Idle games, or incremental games as they are also known, tap into some deep-rooted aspect of our monkey brains. The efficient accumulation of wealth, a number steadily rising, an insatiable appetite for more, and more. Blame it on late-stage capitalism or the pull of the perfect ally for procrastination; there’s no sidestepping the unassailable appeal of idle games. It helps that most, if not all, are free-to-play.
To celebrate idle games and the billions of hours wasted, we’ve pulled together a list of the best ones you can play right now, from the influential Cookie Clicker to the curiously left-field A Dark Room. Given Steam and the web are awash with incremental games spiced and seasoned for every taste out there, our list is far from definitive. If we missed out on an idle game you rate highly, drop into the comments section to let us know.
A pioneering game responsible for untold hours of wasted productivity and giving the idle genre its first breakout hit, Cookie Clickers is one of the most famous and popular incremental games out there. A must-play for anyone with an interest in the genre. Just be warned; once sucked in, expect to dedicate the next few months to the cookie.
A lone cookie beckons. You click. Then, click again. And, again, each time adding to your tally of freshly baked sugary confections. Click enough times, and you can pull in cursors to automatically generate clicks on your behalf. Soon enough, you’ll have enough cookies to draft in a knitting club’s worth of grandmas, then farms, factories, temples, portals, antimatter condensers, and more. Each one offers a major boost to your cookie production, a dopamine-releasing hit of efficiency and cookie accumulation gauged by a steadily rising cookies-per-second reading.
That’s just scratching the surface. Despite the simplicity of the premise and core cookie-clicking mechanic, Cookie Clicker conceals an unexpected depth. There are seasonal events to boost production; the chance to click all manner of temporary production-multiplying boosts that jump fleetingly across the screen such as golden cookies; mini-games to play; spells to cast; slots to fill with aiding boons; scores of achievements to unlock; and ultimately, the chance to ascend and start your mad cookie clicking adventure anew, but thanks to heavenly chips, with permanent upgrades that carry over through ascensions.
Cookie Clicker’s creator, Julien “Orteil” Thiennot, continues to push out updates to this day. News also landed recently confirming Cookie Clicker is making the jump to Steam later this year, too.
Fantasy role-playing meets incremental games in this sprawling, time-sink. Realm Grinder places you in charge of your very own realm. Single clicks grant coins, which are then used to purchase buildings to generate even more. Fairly standard fare for idle games, but Realm Grinder implements a variety of other elements to transform what is on a surface level a very simplistic idea into a strategy-rich, complex, and multi-faced game.
Play long enough, and you’ll chance upon the opportunity to form alliances with fantasy factions, decide to continue down a path of good or evil, cast and manage production-boosting spells from a defined pool of mana, excavate for riches and artifacts, research upgrades, dip into bloodlines for major benefits, and, ultimately, abdicate and reincarnate.
Each reincarnation feels oddly similar to a rogue-lite run, fresh and exciting, where you’ll need to refine builds and upgrades for efficiency. Naturally, you can’t die, and each reincarnation grants a trove of improvements and upgrades, but keen strategists will find plenty to like about the countless ways Realm Grinder can be played.
Frighteningly addictive, Realm Grinder houses months or even longer of play and offers an unusual amount of hands-on interactivity that makes it one of the more active incremental games out there.
While Antimatter Dimensions doesn’t have the fan base or reputation of many idle games on our list, it’s worth trying out for those that like their incremental games steeped in scientific notation and cross-dimensional fun.
Unlike most idle games, there’s no clicking aspect. Instead, you start with a set amount of 10 antimatter and build from there. The aim is to accumulate as much antimatter as possible to unlock a series of dimensions, which in turn increase antimatter-per-second production. From there, you can spend that antimatter on more dimensions, dimension shifts, and antimatter galaxies, unlocking upgrades along the way to improve efficiency.
Free of any colorful characters or visual flair, Antimatter Dimensions is a game that’s all about the numbers and has the added benefit of a bland interface and design. So much so it conceivably won’t be out of place among a gaggle of windows and excel spreadsheets open on an office desktop. For some sneaky daytime idling, Antimatter Dimensions is the one.
A Dark Room
Part left-field role-playing game, part idle time-killer, and part puzzler, A Dark Room is in many ways the most unassuming but quietly ambitious idle game the genre has produced so far.
As the title conveys, you start in a dark, freezing room sided by a dead fire. A ragged, mumbling stranger enters and offers her skills as a builder. Necessity drives A Dark Room’s progress forward as you jump from sourcing wood, drafting in villagers to help, laying down traps, crafting spears, and ultimately venturing beyond the safety of the village.
The barebones, minimalist interface harks back to old text-based adventures with very much the same enigmatic tone. A feat considering the rudimentary design – a white background, a handful of interactive boxes, and snippets of text matter-of-factly narrating your progress. Your imagination is left to fill in the visual blanks, adding a captivating layer to the oft-mindless clicking of idles.
In a genre not known for emphasizing tone or atmosphere, A Dark Room delivers plenty, an oblique sense of foreboding hanging over the whole experience. The mystery of A Dark Room is moreish, enticing the player to five more minutes of play in the hope of peeling off another layer. We won’t say more as the game is best experienced unclouded by spoilers.
AdVenture Capitalist is among the sleekest idle games out there, chiefly due to its clean UI and upbeat 1950s aesthetic; just beware the all-too-tempting profit-boosting micro-transactions constantly thrown in your face.
