There’s nothing more satisfying than creating an efficient set of processes which all work together in order to produce something. The last game I played which was like this was Automachef, a game in which you design and create an automatic food production line and watch as all the pieces come together, one by one, just before they’re shipped out to the hungry customers. This week I’ve been playing a similar game called Little Big Workshop, only instead of making food I’ve been creating hoverboards, robots, cupboards, and rubber ducks!
Mirage Game Studios was founded by four people in 2016 in collaboration with THQ Nordic, yet since then the game and company have grown much bigger. HandyGames, the international publisher for smaller games within the THQ Nordic catalogue, are the publishers. This game came out of nowhere for me, I love this type of game as I’m obsessed with the ‘idle’ genre on my iPad and casually sitting there and watching everything come together with very little input from myself.
However, once you get to a certain point within the game, I found that you need to up your game and micro-manage often if you wish to succeed – this revelation came after a number of ‘defeats’ which caused me to change my playstyle. Is this a game which casual gamers will enjoy, or is it too complicated and strategic? Let’s find out…
There is no conventional story within Little Big Workshop, you’re simply the Godly manager in charge of a small table-top workshop (literally), overseeing and planning the creation of orders for a number of distributors. It’s essentially an open sandbox which allows you to do whatever you want, within the confines of the game mechanics, in order to make money and expand your ‘small’ empire. Not only can you take orders from various ‘interesting’ individuals, but you can simply play the market by creating and selling a range of products, meeting their demand and selling when the price is high.
Little Big Workshop is a mixture of gameplay mechanics, it has a very strong resource management side to it, ensuring you have enough workers and tools to complete the task at hand, but it’s also strategic as the actual planning of each creation is even more important than simply owning the right machine. You also have to do what many of us struggle with within the real world, manage your money in an efficient way and don’t spend too much without being fully convinced you can make it all back before you go bankrupt.
This game is hard, it’s not Dark Souls-hard, but it will test your managerial skills and frustrate you when you get deep within the game and find you can’t recover from the stupid mistakes you made a few hours back. There are technical issues as well as some fantastical events which will pull you out of the immersion of this magical workshop which is sat upon your dining room table, but I’ll discuss those later. For now, let’s see what you can actually do within Little Big Workshop and just how deep and strategic this game can actually get…
Initially, Little Big Workshop is a simple game which doesn’t really require much thought or in-depth planning. One of the first tasks is to set up a gnome production line for your only distributor/customer. This is simple, build a workstation and have your employees carve a piece of wood into a cute gnome-like figure then load it onto the van to complete your task. I then tried my hand at making a rubber duck, this one involved having a plastic moulding station so the little guys can create the duck-shaped floatable, then a painting station where they could (I presume) turn them into Tubbz collectables, followed by shipping them off for a semi-decent profit.
Before long, you’ll be asked to complete bigger projects (all optional) or you can simply make fancier items that bring in a much bigger profit – this is where things get very strategic and exciting. There are a lot of different workstations you can buy, unlocking more as time goes on, each either capable of doing multiple tasks at reduced efficiency or a single task with a much faster and efficient rate. Seeing as some tasks require a lot of parts to be made, such as 30+ wooden panels to be cut for various uses, you can also group workstations of the same type together so that a single work order can be distributed automatically.
As the workshop gets bigger and more machine-heavy, you’ll need to begin to automate various aspects and use the queuing system to your advantage. You’ll also have to think about investing in a second or third set of grouped workstations so that you can easily take on multiple jobs at the same time in order to stay afloat and not succumb to money issues – once you hit -5,000 ‘coins’, it’s game over. This very strict and rather unfair financial criterion was the cause of much frustration and anger as I played the game – there’s no bank or one-off support if you hit it, it’s a simple ‘Game Over, Press X to return to the main menu’…
Casual or hands-on
When I first played Little Big Workshop, I did what most people would do; I set up my workshop, grouped various stations together, then sat back and watched as my mini-employers did their job which I was apparently paying them to do. However, it wasn’t long until I began to realise we weren’t meeting deadlines, it was costing more to employ these tiny teammates than the profit I earnt, and taking on multiple jobs at once seemed like something I shouldn’t even consider due to constantly declaring bankruptcy. Then I realised what the issue was.
The grouping of the same workstations can help out a lot but it can also screw you over if you’re not careful.
