Sunday, June 20, 2010

More Reviews of Facebook Games

Reviews of Farmville, Farm Town, Fantasy Kingdoms, Castle Age, Castle and Co, Happy Aquarium and Yoville.

Having only spent a couple of days on these games, I cannot claim to be in a position to write an expert review of ANY of them, but these are my preliminary findings.

Of all the Facebook games, the Fantasy Kingdoms farming game is the most to my liking in its concept, graphics and items. As far as actual gameplay is concerned, however, it seemed that I ran out of energy sooner and with less accomplished than I did in comparable games such as Farmville and Farm Town. Unless I can obtain more 'mana' points, I will have to judge Farmville and Farm Town as better games. However, wonderful a concept or however diverse the items, if you cannot do anything in the game, it's all rather pointless. In fact, there are ways to 'earn' Mana if you can help your neighbours and if friends send you gifts. Unlike both Farmville and Farm Town, there is no limit on the number of items that a friend can send in a day. At least half if not more of these 'free gift' items are Trees that can be harvested.

I daresay Fantasy Kingdoms has not been as successful commercially yet as a game like Farmville as it appears to be a fairly new game by a smaller firm. The graphics are absolutely stunning and the concept of the game is fantasy-based with a mixture of real magical herbs, trees and crops and clever fantasy magic crops. Many of the medicinal herbs resemble their real counterparts but some of them are graphic 'puns' on the names. For example, Sunflowers when growing are beautiful sunlamps and Fish Tail Ferns appear with fish tails. There are other clever fantasy crops such as Eye of Newt that actually grows into a tall plant with an 'eye' as its flower. The game was out of service for a couple of hours at one point, but users were given 900 Mana points in compensation. A nice touch considering the fact that the game is absolutely free.

Although I initially liked Farm Town better than Farmville, I now have revised my opinion. Although you can acquire Ranch Animals in Farm Town at the very start, you cannot obtain any products from them evidently unless you build the appropriate housing for them. At the start, I was given a sheep and a pig. I did not want the pig, but was unable to sell him until I reached a specific level in the game. The best part of reaching that level was selling the useless pig! I still ike the fact that items sent as gifts in Farm Town can be traded for any item on the gift page that you have unlocked.

One of the problems with many of these games is the fact that you really cannot explore them properly unless you have 'friends' or 'neighbours'. The best exploitations are possible only when you have neighbours to visit, help and with whom to exchange gifts. I suppose that as Facebook itself is geared towards global community interactions, it makes sense that the games would focus on this goal.

Farmville became far more interesting when I raised my levels a little and obtained the ability to visit neighbours' farms and feed their chickens. There are 'Mystery Eggs' that you can obtain in this fashion. A Mystery Egg can hatch into a rare Chicken that you may not be able to afford to buy... It can hatch into XP points or other things as well, but I really was rather thrilled when one hatched into a Black Chicken.

I have not discovered precisely what it means to harvest an Animal such as a Cat and indeed was very reluctant to acquire a Cat at first because I was worried about the 'harvest' potential. As other Animals when 'harvested' continue to live happily on the farm, however, I am confident now that I won't be expected to slaughter my Cat when the 'ready' period arrives... What does one harvest from a Cat? Perhaps it is Kittens... Harvests tend to take the form of experience points so that may be the actual extent of it.

I am playing only one combat game in the form of Castle Age. Castle Age is fueled by LoTR concepts and has beautiful illustrations, but I suspect that the size of a player's army does matter and that requires that one recruit Facebook 'friends'. I rather dislike that idea. If some one wishes to participate, well and good, but I don't wish to push people into it. In Castle Age, Stamina and Energy are replenished in time...

Today, I read some FAQS about Castle Age, after making a rather negative discovery about myself and my ability to be corrupted into preying upon those weaker than myself. Many of the elements in gaming that I personally dislike are part of the Castle Age game. Although the Quests are well-written and illustrated, that is only a small part of the game. What you are supposed to do is to sally forth to duel against or raid other players, taking their money and becoming stronger by defeating them. When you are urged to go to Battle, you are shown a list of other players within a certain range of your own Level. You then can choose either to duel or invade.

A player of comparable level but with a large army probably will defeat you if you should challenge him/her. The players you can defeat in order to earn your daily allotment of points are those who are of slightly lower level with small armies or no army at all. It made me feel like a crass bully boy when I began to pick off the weaker players on the list in order to gain experience and higher levels. I did not like it very much.

