Earlier this year, I played Crank and The Barnacle Goose Experiment. And, as I noted at the time:

Ultimately, I think the lesson here is that what I really want is more Kittens Game.

So I dived back into Kittens Game. And, you know what: it’s an amazingly good game. You can see the spreadsheet there right beneath the surface; but it’s a really good spreadsheet!


Just the first run experience felt super well done. It would gradually lead you from material to material, from concept to concept. Over and over you’d hit the end of some particular leveling curve, but you’d realize that, in making that progress, a new leveling curve was available for you. Maybe an obvious one (starting from a new building or a new kind of metal, for example), but fairly frequently you’d get access to a new game tab, introducing you to a whole new concept.

Eventually, the curves would run out: most ways of advancing would be shut off, and the only way to get enough storage to reopen them would take multiple days, or even multiple weeks to build. And then you do your first reset; and you start over, but with each building producing slightly more quickly or providing slightly more storage. Which starts to get at what makes Kittens Game special: it’s not just about artfully designed growth curves, it’s about getting an appreciation for how those growth curves change as you play with the parameters. Yes, exponential growth beats out linear growth, but the constant factors in those equations have an effect! (With extra spice coming from the low-degree polynomials that are sprinkled into the mechanics.)

So, the second time through, you’re making progress more quickly; it’s still not a quick game, it’ll take weeks, but eventually you’ll make it to the moon and be able to start mining unobtanium. And that in turn unlocks upgrades called “metaphysics”; some of those decrease the base of the exponents. So, after resetting a second time and starting your third run through the game, you’ll start to be able to produce quite a bit more quickly, because of the extra buildings that you’ll be able to build from a given amount of a material. And, in turn, you’ll be able to make it farther into space.


That’s about the level of mechanisms that I’d explored the last time I played the game. But I went farther this time, and I’m glad I did. In particular, the game lets you take on various challenges: these have you restart the game with some aspect of the play space either walled off or made much more difficult to use. And playing that way provides yet another way that the game lets you understand the impact of the different systems: how they play out, how they interact, how the scaling factors have an effect.

And, of course, completing those challenges gives benefits as well. So that’s yet another mechanism that enables you to appreciate different aspects of the growth curves in the game.


I made it farther, but I didn’t make it to the end game exploration that the wiki talks about. Part of that is that I hit one part of the growth curve that wasn’t to my taste; I asked for advice on the Discord and got some advice for how to make faster progress, which helped, but it was still a bit of a slog.

And, in particular, even the faster version was a slog in a way that required way too much action from me. The thing about clicker games is that, well, they require clicking. Which is fun if you’re in the mood; but eventually the require less clicking and more waiting; that’s good in a different, more mellow way, because it lets you check in every hour or so while mostly doing something else.

Just operating in that last mood does require discipline: for example, I found that, if I spent too much time thinking about the game, it actually messed with my sleep, so eventually I adopted a rule that I would stop playing the game an hour before bedtime, and if I woke up in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t check on it, even if I probably had unlocked buildings. So, for all of its virtues, I can’t unconditionally recommend Kittens Game: it really does require care to have it not take over your life in an uncomfortable way.

And I’d already started to wonder if I’d reached a point where it wasn’t quite worth it: the problem with those growth curves speeding up as you improve them in various different ways is that you spend more time clicking and less time waiting! Clicking instead of waiting for 5 minutes is good, because it gives you something to do during those 5 minutes; clicking instead of waiting for an hour is maybe not so good, though, because there’s lots of other things you can do with a free hour. So, as the waiting decreased, Kittens Game would take over evenings that I had budgeted for doing something other than playing video games.


In particular, when I reached the place that I mentioned above where I asked the Discord for help, the answer was: reset the game every couple of hours. And, indeed, I could make progress that way; but that meant that I was contantly in the “frequent clicking” part of the growth curve.

I tried that for a while, and it was fun in its own way. (And fun in a different way from my previous experiences with the game: yet another texture that the game revealed to me.) But it was messing with my life, and it was still taking long enough that I’d be stuck in that phase for a while.

I could have shifted back to the way I’d been making progress before I’d asked for help; that would have been better for my game / life balance, but the earlier method really was a lot slower, it honestly might have taken me a year to get to the next part of the game’s design space that way. I could repeat challenges to push on some of the relevant curves; I did that for a while, it helped (and was interesting), but it didn’t really make enough progress to resolve my dilemma.


So I stopped. Which is fine; that happens with games that don’t have clear ending points. There’s nothing magical about the so-called “end game” in Kittens Game, after all, it’s just where the growth mechanism peter out in the current stage of development, it’s not like it’s some big narrative conclusion or anything.

And I’m definitely glad I spent the time with Kittens Game that I did: in its own way, it’s absolutely one of the best games I played this year. And it’s good in a such a different way from other non-clicker games I’ve played; and Kittens Game is a much much better clicker game than any other one I’ve played other than Universal Paperclips. (Which I definitely appreciate more now than when I first played it.)

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