done with it, I doubt I’ll recall it fondly. In fact, likely as not, I won’t really ever think about it again.