Broken Mouse Convention: the latest thread on incremental games (e.g. Cookie Clicker, etc.)

I’ve noticed a certain lack about incrementals and like to invite you to collect and discuss them. I have a good collection of save games and am always on the hunt for anything that makes “number go up”.

What’s an incremental?

Y’all have probably seen or heard Cookie Clicker from ᶜʰᵉᶜᵏˢ ⁿᵒᵗᵉˢ 2013. The game is still in some form of development. The appeal is pretty simple, as in shortcutting the positive feedback loop: you click the cookie, you have a cookie and enough cookies net you automation tool, you produce more cookies and produce more. Number go up.

Who in their right mind came up with that?

Cookie Clicker is not even the first of its category, but certainly the most popular and polished. Before that there was a good amount of incremental/idle games on Newgrounds on Kongregate which started exploring games as “anti-games”. Resist the urge to interact with the game and every time you intervened, you may have gotten more efficient means to produce the games currency but it will also reset your current progress. Idle Games never really took off beyond the platform because of the inherent punishment. On the scene arrived another strain of those “games” that were flash applets that automated themselves. And yes, that means you can mostly watch the “game” to automate itself.

I think my first contact with what eventually became incrementals was either Lemonda Tycoon or Insaniquarium. Insaniquarium lets you purchase fish that drop gold to purchase more fish to drop more gold.

Lemonade Tycoon is probably a very early variant of the stripped management game (probably due to production?) that emulate the other “Tycoon” games of the 2000s with focusing only on the number aspect and slight day-to-day optimizations. It’s probably a predecessor of what Kairosoft became, which then inspired Game Dev Tycoon, bringing at least the Tycoon name full circle.

The Incremental “Skeleton”

Most incrementals feature follow a simple structure and implement most of these:

  • a primary game currency that starts off with a bit of manual labor
  • an automation of gaining the currency
  • multiple affectors to multiply the net gain
  • a general tendency to let numbers go past sensible limits
  • idle mechanics where you’re waiting to pass certain thesholds
  • reset mechanics that promise to make the next run faster

The general incremental playthrough usually starts off slow, picks up the pace in the mid-game and then lets you optimize the midgame to reach the final stages in the endgame. Some games are so full of this tiered content, that you may unlock new reset mechanics that speed up progress that you made over the last months. I’m not kidding, some of these are very long form games that you nurture through your time with it.

Now, where do we start?

I’m thinking about this question in particular, because there are a good amount of variety and many games tap into the same lizard brain region that are not primarily an incremental but cause the same addicition to it. I’d like the thread to focus on incremental games and mechanics, but games that feature incremental itches are very welcome.

I think the most game-y one is Forager. It starts you off a small island and you optimize in the span of a couple of hours your farming progress, encountering enemies, quests and dungeons to do. It’s very much on the “game with incremental aspects” side, but as an introduction into my addiction of limit testing my mouse, it’s a pretty good start:

Otherwise I’ll recommend on the other extreme one of the most purest incrementals: Swarmsim
The gist is that you’re an ant-queen and the damn hive has to grow beyond the limits of existence. I think I’ve finished swarmsim in the span of 3-4 months and I’m sure I’ve spent my first evening well into the night trying to make the number to go up further. And then it transformed into a long form game experience where I’ve done my few clicks every day and transcended the hive to its full potential.

Note on the skewed focus

My personal flavor are (mostly) web browser only games that take some good time to complete. That’s mostly because I’m playing these over time and inbetween work and what not while moving between multiple PCs and just store the savegames on a NAS. I personally don’t engage with long-ish idler games on Steam, when I’m directly playing games, I’d like to engage with them and their systems. So my recommendations here are likely some dumb browser game that takes days or weeks to “complete”.

Side note on the “scene”

Incrementals are primarily a grass-roots thing. Some of the players are developers and just cook up a game in their free time or on competitions/game jams and then you end up with a lot of “unfinished” never updated games that are just another interesting spin on incrementals.
Incrementals are (mostly?) not a financially viable business. You have Forager and similar games, which are a game first and then borrow from incrementals, then you have Melvor Idle and Cookie Clicker that have patreons with no direct bonuses and then you have a ton of (mostly) mobile gacha games that play the same tricks on you like incrementals do, but give you the option to skip timers by paying for it.

Numbers are not supposed to go up like that but yet they do.

I’m currently playing Idle Formulas

It’s alright, it has a alright setting but is utterly bare-bones and is only half as engaging as I hoped it to be. My initial reaction was in fact pretty similar:


However, I’m now roughly ~10 days into it and am close-ish to finishing it. It has a tongue-in-cheek writing style and the premise is similarly pretty pure to swarmsim.

