I love paying bills...what video game would I like?
April 30, 2017 3:03 PM   Subscribe

For fun, I make budgets, pay bills, coupon etc. Yes, I'm weird. I thought maybe I could find a video game - online, for an iPhone, or downloadable etc. - that would scratch that same itch. It does not have to be an elaborate game - it could involve farming in some fashion. Extra bonus points if it teaches me about some form of budgeting, economics or money management.
posted by Toddles to Work & Money (24 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Not a game, but you could pretend you're a business, invest some money from your bank account in yourself, then keep all the books manually in double-entry accounting (chart of accounts, general journal, cash purchase journal, etc). Run on an accounting cycle of a week on an accrual basis (e.g., charge yourself one week's worth of rent), then close the books, generate all the statements (cash flow, P&L, balance sheet) and start over.

That'll teach you, obviously, how to do all of those things and is pretty interesting, if tedious. I think it's interesting to have a better mental visual picture, now that I've "played that game" of what's happening when I make a financial move, what's getting debited and credited, etc. You can make it as easy or obsessive as you want and find yourself looking up GAAP practices and depreciation models on the internet for "fun". (I'm weird too)

This table-top game is right up your alley. I loved it as a teenager. The accounting and budgeting (for energy in this case, not money) is as strategically important and time-consuming as the driving around, and it's all manual. Warning: I could never find enough kids to play with, because, again, not everyone loves meticulous accounting tedium. (Bonus: endless opportunities for rule book lawyering and loophole-finding.)
posted by ctmf at 3:32 PM on April 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is small and goofy but the Dragon Tax Return Simulator is an amusing little one-off amusing thing to play.
posted by jessamyn at 3:38 PM on April 30, 2017 [14 favorites]

At it's most basic, the old Hammurabi game is a good starting point for balancing now vs later. There's even farming ;) On the other end of the complexity scale is something like Civilization, but contains a bit of historical warfare along side city management, investing in new techs, new buildings, and settling more of the planet.

As far as games about money management, have you seen the various Tycoon games and other business sims? Or more modernly, any of the clicker games (example) are amendable to spreadsheet analysis.

Boardgame wise, Eurogames often revolve around long term planning and efficiency. Agricola is considered a top tier eurogame, and is available on iOS. While there is no hard money currency, arguably the most important currency is food. Economics lesson-wise, there's a number of topics to explore: exponential growth (more family members => more actions => more points) , diminishing returns (additional family members have diminished gains, as they effectively go after everyone else), scarcity, and specialization (occupations).
posted by pwnguin at 4:53 PM on April 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

The game you want is Factory Idle.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:08 PM on April 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Stardew Valley might be fun.
posted by nalyd at 5:14 PM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I've heard EVE Online described as "Spreadsheets in Space"
posted by nickggully at 5:15 PM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Capitalism, and its various sequels, was a 90s era business simulation game that involves running businesses, linking them up (so you create oil wells that link to refineries that link to factories that link to retail stores) and manage the entire production chain, including how your company is doing on the stock market. It's certainly more on the "elaborate" side, but might scratch some of those itches.
posted by zachlipton at 5:27 PM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the gold standard here is Reccetear.

Also try Factorio, Cities Skylines, Transport Fever, and Offworld Trading Company. You might consider Farming Simulator and Eurotruck Simulator too. For something more casual, try Cook Serve Delicious.
posted by waffleriot at 6:33 PM on April 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Idle games like Cookie Clicker are basically thinly veiled optimization problems. You will end up making spreadsheets.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:57 PM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

EVE online is a good opportunity to try some realpolitik in space as well as space mining, space trucking, space corporation running, space market simulations, and maybe even space combat.

