Micromanagement is a staple of strategy games, but it’s essential to strike a balance. If you have a strategy game with too little micro, it becomes spammy and stale. If you have a game with too much micro, you end up with a skill ceiling that’s out of reach for mere mortals.
Certain games, though, have made a name out of being exclusively micromanagement. Dungeon Keeper brought it to a whole generation, Prison Architect made it cool, and Dwarf Fortress made it ball-bustlingly difficult. The newest in this proud tradition is MachiaVillain, a game that (unfortunately) bears no actual resemblance to a historical Italian badass.
MachiaVillain is a simple idea: you’re the bad guy! French studio WildFactor hit Kickstarter with this idea back in 2016 and ran away with it. MachiaVillain has you playing as a minion-cum-villain who must prove his worth. The only logical option is to build a mansion and lure people into it. Obviously. Your minions do all the work building, maintaining, and paving the road of success with the blood of chads and virgins alike.
Comparisons to Dungeon Keeper are mandatory for any management sim, but MachiaVillain has its inspirations as a shiny badge on its chest that reads “We really like Dungeon Keeper!” Fortunately, the game stops short of aping Bullfrog’s classic series, being more about the base management than recruitment.
The beginning cinematic has you at the mercy of the most evil monsters in the land: Bureaucrats
This is fine
Presentation can best be described as ‘not hate-able, but still a way to go’. The English translation is, shall we say, awful. Its sense of humour is akin to what gaming web comics were pumping out in the early to mid-2000s with its ‘maniacal laugh’ style, which will turn off a lot of players. I mean, you’re free to like what you do – I still think Garry’s Mod cartoons are the pinnacle of Internet comedy.
The visuals are reminiscent of a game like Don’t Starve or the concept art for The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom but doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of being memorable. MachiaVillain is also buggy, sometimes to the point of game breakage. Granted, these game-ending instances are few and far between, but the smaller things are often the most annoying. Minion pathfinding, for example, was never quite as good as it could have been.
Management sims are a bit like Blade Runner; slow to start, and you may not even like it when it’s going. That said, it has its fans and is a classic film/genre because of what it inspired and not of what it is. MachiaVillain is more than happy to repeat that history. The game starts excruciatingly slow, with its sub-par UI burning down the house. Not in the Talking Heads can-sort-of-dance-to-this-but-not-really way, in the “better hope you had insurance” way. Getting through it to perform even the most menial tasks is frustrating. Nearly nothing is automated. Enemies, for example, won’t attack unless told to. I get that this decision was made to make players feel like a sneaky movie monster, but it’s simply too many layers to an onion that could just be cut in half. Paused controls make it less pressing on time if you need it to, but the point still stands.
I’m pretty sure there’s a Voltaire song about this exact thing
Management itself is basic enough in MachiaVillain. Resources are gathered and spent. Structures are optimised. People are slaughtered, the usual. The latter is where the game’s at its best and most imaginative. Monster minion types are your standard fare – mummies, vampires, zombies, lawyers etc. – and each are mechanically unique in more than appearance. While also having different work abilities, each have their own flavour of attack. Props are creative, lending nods to horror tropes of old while being plain fun to use in the process. Managing who – and what – goes where and does what is at the heart of MachiaVillain’s love letter to its genre.
MachiaVillain is a fun game at its core but poor UI, fun stuff being suffocated by the pillow of frantic micromanagement, and subpar presentation threaten to drag it down. Thankfully, the game perseveres despite this. If you liked games such as Dungeon Keeper and are in the middle of a Universal monster marathon, this could be worth a go.