Having spent far too much time playing Facebook games in the past week, I now feel that I may have enough knowledge of them to make a superficial comparison between the four Farming Simulation games I continue to explore.
The four games are: Farmville, Fantasy Kingdoms, Farm Town and Lovely Farm. Comparisons will be made of the Graphics, Music, Gameplay Options, Need for Neighbours, Need for Currency and Complexity.
Of the four, it is Fantasy Kingdoms that gives me the greatest pleasure, but I have come to realise that it is not as much of a 'game' as the other three. It is more of an ongoing work of art in which the player participates. Like a Zen Rock Garden, it calms my spirit and gives me joy simply to visit my Kingdom, to revel in the beauty and magic of the Crops that are ready to be harvested and then plan the visuals of my next planting. It really is more about landscaping than strategies for making money, although it helps to make enough Mana to purchase the items a player likes the most, and the ones that will yield the most Mana for future purchases. Furthermore, if you wish to be able to perform MORE landscaping, you need to expand your Kingdom and that requires Mana and/or Kingdoms Cash. Fantasy Kingdoms has the most beautiful Music as well. It is pleasant to listen to the melody while one visits. As far as Neighburs are concerned, you really need only one in order to send gifts back and forth. Having more gives you the ability to visit them to perform tasks, earning Mana, Awards (Charms) and Experience, but in view of the fact that the game makes no restrictions as to the number of Gifts that a Neighbour can send, the need for Neighbours is negligible in comparison with the other three games.
Farmville is by far the most socially interactive of the four games. You ability to succeed is linked to the number of Neighbours you have, as you can obtain rare and interesting items if you are aware of the Farmville messages they post. There is a great deal of constant interaction between the game and Facebook 'Walls'. Game Feed is recommended for this reason. You can obtain bonuses, Lost Animals, Mystery Eggs and participate in Co-Op Games easily only if you interact frequently if not constantly with your Neighbours.
The music in Farmville is decent and it has excellent sound effects where the Animals and farming actions are concerned. The graphics are really quite stunning in their own way, especially where Limited Edition Themes and fertilised Crops are concerned. There is far more need for strategy in this game than one may realise initially. It is rather nerve-racking at times, to be honest, and the game itself lends its weight to this anxiety with almost constant prompts. Whether it is a prompt to publish an accomplishment on your Wall, to ask other players to Fertilise your Crops or to send Gifts to them, the stream of messages make the game a bit laggy and do not enhance enjoyment at all. On the other hand, if you wish to obtain rare and interesting items, you will be grateful for the fact that other players are surrendering to the game's prompts and advice to post THEIR achievements and experiences... Farmville really is aggressively social in nature and you must reconcile yourself to this reality if you wish to be able to participate in all of the options that are available.
The least attractive aspect of Farmville in ethical terms is the way it is geared towards real investment on the part of the player. The introduction of collections and themes that are very limited in time and their marketing forces a player constantly to resist the seduction of the call to purchase Farm Cash and/or Coins.
I foresee another problem in Farmville for any player who invests a great deal of time and energy in the game. The players who are at very advanced levels may have extraordinary farms, filled with rare and fascinating items but the clutter often diminishes the beauty significantly. Unlike Fantasy Kingdoms, where Storage is free and offered at the start of the game, Storage Buildings must be purchased or constructed in Farmville and the less expensive of these have the capacity evidently to store no more than two items. Recently, I obtained a couple of Neighbours who are very advanced in the game and although I marvelled at the variety and quantity of wonderful items they had, their farms were NOT beautiful in a coordinated fashion. Instead, they had corners on their farms that were beautiful but in other areas, the farms reminded me of the village dump. Animals in enormous quantities packed as tightly as sardines, all waiting for harvest appears to be a common feature in the farms of players at Level 30 and above.
In Farmville, new options appear only at specific Levels. For example, although I obtained an option to collect Bushels of Crops to share from a Stall, my Neighbours who were at Level 10 were unable to collect them. Similarly, when I obtained a Garden Shed to store bouquet of Flowers, the same Neighbours at Level 10 were unable to take any.