This was when I started to micro-manage and take more of an interest in what my desktop dwarfs were actually doing. If you have 30 tables queued up and you have a set of saws grouped together, you may assign all the cutting duties to that group – makes sense. However, it’s not a smart grouping mechanic as it’ll cut each component in a first-come method. This means you will never have all the components to make a final product until you’ve worked your way through all components and reached the last one.
As such, you need to actually focus on the planning stage and ensure you either assign the various jobs to different workstations of the same type or have multiple groups which don’t interfere with one another. I have three groups of saws, for example, and I now distribute the workload so that they all have different things to do, often splitting the workload in half and manually sharing it with other workstations to vary the item being produced. This is a great option as it means instead of cutting 50+ items before moving onto the next piece, you can split it and alternate what you’re making.
Can the game be played casually? Sure, but if you want to stay on top of things and ensure you don’t lose everything then you’ll have to get clever and either micro-manage or strategically plan everything yourself. Speaking of planning, not only do you pick which stations to use, but you also choose what resources to buy for each aspect, adjusting the cost of components you need, and various aspects let you choose the materials such as plastic, metal or wood. For a game that looks casual and simple on the outside, it becomes rather overwhelming and confusing at times whilst always remaining fun and challenging.
You must also look after you wary workers as, just like any hard-working employee, they require rest and love every once in a while. Build staff rooms to keep them happy and lots of soda machines to ensure they remain caffeinated so they can work non-stop without going home to their family. Just don’t work them too hard or they’ll pass out on the workshop floor, making the place look untidy!
Stay in your zone
Yet another way to help you make your Little Big Workshop super-efficient is you can set zones within the fun-sized factory. These can be general storage for everything, a drop-off point for items ready to ship, or a dumping ground for components only related to your choice of workstations. So, if you have a room full of wood-based machines (like I did), you can link the zone to those units only and all their resources will be moved right next to them to make the process of chopping them up much more efficient.
I had one issue with this though. When you group together a bunch of workstations to a ‘Billboard’, they show up as simply “Billboard” when you’re linking them to a drop-zone. This may not seem like an issue, but if you’re wanting to unlink a specific one and you’ve got multiple assigned, there’s no way of knowing which you actually need to select! Considering you can only assign a single type of station to a Billboard at a time, it should really state what it’s linked to, in my opinion.
As this is a sandbox game, you need the ability to progress in order to keep things interesting and fun. Little Big Workshop has this in the form of a skill tree, a bunch of upgrades and new features which further enhance your gameplay. Some are what you’d expect such as increasing the number of employees you can have and unlocking new workstations, but others are more interesting such as allowing you to assign people to certain job-types and giving you the ability to expand your factory into other plots of ‘land’.
That’s right, at first you can build new rooms and areas within the small enclosure, but you can then buy new plots next to yours and make your factory massive – if you have enough money.
One thing I’ve not really touched on is the tasks you’ll constantly receive within the game from the NPC characters. These are essentially how you officially progress within the game. Every so often you’ll get a phone call asking you to make certain items within a set time limit, if you succeed then you’ll gain experience and favour with that particular person. Once you’ve maxed out your relationship with them, you get a special task which unlocks a trophy and the potential for a new NPC to contact you. These are all optional and there’s no penalty for ignoring them or not providing all the items requested, but you have to complete them if you wish to ‘win’ the game.
Every new character requires much more advanced products – the first guy is happy with gnomes and ducks, yet the fourth one requires you to build robots and drones via a schematic that doesn’t even fit on the TV! These tasks are the only thing within the game that actually has a time limit as anything else you decide to make, for the fun of it, can take as long as you want – but the longer it takes, the more you pay in wages, resulting in the less profit you actually make.
Meet demand and sell high
One of the things I loved about Little Big Workshop is a very similar concept to what we saw in Port Roayle 4 the other week, it’s all about meeting demand and playing the market. Each time the market refreshes (which is around a week in-game time), the price of an item may go up or down, as will the demand of the item as well. So, if you decide to make 49 cupboards at 1,500 ‘coins’ each, by the time they’ve been built (about 1-2 weeks), they may have gone up in price but dropped in demand. Now, they may only want 30 of them at the price of 1,600 coins, so you’re left with 19 which you can flog for very cheap or store until they are back in demand in the future
It’s a very clever and interesting concept.
