Zynga, the controversial developer of a cluster of successful Facebook game applications including FarmVille and Mafia Wars, recently rolled out their newest moneymaker: FrontierVille. They’re billing it as “Oregon Trail meets Little House on the Prairie meets FarmVille,” and while I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, FrontierVille is definitely a step up from Zynga’s other offerings.
You start out with a covered wagon, three chickens, a sheep, and some coins. A few introductory quests introduce you to the game mechanics and give you a bit of direction. They’re worth completing for the rewards, and completing a quest can unlock another. As you go through the quests, you’re encouraged to take certain steps to gradually turn your plot into a town. The population eventually grows to three, since your spouse follows you out and a child comes along shortly after that.
FrontierVille vs. FarmVille
At the basic level, FrontierVille has a lot in common with FarmVille. You can plant crops, which take a certain amount of time to grow and then whither if they go unharvested for too long. You can have animals and trees, which produce for you every so often but are permanent fixtures unless you decide to sell them. You can spend the coins you earn in-game or the horseshoes that you can buy with real world money on decorations to spice up your plot. Many upgrades require you to have a certain number of neighbors (Facebook friends who also play and have agreed to link their game to yours) before you can purchase them, though you have the option of paying a certain number of horseshoes to unlock them without the requisite number of neighbors.
It adds some things on top of Farmville’s offerings, though, and they’ve made improvements to the crop system.
My favorite improvement to the crop system is that you don’t have to have pre-laid spots to plant crops in — you can plop a crop down on any cleared land. When the crop is harvested, the space it took up while it was growing reverts to grass, which you can then use to replant or build a barn on or whatever else might suit your fancy. And once a crop is planted, you can use the move tool on it and put it somewhere else without interrupting its growth. There’s no re-sowing required to make ground ready for replanting, which eliminates that extra cost — and the extra clicking that goes with it.
Everything in FrontierVille that you can clear or harvest or feed drops experience. Most drop money, though trees drop wood instead of money. Trees and crops drop food. But everything has a chance to drop one of five items specific to the type of plant or animal or what have you. This is in addition to the drops you normally get. Chickens, for instance, can drop Chicken Breast, Chicken Broth, Chicken Drumstick, Omelette, or Eggs. If you get one of each, you can then trade them in for a bonus. To continue using the chicken example, the bonus you get for completing and turning in the set is 4 energy.
Playing the Game
Before you can plant crops or build anything, you have to clear a place to put them. There are trees, grass, and wildflowers all over the place. Clearing grass and wildflowers takes one action each, though a tree can take up to twelve chopping actions (depending on age) and leaves behind a stump to clear, too. All clearing actions give you experience and other drops. And I do mean drops; rather than being automatically added to your inventory, you have to click on things to pick them up. They only last so long before disappearing, so you can’t just tell your character to harvest everything while you go make a sandwich. Well, you can, I guess, but you’d lose all the fruits of your labor.
How much you can do at a time is limited by your energy meter. While planting crops and dropping other market purchases down (like building foundations) doesn’t require energy, harvesting, tending animals, clearing actions, and actually working on construction of a building do. You start out with your max energy limited to 10, if I recall correctly; your max goes up as your family grows and as rewards for some level increases. You can also purchase permanent max energy upgrades with horseshoes. Energy is automatically restored at a rate of 1 energy every five minutes, and you’re restored to full as soon as you level up. You can also use the generic food you collect when harvesting to purchase more energy.One of the free gifts you can send your neighbors is a Light Snack, which restores three energy when used.
Sending your friends a Light Snack is a waste of your daily gift-giving. In order to finish building a building, you have to have a number of things like bricks, nails, and buckets of paint on hand. The only ways to obtain these is through horseshoes or as gifts from friends. Nails and paint are freely available under the free gift tab, but your only other option for acquiring hand drills, hammers, and bricks is to ask friends to send them to you via your news feed.
Speaking of the news feed: FrontierVille is so spamalicious that I want to apologize to everyone I know on Facebook for sending all those news items out. I’m sorry. I’d also like to take this moment to point out that you can hide specific apps in your news feed by clicking the “Hide” button in the upper right corner. It’ll give you the option to hide the person, or the app, or the particular post.
When going about your business, you have the chance to encounter varmints. Bears can appear when you’re chopping trees; snakes can pop up when you clear grass or wildflowers; groundhogs can appear when you’re harvesting crops. These make everything around them take an extra energy to tend, giving the affected objects a bright red aura. Since beating them off gives you coins, experience, food, and chances at rare item drops, it’s worth doing so… though it can be really annoying when a groundhog appears in the middle of your patch of fast-wilting clover.
Optimum use of FrontierVille relies heavily on neighbor interaction. In addition to the above-mentioned requests for supplies and energy, you’re also given the option to share experience and item bonuses on a regular basis. Combing through your friends’ FrontierVille feeds can be the best way to level up, I’ve found, though the game limits you to receiving a maximum of 30 bonuses per day from wall postings. You’re allowed to send help — bricks, other tools, and energy — up to 50 times a day, on top of that.
You can also visit your neighbors’ plots and perform up to five actions per neighbor per day. You get the usual item and experience drops for your work, and when your neighbor next opens the game, they’ll see you standing there. If they click on you, then they’ll have the option to accept your help, whereupon they will also receive the drops.
The game also provides you with an NPC neighbor right off the bat. His name is Frontier Jack, and he’s always 1-2 levels above you. At least, that’s true for me. Of my neighbors, I’m currently the highest level; for all I know, he’s just your highest-level neighbor, period. Anyway, the nice thing about Jack is that you can also help him out once a day, and his plot has a wide variety of things for you to help with. It provides you with the opportunity to get item drops from things you don’t have, or to just try harder for that one last item drop you need.
You can select up to five of the rare item drops to add to a wishlist of sorts. Your neighbors will see your wish list if they hover over your icon at the bottom of the screen or look at your entry in the My Neighbors screen. If they have something on your wishlist, they can send it to you from either place.
FrontierVille has much in common with Zynga’s other offerings. It’s built around the same business model as FarmVille, though the integration of their money-making schemery have been fine-tuned. They’ve also added in the item collections, which serve the same basic function as achievements/trophies in other games: they provide easy but time-consuming goals which keep the player playing. They’ve stepped up the news feed spam, too, to the point that it’s more annoying in the game, too.
The gameplay has also been fine-tuned, though. The greater variety of things to do and the spontaneous varmint appearances add a minor element of strategy which makes the game more engaging. A clever player can find many opportunities to maximize energy regeneration. There’s better support for a wider array of gameplay styles.
In short, if you hate Zynga’s other games, you’ll probably hate this one, too. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably dig it.