Without wishing to rain on your parade, there’s an incremental game thread here:


Also on focused on Antimatter Dimensions:

Another case of me going blind.

Shall I remove this and repost there?

I wouldn’t move this, honestly. That thread was started as a generic idle games thread, but after it was renamed to “Incremental Epic Hero 2”, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone looking for generic idle game discussion to look there. (And it’s fair enough, that game has 2x more discussion about IEH2 than about all other games combined.)

It seems better to have a clean generic idle game thread than try to reclaim a thread that’s doomed to be undiscoverable.

Another incremental game with a high engagement thread:

Fair assessment. I’ll be recommending a bunch of games I’ve played in the past in here and see if it picks up. Thanks for the input!

I’m fascinated by these games, but as soon as I hit some sort of hitch or stall, I feel like I “come to my senses” and just quit out and never play again. Sometimes even with a weird feeling of disgust, like I’d let myself get tricked.

The last one I spent any meaningful time attempting was Melvor Idle:

And when I quit, I’m pretty sure there was an absolute ton of stuff in there I’d never even seen. I wonder if this is my problem:


I wasn’t aware these games could be finished! This is clearly a genre I don’t fully understand or appreciate!

Yes, there are essentially three endings: story endings, you’ve-unlocked-the-last-type-of-incrementer endings, and sorry-the-game’s-not-done-yet endings.

Here’s one, a browser incremental game you’ll finish the same afternoon you start it.

Many of these have an actual endgame and endings. I have maxed out Melvor at some point (right around the corner when it became a full featured version) and still have a fully unlocked Melvor account for being part of the community before going 1.0.

Some games end up of just having nothing left to do. On Idle Formulas it has multiple endings that you can uncover and it seems to have some senseless post game on top of it. Maybe that part will be fleshed out eventually.

I looked at Lemonade Tycoon back in the day. I think the inspiration may be less the Tycoon-genre and more the 1970s MECC edutainment title, Lemonade Stand. (I also might be misremembering or engaging in wishful thinking because Lemonade Stand was as seminal for my gaming development as Oregon Trail but doesn’t get the same amount of love.)

Have you tried Universal Paperclips? It has a finish state, isn’t obscure in its mechanics, and is utterly addictive. I play and finish it every couple of years, it only takes a few hours of playing.

Space Plan is another one which has a definite endpoint, also recommended.

NGU Idle is still my favorite in the genre. Took me somewhere between 1 and 2 years to fully beat the game. I’d argue the final difficulty level (sadistic) is very poorly balanced and I lost a lot of steam getting through it. You could probably beat the game in closer to a year.

I’ve moved on to Melvor Idle - mostly for the Runescape nostalgia - which is a solid game in its own right.

NGU is great. In a similar vein, inspired by NGU is WAMI:

Then by the same developer (and a bit simpler):

I’m also playing one of the oldies but goodies that is somehow quite satisfying. This game is still being (somewhat) actively developed, even though it’s 8+ years old.

If you’re looking for a story and a game you can finish in a relatively short amount of time (space plan and universal paper clips are excellent) you can also check out:

There’s also this experiment which has been going on for a few years, and I think the developer is in some sort of analysis-paralysis where he wants to change one thing, and winds up changing ALL the systems in his game - this results in players hitting the end of the content pretty quickly, but it’s a great game until then:

I saw that Incremental Epic Hero 2 has started back up on at least some development after a long break, but I just don’t have the heart to dig back into that until the game has gotten a TON of updates - too many systems to remember to load that back up into my working memory unless I’m going to play it for a while.

Since there’s some discussion of history here, I feel like a couple other critical games in the history of Incremental Games are

Progress Quest

And Cow Clicker (which I think preceded Cookie Clicker, and was made as satire of Facebook games and then became incredibly profitable until the creator shut it down).

Dark Room is an excellent recommendation, it always kinda sticks with you, just because of how it continues and drives the narrative.

Is Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms any good?

I’ve finished Idle Formulas yesterday and it’s quite ok. The multiple endings and the final push on finishing the game was pretty nice, there is enough guidance to finish the game on your own. Took me 12d to complete.
Right when I finished, the developer announced that they’re working on a 2.0 version - so the save-game goes into the vault and then we shall see eventually.

The only annoying bit was that there’s a research button that needs to be manually clicked, which became pure Tedium™ eventually. There is some post game but it’s pointless.
There’s also a few things that could surely improved - the navigation is slightly disorienting and I wished for a calculator / formula testing. Reaching the end-game was also a bit annoying on a touchpad, but works much better with a dedicated mouse and keyboard in hand.