The most powerful incentive the game offers is that you should increase the size of your own army by sending out invitations to your 'friends' or contacts. To me, this smacks of spamming your friends and contacts. When I explored the online FAQS for Castle Age, I discovered some one had written a strategy guide on how do ensnare the largest distribution list possible for your invitations to this game.

Whenever you are involved in a combat situation, victory usually brings money in the form of some of your opponent's cash and defeat means that your opponent bears off some of your cash as his/her spoils. The game offers a method of concealing your Cash by banking it for 10% of the total. If some one challenges and defeats you, therefore, that individual will gain $0 instead of making off with the carefully hoarded savings you had intended to use to purchase some decent armour. I then realised that the money I had 'won' from opponents probably was their life savings or a goodly portion thereof. I really was not terribly proud of myself...

Although I love edged weapons and combat has its appeal, I really do prefer games that are not competitive. The Fantasy Kingdom and Farmville games, although not as detailed or profound as any Harvest Moon or Rune Factory game, nonetheless appear to be based on the idea of helping your friends by fertilising their fields, chasing off pests and sending them gifts.

Castle and Co. is another game I have explored. It has Candyland-style graphics and obviously targets young children to some extent. The basis of the game, however, is feudalism, precursor of capitalism. You are the lord or lady of the land and you build workshops so that the peasants can labour for you. Your job is simply to cheer them on. You never dirty your own hands by tilling the soil, chopping lumber, foraging or mining. Upgrading your workshops allows more of your people to work for you. Your workshops make money for you and you plough that money back into the workshops by upgrading them. One clue that this game was created not entirely for young children is the fact that you can build an 'Aleshop'!

Happy Aquarium is somewhat similar to Fish Tycoon which I loved, but Happy Aquarium differs in that it includes many mini-games where you lead one of your fish to find treasure in a time-limited hunt or through an obstacle course.

Yoville is the final game on my list. It is somewhat similar to The Sims in that your Character must find work and socialise with other Characters in order to succeed. Your avatar can chat with other avatars in public venues or offer games of tic-tac-toe to virtual strangers, but that is subordinate to the task of visiting your neighbours and working regularly at your jobs. Here, as in many of the games, the number of neighbours that you obtain is critical to your success in life. Without neighbours, you will not be promoted at work. Rather unfair, but there it is. At first, I absolutely HATED the Yoville game. A friend of mine sent me a gift of a Silver Chest in response to my gift of the same item. I then found I could not open it without a Silver Key. Purchase of a Silver Key was beyond my means or desire... Later, I discovered that a Silver Key can be sent as a free gift by a friend or neighbour, so it is not as diabolical as it first appeared.

In all of these games, you can post special discoveries or achievements on your Wall, allowing other players to glean rewards, adopt interesting animals or obtain items... but I find it rather embarrassing to post a veritable deluge of game announcements, making it appear as though my entire life is devoted to Facebook games!

What is lacking in these farming simulation games, of course, are the solid Characters and dialogues that are so much a part of any Harvest Moon or Rune Factory game. If you invite Friends to become Neighbours, you could argue that they are the 'Characters' in these games, but most of the actions appear to be generated automatically even between neighbours.

None of these games can compare with Harvest Moon or Rune Factory but they can be addictive and they provide a clever bit of marketing strategy for all the advertisers who utilise Facebook. What they do is force you to log into Facebook for a start in order to harvest Crops that are ripe in a farming game or conceal the gold you have gained from the passage of time in a combat game. Once you have logged into Facebook, the battle for your time and attention is half-won... Yes, Facebook is a 'Community' and some of your real friends may be part of your Network there, but it still has the ability to waste hours of your time. That having been said, would any one like to sign up to enroll in Freyashawk's Army? (Just joking!)

Later: I have created a little page for a Fantasy Kingdoms mini-guide. You will find the link on the right side of this page.


Dinkyfish said...

Just for the record, you get money from cats by 'brushing' them. Don't ask me how that works :/ The best thing is if/when you get a penguin - you can collect ice cubes from them :D

Freyashawk said...

Thank you, Dinkyfish! I can see that I know very little about this game at this point, having played it only for a couple of days... I therefore still am waiting for the Cat to be 'ready'.

Dinkyfish said...

You're welcome :) It is all a bit confusing at first and I wasn't exactly sure how you would 'harvest' animals such as pigs, horses, cats, etc either when I first started playing. To be honest I doubt farmville would have become a fraction as popular if it had involved the killing of animals, I for one certainly wouldn't have played. Zynga have recently released a new game, FrontierVille, which I have noticed involves killing animals such as snakes when they appear on your ranch and I refuse to play it for this reason. I don't mind 'chasing away' pest animals in FarmVille but I feel that killing them is a step too far.