You play as the titular capitalist. From the modest beginnings of a single lemonade stand, which you click to earn money, you’ll pad your coffers and soon invest in an ever-widening selection of businesses (a movie studio, car wash, werewolf colony, and oil company, to name a few) on your way to billionaire status, popping to the moon, and even Mars in the process.
However, the key to success lies in hiring managers to run your business portfolio for you, notably when you are away from the game. This being an idle game, there are upgrades to buy and other ways to improve your yield, such as tempting angel investors to inject new cash into your ventures, buying fixed multipliers, and partaking in the odd limited-time event.
If capitalism isn’t your economic system of choice, there’s also spin-off AdVenture Communist, where you manage a modest communist state into a thriving, productive utopia.
Dogeminer 2: Back 2 The Moon
Cryptocurrency is arguably the biggest idle game ever made, albeit with the very real risk of financial ruin. So it was only a matter of time before someone brought the more colorful aspects of FinTech to the video game format. And, centered on the most ludicrous coin of them all no less – Dogecoin, where ingenuity meets the silliest aspects of humanity.
Appositely goofy and stacked with more memes than the responses to an Elon Musk tweet, Dogeminer 2: Back 2 The Moon has you set out to hoard as much Dogecoin as possible. It’s a refined sequel to the original Dogeminer: The Dogecoin Mining Simulator.
Starting on Earth, you’ll click to mine coins. Gather enough, and you can set that now-iconic Shiba to work to generate coins automatically. As per the genre, this leads to an ever more expensive range of upgrades, with the ultimate aim of constructing a rocket bound for the moon. Upgrades, each as silly as the next, picked up along the way help your Dogecoin-per-second ticking ever upwards.
Despite the abundance of memes and the zany premise, Dogeminer 2 hides a suitably engaging idle experience, jumping across the solar system to different moons and planets, each with its own flavor of buildings, characters, and upgrades.
Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms
Styled on RPGs, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms has you embark on automatic adventures with a troupe of heroes, engaging with increasingly more powerful enemies and pocketing gold and items along the way.
You dictate strategy through formations and hero positioning, adding a welcome extra layer to the incremental formula. Amassed gold is spent on improving your heroes, granting upgrades to their attacks and abilities, heightening your chance of gathering more gold in the next adventure. Leaving the game sees your heroes continue their adventures. As the game progresses, several groups can explore the Realms simultaneously by automating formations and the like.
Where Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms really shines and deviates from most incremental games is the inclusion of a narrative to each adventure, granting an unfamiliar sense of purpose and a tangible goal to work towards. Idle elements exist in abundance, but the experience feels more meaningful than simply aiming for wealth or repeatedly aiming for a number one order of magnitude higher. The game also makes excellent use of the Dungeons & Dragons association to weave in a cast of familiar characters from franchise novels, video games, and the table-top RPG itself.
Instead of clicking to gain cookies or cash, Clicker Heroes tasks you with furiously clicking to defeat a procession of adorable monsters to progress. True to the idler formula, after a time, you can call in reinforcements to do the clicking for you, each one with its own arsenal of abilities, enhanced and refined by spending the coins you collect along the way.
Before long, damage output is measured in insanely larger numbers, which is where the addictive qualities of Clicker Heroes lie. The game churns through level after level when left to its own devices, granting more gold to spend on your warring allies, but you can always jump in and help out with clicks of your own to improve your damage output. There are even bosses with massive HP counts and a time limit to defeat them to add a bit of variety to the equation.
Despite the battle format, Clicker Heroes is a straightforward and chilled-out experience and is sure to deliver hours of easy incremental fun. For us, it’s a perfect starting introduction to the genre for idle game novices.
Drawing eerie, uncomfortable parallels with reality, Conspiracy Clicker’s ultimate aim is to brainwash the world’s populace and subvert governments through dubious conspiracy theories, evocative falsehoods, and co-opting the political process. A deep war chest is needed, and that’s where you step in.
By investing, bribing, and influencing elements in industry, politics, and media, you’ll manage money, votes, and minds. Each sector has its own set of upgrades ranging from towing garages to fake news by way of dank memes. Unlocking these generates these three currencies automatically. Additionally, you can funnel the spoils of each sector into the other to generate more of a particular currency.
Despite the conspiracy theme, Conspiracy Clicker is all about seeing those numbers chart ever higher. And, while simplistic compared to other more elaborate incremental games, it’s ideal for those that prefer a less hands-on idle experience because bar the occasional click, the game largely takes care of itself.
Stacked with personality, NGU Idle is for those that like their incremental games lighthearted and full of humor. You start as a nameless hero in a sewer. Nursing a few knocks and bruises, you awake, not knowing who you are with one mission: to escape the sewers by any means possible by gaining strength and besting a series of bosses, starting with a vicious piece of fluff.
NGU Idle’s currency is energy, dished out steadily throughout the game, and then used to up your stats and defeat enemies. You can allocate it to your attack or block to gain levels, translating to more of each during confrontations. The key is balance and finding the right proportion of energy.
Defeating bosses grants EXP, which is then used to unlock higher energy generation and energy bars, all with the same aim of improving your stats. Before long, adventure mode unlocks, allowing you to pool gold and items to power up further your character, as well as the rebirth mechanic. Rebirth resets the game, but you gain a hefty attack and defense multiplier every time.
The whole experience is sided by a fun little story brought to life by the occasional piece of engaging text and plenty of tongue-in-cheek silliness to tide you over to the next boss fight.