October 5, 2022

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Unable to go to a real one, early access PC game SimCasino is my latest obsession

SimCasino is a great new take on a tried-and-true genre – and it’s helping me through some lockdown blues.

Video games are my first gaming love, but I confess I have another. For better or worse (which, naturally, depends on luck), I love a gamble. In moderation, of course – but Blackjack, Poker, even slots – in person, at least, these give me a thrill. The digital kind has never really done anything for me, which means in pandemic lockdown I’ve been unable to scratch that itch – but then I discovered SimCasino.

A recently-opened PC Early Access game, SimCasino is exactly what you think it is: a management and simulation game built around crafting and operating your very own casino.

I’m surprised there haven’t been more games with this theme, to be honest. The marriage of management simulation and a casino is natural, much the same as with a theme park, a hospital, or any of those other management settings popularized in the nineties heyday of PC sims.

There have been a few past attempts – though I’ve never played it I know 2003’s Casino, Inc. was well regarded – but it never seemed to stick as much as other sim settings. Maybe it’s because depicting gambling bumps up the rating or is less inherently kid-friendly, but I digress: it’s a perfect fit.

SimCasino is in its earliest state right now, meaning that there’s not much actual meat on its bones. There’s no campaign or mission structure here – just a sandbox you can play around in, starting in a modest-sized building that you can then expand to have a bigger footprint and multiple floors.

Even in this early build, you can create Vegas-style labyrinthine casinos where marble flooring weaves through the gambling floor, constantly flanked by tables, slots and other distractions. If a customer wants to get to the sports book or the theatre, they might have to weave their way past about 100 slots with blaring, enticing attract modes. The nefarious management and god-game satisfaction of manipulating the little people strutting through your creation is already as strong here as in the genre’s best.

I mention Vegas-style casinos there, and that’s also a key pillar of this game: it’s not just about gambling. While the selection of placeable items and rooms is suggestive of a build ripe for expansion into new areas, you can already do things like build out hotel rooms, corporate meeting rooms, theatres, and restaurants. Some of these buildings even have more complexity – so Theatres can, for instance, be of a multi-floor design with tiered seating, fitting more people in for some epic show or another.

So the idea is not just to build a gambling empire, but a whole thriving business where one element feeds the others. Tourist-type customers might come to your casino for an overnight stay, for instance, but if you’ve got a good value, quality restaurant, they might settle there to eat. If they have to weave through the casino to get to the exit, they might drop some cash on slots on the way.

In terms of designing your actual building, there’s a Sims-esque level of granularity here. You’re not just deciding to build a new corporate meeting room – you’ll want to choose the flooring and how the walls are decorated, too. While the items are a little thin on the ground at this stage of Early Access, there’s also a hint of items that’ll allow you to build somewhere with a distinct theme, such as Caesars Palace style statues or Luxor-esque Egyptian imagery, to use a few more Vegas comparisons.

Your job is to consider all of these aesthetic concerns while balancing the books – and that comes in a few different ways. Obviously you’ll be managing things like pricing and staffing, but also maintenance and stock replenishment. You’ll also have to consider loss prevention – that is, ensuring there’s enough security to monitor either through cameras or in person to prevent thieves and game cheats.

There’s of course the delicate balance of keeping customers happy. Are the hotel rooms plush enough? Are there a sufficient number of toilets, properly spaced out? Is the decor generally pleasing? If somebody loses their shirt gambling, are the compensation packages of things like free drinks or free hotel stays enough to keep them with you and nefariously keep them losing?

These descriptions hopefully help to make clear how perfectly the unique thrill this particular micromanagement-filled genre fits with the casino setting. It does seem a little like developer LVGameDev has a knack for digging out strong, niche management sim settings – it wasthey were also responsible for the excellent SimAirport back in 2017. If SimCasino ends up as good as that, it’ll be something to behold.

Early access games always come with an enormous caveat of simply being massively unfinished – and this is a game in a state where it runs perfectly well but is simply in the early, thinnest stages content-wise. But it also shines with the potential of this setting, and you can easily see how it could become something very exciting and very addictive indeed in the future.