There is a skill which you can unlock via the skill tree that lets you see two market refreshes in advance – which is the best skill ever! This means you can look on the market and see what item will increase in price in the future, combined with what the demand looks like, allowing you to either create less and make more money or create more but sell at a slightly lower price. The whole sandbox experience is great and a lot of love has gone into making it, I just wish there was a solid campaign or alternative game modes aside from simply completing the tasks for each of the NPC characters.
Well, there are also some lifetime goals, certain points which the game wants you to meet in order to unlock more options within the skill tree. I guess this could almost be classed as the ‘campaign’ side of the game as when you mix it with the NPC tasks, you have a constant stream of goals and things to strive for. I’m on the last requirement for these trophies, I need to overtake the #1 manufacturer within the fictional in-game leaderboards, a feat which isn’t easy.
Fantastical and silly events
First up, these can be turned off in the menu by enabling the ‘Serious business mode’, but you’re best leaving them enabled in my opinion. Every now and again you’ll get infected with dozens of rats, blobs or gnomes, requiring you to set up a specific tool that’s sent to you. With this, you can shoot the rats with a cannon, play whack-a-mole with the gnomes, and shoot the hostile blobs that attach themselves to your workers. There are other side-events as well such as looking for spies within your factory and getting rid of them. Although these events take up a bit of your time, you get rewarded a decent amount of coins upon completion.
What I would have liked
In terms of the organisation and allocation of work, I would have loved more in-depth control over the automation of my production lines. Having an option to distribute one of each component to the grouped stations, instead of doing each component one at a time, would have been a nice option to have. I also found that if a station, such as the one where they piece things together, has a half-finished job upon it, the auto-distributor won’t replace the job with another once you increase the priority. This resulted in me making new stations and re-allocating work – when you change the priority the game should automatically pause and remove all unfinished work for unimportant items.
I would have also liked the ability to increase the amount at which we go bankrupt (or turn it off altogether) as I often lost mid-production of a big order, so finishing that off would have paid back what I lost. Similarly, the ability to maybe get a loan or maybe take out an upfront payment for taking on a job, paying it back if we don’t hit the required number of units, would have been a nice mechanic later on.
What I’m about to discuss may be down to my PS4 Pro or they could be issues in general. If so, I’m passing on this info to the publisher so they can look into it if it is a replicable issue for everyone.
Little Big Workshop gets very unstable the further into the game you get. I’ve had the game crash on a number of occasions, blue screen to the dashboard, and it even corrupted one of my autosaves on one occasion due to it crashing as it was saving. Thankfully, Little Big Workshop has three or four autosaves (as if it predicted there may be issues), but they’re spaced a few hours apart in real-time, so losing your latest one (or even crashing at any point) could result in losing a lot of work. As such, manually save often.
Also, I found that HUD elements would randomly vanish, making it impossible to progress with the game. The things which hide from me are the notifications on the left-hand side of the screen, meaning you can’t complete the fantasy mini-games or interact with certain things. The ‘fix’ for this is to make a manual save and instantly load it, that resolved the mysterious missing menu. I also found that the market would randomly say I have jobs ‘active’ which I’ve completed or not even taken – it doesn’t affect anything but it’s clearly confused.
If you can look past these issues though, the game is lots of fun and runs great (except when it crashes). You can zoom right in and look at your team walking around, following them as they do their job from your Godly seat in the sky, or zoom out and look at everything in motion as if you’re watching a bunch of ants construct hoverboards. The music is very calm and relaxing which is great for a simulation game like this as you find yourself easily lost within the addictive gameplay and playful visuals.
Little Big Workshop is exactly what it says on the tin, a big sandbox experience set within a small table-top workshop. Although you can play the game casually, the fun begins when you get in-depth and begin to micro-manage and oversee all of the various jobs either by getting hands-on or automating the production line to the highest efficiency possible. I do feel there are a few mechanics, options, and features missing, which would open the game up to more casual and less-skilled gamers, but those who love to get their hands dirty will love the number of things you can manually manage.
It’s basically open-ended with PSN trophies as your main ‘goals’, allowing you to do what you want, when you want, and how you want, with no restrictions.
Little Big Workshop£15.99
- - Very addictive
- - Gets very in-depth as you unlock bigger and more ambitious projects
- - Great art style and fun music
- - You have full control over everything
- - Basically a sandbox game which offers many hours of gameplay
- - There are a few QoL mechanics and features which I feel are missing
- - The game gets pretty strict with the finances after a few hours
- - Although the sandbox-style allows for hours of creative fun, I would have liked some form of campaign mode