Sandbox games

I read an article about Lego-type games recently and it makes some points that I see quite differently. Now, I like most of the things the author mentions: Lego, cooking, Minecraft, SimCity, Civilization, Theme Park, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Dorfromantik, Islanders and Townscaper. So I’m not going to disagree with the author, I just want to show a different perspective.

To me, Lego really has two modes of play: building a set, and building something from pieces.
Now, building a set is great: you know where you’re going, you know how to do it Thanks to the excellent instructions. and the built thing you get is a wonderful toy. But, soon enough, entropy will set in! Parts will fall off. Maybe sections of the toy will fall off, or fall apart. And these parts will inevitably drop into the big bucket of parts you already have, where it’s impossible to find them again. So, in a sense, the set you’ve built is lost. But from that big bucket of parts, a myriad other toys rise, built only by the hands of the master builder and limited only by your fantasy. And I never felt like I was very limited by the availability of the parts. Yes, sure, my walls weren’t of the same color everywhere, and my spaceships weren’t as smooth as the “official” Lego ones, but they always sufficed for playing. And I see the same thing happening in the next generation, much to my delight.
Of course, Lego know this; they encourage it in their image and their marketing and their games and their moviesSpoiler alert: the message of the movie is exactly this: Don’t glue your complete sets together, you’ll be unable to play with them then!. Of course, some people will prefer one way of playing with Legos over the other, but that doesn’t mean that either way is better.

Which brings us to Minecraft. Obviously, Minecraft is mode 2-Lego. There are no instructions, instead you build what you want with what you have. And just like with the plastic blocks, your creations will reflect the amount of time and materials you put into them.

If Lego/Minecraft has too little direction for you, you can go other ways and play with slightly less customizable toys: Playmobil for example, or the other sandbox-like games: SimCity, Theme Park, Transport Tycoon and their descendants. And sure, these games will offer you some objective, but I’ve always found it more interesting to play sandbox-styleIn Transport Tycoon, I used to use the negative-overflow cheat to gain infinity money and then just build whatever I wanted. Did you never want to know how many fast trains you can have on one spiral without them all colliding?, which all of these games allow.
In these games, I don’t see the building aspect as part of a simulation, I see the simulation as one way of playing with the building aspect.

So I do slightly disagree with the conclusion of the other article that

This subgenre is […] novel

Instead, I’ve always played these construction games in a sandbox-style mode, and in fact the missing objective is part of why the more modern games do not appeal to me as much. While you can ignore the simulation aspects of Theme Park, it’ll still validate your park as a working machine when the guests stream through it, which is a brilliant feeling. It’s the other player, the rest of the story, the why of the playing.

As the other article points out, there seem to be not many games that implement the “build a set” mode of Lego playingAt least none that come to mind., and I’d very much like to see such games.