It is, however, not the least bit mobile friendly, I believe
posted by Jacen at 9:27 PM on April 30, 2017

Oh oh I've got a game for you! It's called Come On Over To My Place and Sort My Life Out For Me Please
posted by stevedawg at 11:10 PM on April 30, 2017 [25 favorites]

Hay Day is basically doing chores and optimising decisions for the quickest and most productive outcomes. In the early stages you are constantly saving coins to buy machines. This was very good training for me as someone who usually caves and sticks things on the credit card. Nope, in this game I had to save and sell things and work hard to make things to sell and most of all wait until I had enough. No loans or credit cards in Hay Day. I think it had a positive effect on me.
posted by kitten magic at 1:52 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Papers, Please even though not budget related it may scratch the paperwork itch.

From Wikipedia:

Papers, Please has the player take the role of a border crossing immigration officer in the fictional dystopian Eastern Bloc-like country of Arstotzka, who has been and continues to be at political hostilities with its neighboring countries. As the officer, the player must review each immigrant and returning citizen's passports and other supporting paperwork against a list of ever-increasing rules using a number of tools and guides, allowing in only those with the proper paperwork, rejecting those without all proper forms, and at times detaining those with falsified information.

I have not played the iOS version, but the PC version was really fun.
posted by CoinOp at 6:30 AM on May 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

You might like A Dark Room? There is a mobile app version, but I don't like it as much as the browser version, personally. It's sort of a resource management situation where you have to make sure your Xs are making Ys so you can get more Zs, etc. etc.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mentioned briefly above, Offworld Trading Company has you running a company that's supplying a Martian colony. It's real time so I'd say the feel is more managing "cash flow" constantly as opposed to an annual budget. It is pleasantly short to get through a single game.
posted by mark k at 7:07 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of business simulators around, even if some are a bit old-ish. So, off to "Managerial" on GoG we go.

I think it depends on how you want to go; for city management, the Sim City games, Zeus/RotMK or Tropico might be the top choices depending on personal style. Sim City is mostly a zoning/access simulator, the City Builders are all about getting people going in the right direction and establishing production, and Tropico is about budgeting a banana republic.
Capitalism was already mentioned, and it's about managing production and supply chains. There's also Locomotion, about a transport company, but it doesn't offer anything the free and vastly superior openTTD also doesn't. Between both, there's Industry Giant 2, about managing distribution chains.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2017

Hollywood Stock Exchange is more about investing than paying bills, but it has Funds and Options so you could play around with them and learn.
posted by soelo at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2017

Some people play Dwarf Fortress by updating a spreadsheet full of work orders then feeding that in to the game.

I do not think you should necessarily play DF- it takes a good bit of skill and work to even learn to play the game due in part to its complexity and the $&)@! user interface. But it's the holy grail of games for optimizing work flows and budgeting time, in addition to budgeting money, and building things and farming and mining, etc etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2017

While Stevedawg was being funny, my husband and I have helped friends with taxes and budgets, having gotten reputations as folks who like doing that sort of thing. Maybe if you play some games that up your skills, let your friends know you really enjoy it, and you maybe have some very grateful friends supply you with new challenges.
posted by ldthomps at 1:33 PM on May 1, 2017

This suggestion is off the wall, but "Little Inferno" is a game that you might enjoy. It won't require any spreadsheets or anything, but... The whole point of the game is to burn things in a fireplace. As you burn items, you earn money and "stamps" that can be used to order new things to burn. You basically spend the whole game figuring out which items give the best returns, then saving up to buy increasingly odd things to burn up. I loved "budgeting" my coins and stamps to progress.

There's even a brief story to the game, which I enjoyed.
posted by tacodave at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2017

Mini Metro is about planning a subway system, but might be too adrenaliny and not spreadsheety enough.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:31 PM on May 1, 2017

Why not take it to the real world and become an IRS tax volunteer? You can become a certified tax specialist, and then save the world by helping low- and middle-income families with their taxes. Win win!
posted by medusa at 7:09 PM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've found Cashflow to be an interesting game about investing. There's a board game and an iOS app.
posted by bendy at 8:16 PM on May 1, 2017

calculords from seanbaby is not a bill paying game, but a number budgeting game. Its pretty good.
posted by kookywon at 2:34 PM on May 2, 2017

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