City of Blunder

Playdom (the third biggest Facebook gaming company since its acquisition by Disney) recently released a rather critically acclaimed game onto our Facebook shores in City of Wonder. It is a refreshing take on the typical Town Building formula, with a more advanced technology tree and a basic, but kinda fun PvP system in which you attack other Cities to gain experience, cash and population. Of course, as a Facebook game it’s still very limited compared to games not on the platform. Furthermore, its influences from the Civilization series are so blatant that it makes the experience one of disappointment to existing Civ fans (such as myself… role on September 24th!). Yet it is a step in the right direction, a step that a number of Facebook games are taking, bringing slightly more complex and tactical gameplay experience to the 60+ million Facebook gamers today.

However, it’s very apparent that Playdom don’t really think too hard about their game’s design. City of Wonder is very pretty and very stylish, it’s cartoony look is hard to dislike and its artwork of various historical figures is a pleasure to look at. In fact, I prefer it to that of previous Civ games (although Civ 5 is likely to blow it out of the water). In Facebook games, the look is important since people are happy with 1-click per minute content. What annoys me about City of Wonder is that there appears to be no real testing or thought behind the ‘advanced’ features that Playdom have introduced. It’s like they’re playing around with the concept but they don’t feel like investing any time in making their innovation something special. After playing City of Wonder for a few weeks now, there are many obvious faults with these more advanced systems that you’d think Playdom would realize. This post is going to go through some.

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City of Wonder - Playdom's first foray into Farms 2.0

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Technology Tree Balance

In City of Wonder there are 3 determinants of success; Culture, Trade and Military. Items are split into these categories and the technology tree is then geared to each one, signifying that you can take a certain path. In essence this is a brilliant idea, which has been used in RTS games since the dawn of time, but it’s nice to see it in a Facebook game. The problem with City of Wonder is that there was zero thought put into the balance of each tree. Let me explain…

  • Expeditions are your ‘Battle Energy’. When you battle another city, you expend an Expedition.
  • Expeditions can only be performed when you have a happy population.
  • A happy population is a result of ‘Happiness’ and population size. The higher the population, the more happiness you need.
  • Happiness is acquired through Cultural items.

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Can you start to see the problem yet? Your battle energy resource is based purely on Cultural items. In order to battle, you must have a high happiness (which = high culture). Therefore, culture is the most important resource. If you have no culture, you cannot battle… even if you chose Trade or Military. But it gets worse…

  • If you successfully ‘attack’ another player, you will receive rewards.
  • Culture attacks = Experience. Trade attacks = Money. Military attacks = Population.
  • Remember, your Expeditions are limited to happiness.
  • Your happiness is limited to population.
  • Military buildings provide no happiness but gives you population.
  • Your reward for a military victory prevents you from taking part in Expeditions.

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So the Military tech tree provides population, but with no way of actually utilizing that population. If you attack an enemy and you win too much population, it stops at your happiness cap and then calls you unhappy! You win the battle but then have to buy a cultural item in order to battle again! If you choose Culture attacks, you win experience (which is always the best reward in a game based purely on levelling up) and you do not get this population cap nightmare. Even if you did… you invested in the culture tech tree so you decided you like to build lots of happiness! We haven’t even got onto trade, which is pretty much pointless as your ‘farming’ grants you so much money that the Trade tree is obsolete.

But it gets worse.

The winner of a battle is determined by 3 factors. Population, Culture/Trade/Military rating and Allies. The latter is a brilliant way of getting people to invite all their friends and I commend Playdom for that idea. However, if you’ve read the past 3-4 minutes of text you’ll already see the problem. Culture trees will always have the biggest populations, since they can provide the happiness. So as a Military Mogul (of course I went for the offensive approach!) I can attack a Culture focussed city in a military battle and lose because their population dwarfs mine. I had an attack rating of 2500 and lost to someone with a defence rating of 900 because they had a massive population. Military can’t even win in Military battles against Culture!

It’s a complete disaster! Did they not think at all?

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The battle screen - Cultural Exchange, Trade or Military?

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Terrible levelling up system

In City of Wonder, you level through doing your chores. In this way, it’s no different to a FarmVille or My Town. You farm resources, wait a while, collect them and then get money and experience as a reward. In City of Wonder there are 3 types of ‘farms’. Residential give you population and experience. Markets give you money and experience. Goods give you money and experience (it’s hidden as something different but it’s the same as trade). From my experience, residential is a pretty quick way to level. All you have to do is maximize your happiness and then collect your population and experience every 10 minutes or so. Happiness also lets you perform Expeditions and Population is an important part of winning Expeditions (see above). Markets work in the same way really, except the money is negligible.

However, I can’t be bothered to click a house or a market every 10 minutes to collect a tiny portion of cash and XP. I get all my money solely from Goods. To harvest goods, you choose how long you want to wait, pay a small fee and then collect it at the end of the waiting period. This way you get a massive lump sum and you can do other things while waiting. It also means you get a lot less experience. Since I’ve focussed purely on goods, I am under-levelled but overpaid. I have enough resources to crush anyone who’s the same level as me because I’ve inadvertently manipulated the system. I can artificially keep my level down, while accruing masses of military buildings. I’m attacking people 4 levels above me most of the time!

