I started playing Kittens Game because of a VGHVI symposium on incremental games. I’d played Paperclips a few times, but Kittens Game turned out to have quite a different rhythm.

To begin with, it’s slower paced, in fact quite a bit slower paced. Fairly soon I got to a situation where I could productively click in the game maybe once a minute, and where I had an interesting decision to make (as opposed to just clicking because a meter had filled up) closer to once an hour. And wow, having a game like that on my laptop really messed up my blogging: it’s way too easy to have my browser window peeking out behind my text editor, and to have the former distract me because I was constantly checking if I should click on something.

That was an interesting psychological experiment; it did actually have benefits in giving me a challenge in terms of managing my focus, and in experiencing a quite different rhythm of reward curve compared to what I’m normally used to. And, as I progressed through the reward curve, the overall rhythms of the game changed, too: as I would unlock technologies, I’d gain access to a new material at a very low production rate, then I’d gain access to abilities that would let me increase production, and then eventually (days, weeks later) that material would no longer feel like a major bottleneck, and a few weeks after that, my production would be up a hundredfoldfrom where it had been.


Normally, I don’t plays games with a guide, but Kittens Game is the sort of game that even I will look at the wiki of: if I’m only going to have an opportunity to advance in the tech tree once or twice an evening, then I’m going to want to at least have a fairly precise description of what the different options do. And, reading through the wiki (and occasional other advice posts), I’d come to mentions of resetting the game to speed things up; at first I assumed that I’d just stick things out, but eventually I realized that, no, the game really is designed under the assumption that you’re going to reset it periodically.

I still stuck it out longer than most people do on their first run, I suspect, but eventually I decided that it was going to take long enough for me to unlock the next technology that I wasn’t going to enjoy it: I’d enjoy the game more going back to the beginning just because the early technologies unlock a lot faster than the later ones. So I decided to reset and see what the bonuses for resetting felt like.

When resetting, the main benefit you get is something called “paragon”, that you (more or less) can’t get any other way. It increases your production rate somewhat (at least the first few times you reset, there’s a cap); it also increases your storage caps for the different materials (no caps on that one).

The production rate bonus is pretty obvious: things unlocked faster the second time than the first time. But the storage cap was more subtle, and ultimately more profound: over and over again when playing the game, you’d have a goal in mind to purchase, you’d need certain amounts of materials to be able to make that purchase, but you wouldn’t actually be able to store that much material. So you’d buy storage buildings to increase your storage before you could achieve your key goal. (And this would recurse: sometimes your key goal itself would be a storage building, so you’d have to buy worse storage buildings to increase capacity first!) So what the storage capacity increase meant was that you didn’t have to spend as much time buying buildings for storage capacity: you could spend more of your production on more substantial advancements. So, in other words, paragon actually increased your productivity in two separate ways, not just one.


Not all items had a storage cap, though: raw materials do, but manufactured materials (which you construct out of other materials) don’t. Which led to another kind of production boost (one that’s applicable even on your first run through the game): two buildings in the game let you increase the quantity of manufactured materials you get every time you construct them. So those buildings also give you a subtle production boost; and, because some of the manufactured materials are themselves constructed out of other manufactured materials, this boost actually can get magnified.

For example, there’s a good called “blueprints” that you can either acquire through trade (rarely, it only happens on 10% of trades), or by taking furs (a raw material) and then creating parchment, then turning the parchment into manuscripts, then the manuscripts into compendia, and finally the compendia into blueprints. At each phase, you need a large amount of the prior material to turn into the next material (sometimes 25 items, sometimes 50), so it takes a ludicrous number of furs to turn into a single blueprint; you’ll always acquire them through trade. But as your manufacturing bonus increases, that changes: if you get a 2x manufacturing bonus at each stage, then you can produce blueprints 16x as efficiently; if you have a 3x bonus, then you can produce them 81x as efficiently; if you have a 4x bonus, then you can produce them 256x as efficiently; and all of a sudden producing them directly instead of through trade starts seeming pretty reasonable.


So: lots of ways to increase your capability. Buildings (and kittens that arrive in your village!) can increase your production capacity directly (actually through two methods, but never mind that); paragon can give an additional direct production boost; paragon gives a storage boost that also increases the effectiveness of your production; and the manufacturing bonus means that, as you construct more of two special kinds of buildings (which is, of course, easier if your production caps are higher), your production of some kinds of goods can get much more efficient.

And, with all of that, on my second playthrough, I made it past the wall that I’d hit the first time; so I reached the moon and constructed mining facilities to get a new raw material, called unobtainium. With that, I managed to unlock the Metaphysics technology path, which lets you spend paragon to unlock permanent benefits (i.e. ones that persist across resets); and the most prominent early ones to buy make buildings cheaper. Each building’s price increases exponentially as you buy more of them; these first few metaphysics lower the the base of that exponent.


And, ultimately, that’s what Kittens Game is about: it’s a meditation on the nature of exponential growth. You want to build more buildings; the cost of those buildings starts out low but increases exponentially. For buildings made from raw materials, you’ll eventually hit a cap because of your storage; as you increase that cap, you can build more. And for buildings made from manufactured materials, you’ll hit a soft cap based on the amount of time you’re willing to wait. But if you can decrease the base of the exponent, you’ll make it farther; if you can increase your manufacturing capability, you’ll make it farther.

Eventually, you give up and reset; but by doing that, you’ll have improved some of these numbers, so you can make it faster next time. As your abilities improve, you’ll unlock new materials and production mechanisms that provide different spins on these mechanics.

And you do all of this at a quite slow place. Which might make it more boring, but somehow the slow place combines with the numerical austerity of the mechanics to force you to confront and appreciate how the numbers work. Of course, as your abilities increase across resets, the initial progress gets faster and faster; but the later materials and mechanisms slow you down in term, playing with time in different ways. So you’re always being forced to spend time with the game, seeing what there is to think about.


It’s a strange game. I spent months playing it, letting it work its way into my life more than I was completely comfortable with. But Kittens Game has a real purity to it, and in its own way it’s very well designed: the challenges flow into each other extremely well, constantly providing a new perspective on time and exponential growth.

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