My Top Five Sandbox Games

February 12, 2016 no comments Posted in Video Games

A game wherein the player has been freed from the traditional structure and direction typically found in video games, and is instead given the ability to choose what, when, and how they want to approach the available choices in content. The term is in reference to a child’s sandbox in which no rules are present and play is derived from open-ended choice. While some sandbox games may have building and creation aspects to their gameplay, those activities are not required. Sandbox games usually take place in an open-world setting as to facilitate the freedom of choice a player is given.

“Sandbox game” — Wikipedia

I like a good action-packed game every now and then, but my toy of choice in the gaming playground is the sandbox. The kind of games that appeal to that excitement of opportunity, and don’t later disappoint you when you realize they’re actually mostly hollow.

Here are my top 5.

#5 The Powder Toy(Free & Open Source, Windows, Mac)

This image may be slightly deceiving, you can't really build large structures that move like the Vertibird pictured centre-top

The Powder Toy is like a normal sandbox, but 2D and with a huge variety of particles that interact with each other in useful and intricate ways rather than just boring old sand; These particles include explosives, gasses, solids, liquids, and a bunch of real-life elements(which are more like elements that are just named after real elements to give you a hint on it’s behaviour than actual realism) TPT also differs from a standard sandbox by having less toddlers, allowing you to play in it without ending up in a cell.
TPT’s greatest feature is the electronics. You can wire things to behave in rather specific ways, leading to interesting creations like controllable reactors, laser rifles and miniature computers. The game’s ‘wire’s are anything that’s conductive(gold, ‘metal’, iron…), and electricity is a yellow pulse that travels infinitely at a speed dependent on it’s medium. Various particles act accordingly when in contact with electricity, which can be controlled with switches, sensors, one-way wires and other brain materials.
And it’s topped off with an in-game scene browser which you can use to download and upload some amazing scenes. So, it’s free, it works on Win(e?)dows and Mac OSX, and it’s tiny. Might as well just download it already.

 #4 Algodoo(Free, Windows, Mac)

Algodoo screenshot

Algodoo is a 2D physics game where you build contraptions from shapes, motors, thrusters, lasers and physics, and then delete them because they are all crap in comparison to stuff in the Algobox

You may remember Incredibots from 2009, well, Algodoo is like that but better. With a better engine, a (much) better interface, more object properties, scripting(Though, the custom scripting language ‘Thyme’ is probably the worst I’ve ever seen bar intentionally bad ones), lasers and Water!

Despite being 2D, there is a lot you can do in Algodoo. I’ve had a lot of fun making multipurpose vehicles, games, solar systems, and just generally messing around in this game. It runs well, is now free, and best of all: it doesn’t use Flash, earning it #4 on my list.

#3 Minecraft(20€, mods only work on Linux, Windows, and Mac)

Missiles are piped into these silos from below. Because nothing reminds you of your sandbox days quite like liberating enemies from existance before they can sign any silly peace treatie!

You already know what Minecraft is, I don’t need to tell you.


But what puts it at #3 on my list are it’s mods. Specifically,  Industrial Craft 2, Buildcraft, ComputerCraft, ICBM and a Bukkit server with Factions.

Industrial Craft 2 brings Minecraft into an industrial revolution, and then some. Mining lasers, carbon armour, jetpacks, teleportation devices and a large array of power storage, transmission and generation blocks(incl. Nuclear reactors!) to power them.

Buildcraft adds mostly just item transportation pipes and automatic crafting tables, which can be used to build factories to construct pretty much anything. I use it to make automatic ore processors, missile construction factories and extremely advanced nuclear power plants.

Computercraft gives you mining turtles, portable and static computers and a few other computer peripherals, and everything is programmable using Lua. You can draw to a computer’s screen and get user input, leading to some people creating their own OSs! Mining turtles can be programmed to do your bidding as they have their own inventories, and they can attack, dig, and transfer items. You can also use OpenPeripherals and OpenCC Sensors to make them stand watch at your base and attack intruders.

ICBM adds InterContinental Ballistic Missiles, which allow you to punch a hole in the world up to 10,000 blocks away. The size of the hole they punch is anyone between ‘conventional’ TnT, to a missile with 3 nuclear warheads powerful enough to reclaim a moderately sized base back to nature. With that last bit in mind, it’s important to construct missile counter measures, such as radar & EMP towers, anti-ballistic missile silos and AA guns.

