Another Brick in the Mall is a game in the basebuilding genre that has exploded relatively recently, thanks to games like Dwarf Fortress, Prison Architect, Rimworld, and Rise to Ruins. It feels a lot like Rollercoaster Tycoon also – there’s a lot of the same ability to customize. This game is currently in early access, as of 6-14-2017, which is the date of this review, and hey – it’s already a pretty freakin’ cool looking game.
Start with $20,000 and the biggest piece of land with grass and trees. So far, the trees do nothing, barely slow down your workers. You just start laying down foundations and build the shopping center of your dreams. At first, it’s easy to just end up building strip malls, and, that’s okay, but, eventually you’ll want to build an entire shopping center with an ecosystem. That’s the real nature of the game. If you can force everyone through a single entrance, you make them pass everything they enjoy to get to what they need, and they’ll be lured into a store they didn’t mean to enter, and hopefully buy something they didn’t intend to.
That’s the name of the retail game, and “ Another Brick in the Mall ” definitely riffs on the compulsive shopping habits of the American population. There’s no limit to the style of your buildings, either. Like I mentioned earlier, Strip malls work, big shopping malls work, or even putting together a single superstore can be profitable. Just note that if you put together a bunch of products that do not generally go in the same stores you’ll lower their rating. Kind of like how everything you buy at Walmart kinda sucks, in this game, if you walk into a store that sells steaks, video game consoles, and car batteries, you’re probably not in a store that sells the highest quality products. The more your stores specialize, the higher quality the products, and, certain customers will demand higher quality products. If you can meet their demand, they will fork over the cash, and you can continue your empire.
The game uses a pawn system similar to a lot of the current basebuilding games, though, all of the character heads are kinda funny looking in this. It’s amusing seeing someone with an overbite standing in line waiting to buy a hamburger, and, in this game, you can see hundreds of them a day. The music fits in, and doesn’t get in the way, but the real magic in this game is that characters emotions aren’t just something you hear about in little messages. When a character is starting to get frustrated with the way your mall is set up, they will start turning red, once they’re as red as they can get, they start to shake, then, they just storm out of the mall, claiming they’ll never come back. (I am not so sure they’re gone forever, pretty sure they’ll come back in a few days, my boys at r/talesfromretail know what I’m talking about.)
Because you’re just building a mall, there’s some obvious differences between this game and the others I mentioned, like Dwarf Fortress, and it’s that nobody’s really trying to kill you. You’re making a place where random people want to come shop. So, instead of building walls defensively, they pretty much exist to hold up a roof over the little shops and foodcourts you build. So, despite having no real true way to lose aside from money mismanagement (and even that is usually fixable), this game is pretty fun and unique. I prefer building my malls as open air as possible, with little shopping areas open to the world along a path that snakes through the building, so it feels like a superstore or open air market, but I keep the stores separate, each with their own employees who stock and ring up customers. It’s kinda sad sometimes, when you see a store under-performing, so you start cutting employees, changing hours, ect, and realize that your boss was just playing this game when he said you weren’t allowed to have a raise after he fired your co-worker and left you on the counter alone 8 hours with no lunch.
It’s great social commentary on the world of retail, but, if you really want to, you can just ignore that and play the game as an experiment in building your own shopping center.
At this point, there are bus stops, multiple entrances, and all sorts of neat things to upgrade through the office you have to hire workers for. It’s pretty neat deciding between hiring another employee that will generate revenue and an employee that will give you the possibility to generate more revenue in the future. That’s probably the most glorious thing about this game. Goal setting and scheduling are relatively easy as long as you stick with 8 hour shifts with high quality employees, but, if you want to get into the nitty gritty, you can really curtail your employment down to the hour, hiring employees who are less skilled to work less hours, so you pay them less, and just keep them around for the rushes that fall into a pattern if you’re watching close enough.
The only thing I really feel is missing from this game currently is random events that change the nature of the mall, unexpected things that could put you in a bad place that you’ll have to recover from, perhaps a snowstorm, and, if you’ve set up a decent auto parts store somewhere in the mall, employees could rush you from miles and miles away to scoop up what’s left of the tire chains, or perhaps a drought came through and killed off fresh vegetables, causing purchasing prices to skyrocket, and customers complain about your prices being too high, so you have to sell at below cost to keep customer loyalty. Or… theft! All things that currently aren’t in the game, though, it’s a pretty fun game if you’re into the genre as is. I feel a game like this always gets better and better until they get so complicated that only people who have been there since the beginning of early access can keep track of all of the tricks they’ve picked up along the way. So far, I think “ Another Brick in the Mall ” is a quality game, although a bit too easy, especially once you build an electronics store and a jewelry store. A couple of those and it’s time to experiment with your idea of opening a warehouse full of bottled water, and those cameras and wrist watches you’re selling are going to cover the cost of not only their employees, but, that water salesman too.
Loss leaders are something that work in this game, but, in real life, you cannot really rely on your neighbor taking a loss so that you can shine. In this game, you as the owner of the mall have control of each individual shop that resides there, though, in the US, most malls rent spaces to businesses who then fill the stores with whatever they wish. This game gives you the freedom to set up loss leaders that might draw people into the store so you can pull them into your more expensive trappings, but, from a realism standpoint, no real mall could operate that way on a large scale. (You’ll notice though, when you walk into a store, the things you need are in the back, and the things you want are usually along the way.)
Currently priced at $12.99 USD, “ Another Brick in the Mall “ is a fun title without a story, boasts a fairly nice tutorial and miniature quests that reward you at just the right times, and is definitely a great distraction. As I said earlier, the game is in early access, but it appears the devs are updating at least monthly. So far, I think the game is worth the price, and, as a game I actually picked up instead of getting a review copy, I’m not upset at all at the price I paid for it. The development studio, the Quadsphere
has a history of making iOS/Android games of varied genres, though, this isn’t their first game on Steam.
Icarus X: Tides of Fire was released on the App Store AND on Steam.
I personally cannot wait for more to be implemented to see what the developer has in mind!
Disclosure: I actually bought this game. Weird, I know.
Developed by: The Quadsphere