Another problem with this is that technology is restricted to levels. I’ve got the money and the pre-requisites to research the next military upgrade (which I would like to get), but I have to wait 2 levels to be allowed to research it. The way I play, with my goods focus, will not get me those levels any time soon. Therefore I have too much money and am researching stupid stuff I don’t want and that does not effect my master technology plan (like Drama). I can’t play the way I want to play because of the way I play. Wrap your head around that one!

Now, if Expeditions gave experience for all the tech paths (Military and Trade in addition to Culture), then I could level up through the battle system. Shouldn’t we level up through a battle system anyway rather than mindless clicking? What’s strange is that it’s a Facebook game standard to get experience for everything these days. It’s like Playdom forgot rule number 1.

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As I said previously, City of Wonder is a step in the right direction but if they put a little more thought into the game design aspect then they could really have had a strong first-mover grip on the more sophisticated Facebook gamers. The door is still open to a slightly complex farming/battling game, just like City of Wonder has done. City of Wonder has all these users now, but the game’s flaws will begin to annoy its most hardcore players (the ones who pay real money for things). With a bit of thought and a bit of balance, it wouldn’t be hard for a rival company to just clone City of Wonder and ensure that the gameplay is rewarding and fair instead of counter-productive and aggravating.

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Sam

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2 Comments to “City of Blunder”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis. I’ve been playing City of Wonder since a friend got me into it, I’m level 24, my goods buildings are all department stores and I’ve got 400k population, but I have to admit, it’s really becoming a pain to play. The glaring inbalances, the firefox-freezing bugs, the annoying popups to spend gold (real money) and rope in all your friends is incessant. Right now I’m having the game freeze whenever I try to visit the city of an ally to click on the embassy there. Really, I’d call it City of Wondering why the hell I’m still playing this.

    Does anyone have any recommendations for a BETTER game to play? At least while I’m waiting for Sid Meier to get off his ass and (hopefully) give Facebook its first REAL game.

    • Hey elt, thanks for the comment!

      I really don’t know what to recommend right now. There’s been a considerable lack of similar games on FB. Playfish’s My Empire is OK, but not exactly a better game from a gameplay standpoint (I’ve yet to try the PvP but I don’t think it’s too advanced). CityVille is probably the best town builder there is now, and possibly the last (since Zynga is going to dominate the genre).

      Civilization World is in alpha stage at the moment. Sid Meier posted on the Civilization World Fan Page the following on the 6th Jan;

      Hello Civilization fans!

      We have some exciting news to share with you about Civilization for Facebook! As you can see from the new look of this page, the official title for our game is Civilization World (Civ World). Why a name change you say? The name better reflects the main theme of the game; in Civ World you will be joining your friends to form nations, which will compete with other player-nations to rule the world. Civ World’s shaping up to be a really fun Facebook game, as well as another addictive Civilization experience.

      We’re also happy to announce that we intend to launch the Closed Alpha test version of the game on January 12th, and you can sign up to become part of our development testing team starting today! Would you like a chance to join the test? Then we’ll need you to form a team with your friends, and sign up for the alpha test as a team. Why a team? Because to win in Civ World, you’ll need to collaborate with your friends in order to do well in the game and become ruler of the world, so in our early Alpha testing, we’re grouping people together to simulate how the game will work when it’s available to the world at large. In the final game, you’ll be able to sign up individually (although we’ll love it if you invite your friends), but to participate in Closed Alpha, you’ll have to enter as a team. It’s up to you how you organize your testing team. Your team can be anywhere from 5-50 people.

      What we’ll need from each team will be a team name and a team captain. Each team member will need to register on our sign-up page http://www.2kgames.com/civworld/alpha and enter their team name and captain’s name, along with some other information. Teams will receive their acceptance confirmations beginning January 10th. Teams are how we ensure you get to play in the same game as friends. However, Civ World is a game of shifting alliances and powers, with civilizations and factions rising and falling all the time. You may not always be playing on the same side as your teammates — in fact, you’re just as likely to be their opponents! We’ll ramp up the size of the Alpha test squad as we progress in development, so hang in there if your team is not part of the first round. We’re looking forward to bringing you into the game, so go out there and get your testing team together!

      Also, as a token of our appreciation to all of you who register for the Civ World Alpha testing, we’re going to create a special item that you can proudly display in your throne room to let the world know you’re one of the founding players of the game.

      And now, an update on the game design. I’m having a really fun time hands-on designing and programming Civ World along with our terrific team at Firaxis. In the coming months, we’ll be posting a series of gameplay updates here on the fan page detailing parts of the game. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the organization of the game to tide you over until that time comes.

      Civ World games will have a well-defined beginning and end, each ending with a triumphant civilization and one person recognized as that game’s most prestigious player. Along the way, as you progress through the different eras of time, you’ll have the chance to win era victories as well. We want players to have both a final goal to work towards, as well as short-term objectives to achieve as they play. The trophies you unlock with your triumphs will carry over from game to game, and you can show them off in your throne room.

      So, there’s some insight into how each game will be organized. Stay tuned – we’ll be updating you with our progress as the Closed Alpha moves along, as well as updating the page as we select new waves of testers. Thank you for all of your support, and we hope you enjoy the game as much as we do!

      Stay Civilized!

      Sid Meier

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      It does look like he’s being pretty hands-on with the whole thing, which is definitely good news. Sid seems like one of those developers who relishes the challenge of converting Civ to a social game… but not alienating his core base. Well, lets hope anyway!

      Thanks again,

      Sam

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