Factions is a server-side mod that allows players to claim land and prevent your low-level, unorganised griefers from helping themselves, claimed land is uneditable to anyone but the faction it belongs to. The fun part of Factions is that for claimed land to remain claimed, the owners of that land need to not die too much. Traditionally, on Vanilla servers, this meant that Faction ‘raids’ would occasionally  take place. Raiders would invade an enemy base when enough of their players were online, attempt to slaughter as much of the enemy as possible(Attackers often fell victim to clever traps, and well prepared defenders often stood a decent chance of repelling the attackers, and profiting from their *highly* precious, often beloved raiding kits)

What about when a faction simply builds a box and hides in it? Traditionally, a TnT cannon would be constructed outside a faction base by the invaders’ smartest technicians in order to breach the enemy base. With ICBM, I like to exhaust their missile counter-measures with a barrage of low-tier missiles, and then make a clean entry hole from afar.

Or if I’m feeling like the materials are worth it, convert their entire base into a crater. ICBM is awesome.


#2 Garry’s Mod(10€ on Steam, free on certain other places 😉 )


If the Internet was a game, this would be that game. Garry’s mod was originally a Half Life 2 mod, abusing HL2’s (at the time, arguably still) groundbreaking engine by turning it into a Sandbox game. Eventually it became standalone, with it’s own support for mods. And when I say “support for mods”, it’s not like child support or anything added in a “I suppose we have to” sort of way, It’s closer to air support, like calling in a Wing of Enola Gays to the middle of the Atlantic and blowing other modding support out of the water. It’s fitting that “Enola Gays” was split into two lines, given the context.


Gmod’s modding support provides access to a high-performance engine through an easy to learn, easy to implement scripting language – Lua – with an API providing both coarse and fine levels of control. Which allows the immature newbies and people that have never scripted before to enjoy themselves, and allows the (still immature) experienced modders to create their crazy works of art exactly as they invision it.

There are two types of mods for Garry’s mod: In one type, people add content to Sandbox mode(Hey dawg…), such as Wiremod and less impressively, an assortment of meme mods like Epic Sax saxophone, a ‘This is Sparta’ weapon etc etc.

And for the more ambitious, separate gamemodes can be made. Which has led to some pretty creative games, like the iconic Prop Hunt, where players animate inanimate objects and have to hide from regular humans. Or Trouble in Terrorist Town, which is like Cluedo but with social engineering and PvP. Or DarkRP, where you roleplay as a 12 year old roleplaying as a gun/drug dealer/manufacturer trying to print earn a living in a world full of hackers guys out to shut down your meth lab legitimate business. Multiplayer mods and gamemodes thrive because whenever a player joins a server with them installed, that player automagically downloads and installs all the mods on the server, and is only bothered by them when they join that server.

Sandbox mode allows you to weld various plates, cubes, complex shapes and models together, and then attach axles, ropes and thrusters, which can be controlled from a seat or remote controller if you have Wiremod installed. All of this can lead to some pretty cool vehichles(And pretty cool combat if you have Pewpew installed), but in multiplayer mainly just equates to a lot of people getting run over and the 13 year old’s Mona Lisa constructed and painted in a large, often impressively creative variety of ways.


#1 Kerbal Space Program(40€, free demo with less features, Win+Mac+lin)


KSP is my favourite sandbox game, and my favourite game full stop.

The best way to play KSP is badly. People say that it is a hard game, because they can’t readily do what they set out to, or what they’ve seen other people do.

KSP is not a hard game. KSP is a Sandbox game. When your ship disintegrates during re-entry, or crashes into Mun instead of landing gracefully, you might think “This is hard” , “That failed” or maybe even slam things if you’re prone to anger. People that I’ve managed to get into this game instead think “Hehe! It exploded!” or “That was close. Now what can I do to get closer?” like tiny green Elon Musks.

Unlike what too many think, it isn’t a game you need to be smart to play(or even to be good at). Ever wonder how a few thousand tiny green men and women manage to get to other planets without any other technology or even civilizations outside of the Space Centre? It’s because they’re relentless(And also because they seem to value science over each other’s lives, judging by all the Kerbals drifting around my Kerbol). If you cannot accept that failure is always an option, this game is not for you.

If this game is for you, do not look up anything. The game covers all the essentials  and when you look things up, you miss out on all those fun ways you can fail. Start a career mode, and just have fun, because a spectacular fail is still spectacular.

Also, take screenshots and videos. I regret not taking more, they help you remember the great moments you had.

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