SimCity Social: More city, but also more Ville

When Electronic Arts debuted SimCity Social, it used the tagline "More City, Less Ville." It was a direct jab at Zynga and its numerous Ville games--an odd choice, considering SimCity Social is nearly a carbon copy of Zynga's own city-building game. What makes SimCity Social so exciting is that, at first glance, it looks like SimCity. As you start building roads, homes, and businesses, it feels like SimCity too. Unfortunately, that's really where the similarities stop. It's not long until you reach barriers that require you to be "social" and spam your friends. Like most free-to-play games on Facebook, SimCity Social relies on a time-based economy for actions. You have a set amount of energy which replenishes over time. Every action you perform, whether it's building a house, taking care of a fire, or upgrading your train station, takes energy. If you run out of energy, you'll have to wait--or buy diamonds using Facebook Credits. I personally don't mind waiting. In fact, the timer does a good job of making you come back. Your energy completely refills about every hour or so, making me regularly visit my city even whilst at work (sorry, Garnett!). At first, you'll only need to keep an eye on two forms of in-game currency: Simoleons, coins that are used to purchase new buildings, and Materials, which are used to upgrade buildings. For example, building a house will cost 100 Simoleons, while building a diner will cost 1000 Simoleons. It's rather straightforward, until the game begins introducing the many other items you'll need to expand your city. For example, if I want to upgrade my hospital, I will first need one hard hat, four x-rays, and three goodwill. Where do I get these items? Well, I can get the hard hat by clicking on my factories over and over again, each click giving me a slight percentage chance at a loot drop. It's not uncommon to spend all of your energy trying to get a single item. Instead, there are two better ways of getting these items. The first? Simply buy them with Diamonds. Unfortunately, this is a rather pricey proposition. For example, if I want to complete phase 1 of "Project Arcology" without spending days hoping for the appropriate loot to drop, I can spend 116 Diamonds. That would cost nearly $20 in real money--an absurd cost to complete one phase of an ongoing mission.

You can visit friend's towns and perform friendly or naughty actions

The other way to get these items is to bombard your Facebook friends with item requests. This is where EA's claim that it is "less ville" is so disingenuous. Remember those endless FarmVille requests you'd ignore back in the day? SimCity Social encourages players to act in the same way. These rare, hard-to-get items can be instantly acquired so long as one of your friends accepts your request. This game is as "social" as a get-together of beggars. It's unfortunate that so many missions require you to pay real money should you not want to bother your friends. Even if you do have a regular stable of friends to play with in SimCity Social, the game continues to increase its demands the further along you go. For example, as you progress through the game, you'll eventually need a fire station. Once you build it with the required materials, the game tells you that you need friends to staff it. You'll watch your city start going up in flames as you helplessly wait for friends to accept your staff request. (You can, of course, choose to buy diamonds for about $4 if people aren't being helpful...)

Neighbors can poop on your town. Literally.

Unfortunately, in spite of the endless complaints I have with SimCity Social, I can't help but coming back to it, time and time again. My city currently has a population of 11615, and I can't help but want to make it go higher. Sure, it's based on a completely arbitrary algorithm (that factors attractions only, not businesses). But, seeing how much of the map I have yet to unlock entices me to try even harder. If there's one takeaway I have from my ongoing time with SimCity Social, it's this: I really want a new SimCity game. Thankfully, a proper entry to the franchise is coming next year. And to think, it will be available for less than the cost of completing three missions in this "free-to-play" Facebook game.