It is at Level 20 evidently that the Co-Op option appears in Farmville. This is an option to accept a time-limited Job to produce a single Crop in quantity. When you accept the Job, you can invite other Neighbours to participate in the task with you. If all players who volunteer persevere to the end and the task is accomplished successfully, every one profits. (I wondered previously why so many farms I visited were dominated by a single Crop. Now I know.)
Farm Town promises to be extremely interesting to a player who has the patience and determination to reach the levels of experience and income that will allow him/her to unlock advanced options. It is very much like Harvest Moon in many respects, although the graphics are almost horrible and the music is primitive (but not unpleasant). If you add a body of water to your farm, you can fish, for example, and there are many different varieties of fish that can be caught. Furthermore, as in Harvest Moon, the varieties of fish are location-specific. In other words, a pond will yield different types than a beach. Unlike Farmville, where you can harvest Ranch Products from Animals even if you cannot house them in appropriate Barns at first, in Farm Town, the Animals you own will be useless until you can purchase the appropriate housing. They simply wander about aimlessly. You can interact with them by petting them, but you cannot collect any product from any of them unless I am missing something critical here in terms of gameplay. I continue to play Farm Town only for the promises that the future appears to hold. I want to try the fishing option in particular... Without investing real money in the game, I initially believed I would have to wait until my Levels increased sufficiently to earn me the price of a Pond, River or Beach.
The optoon to store your Crops and to visit the Market do not exist at low levels of experience in Farm Town. I only realised this when I asked a player at low levels to test it. She had only the option to harvest her Crops immediately. Furthermore, although I have the option to till two squares at once at my current level, the player at Level 7 does not have this option yet.
When you have the option to harvest and store your Crops rather than selling them the moment they are harvested, you then can go to your Storage and choose to visit the Marketplace.
At the Marketplace, you will be given the option to sell any or all of the Crops in your Storage. You will have other options as well. Farmers will be milling about the Marketplace and they will ask you to perform specific tasks on their farms. I have no idea if these farmers are real players or characters generated by the game itself. In any event, I first visited a farm in order to harvest Crops, including Garlic, a Crop I have not unlocked yet. When I returned home, half of the Garlic I had harvested was in MY storage as well as having earned Coins for my labours.
The next job I was offered was to catch fish from the river on a player's farm. So, even without the money necessary to purchase your own water source for your farm, you will be able to fish if you go to the Marketplace and wait for a fishing job! As with the Crops I harvested, some of the Fish I caught (50% of them actually) were in my Storage when I returned home.
Lovely Farm is the game that has a true Harvest Moon atmosphere, at least for me. It is totally silent, however, which means that it has to rank lowest where Music is concerned, having none whatsoever, unless I am missing a control. The graphics are wonderful, although they are not in the same category as the extraordinary beauty of Fantasy Kingdoms. The Crops are large and luscious. Unlike any of the other Farming Simulation games, you must water your Crops at a specific point in the growth cycle. It therefore is more realistic and more like Harvest Moon where the farming option is concerned.
Lovely Farm has ordinary Animals such as Goats, Pigs, Cows and Ostriches, but it has magical Fantasy Animals as well. There is a sort of folktale quality to the graphics in the appearance of the Forest Hut in which you live and the furniture you can purchase. It requires more effort perhaps to succeed than a game like Farmville, simply because you must pay more attention to your Crops. The ability to obtain all sorts of items and bonuses from the Game Feed in Farmville does not appear to exist in Lovely Farm. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage lies in the fact that you can play your game undisturbed. One other quality that makes Lovely Farm different from the other games is the fact that any Gifts you receive instantly go into your Gift Box in the game itself. You are not required to access your Facebook page to wade through thousands of Requests to find them. There is a limit of being allowed to send only one gift per day to any Neighbours or Friends in Lovely Farm, but that limit is shared by Farmville and Farm Town as well.
So far, it is the people who made Fantasy Kingdoms who have shown themselves to be the friendliest and most generous. They appear to work tirelessly to add new items to the game, and always add one or two Free Gift Items as well as the items that must be purchased. Daily rewards in the form of Mana are given and emails tend to offer items of some value as well. I am very impressed with Sneaky Games, even though the name is a little sinister!