Social games like Farmville and We Rule are a dime a dozen in the App Store, and usually the biggest difference you find between them is the theme. If you like zombies, there’s Zombie Farm. If you’re more into animals, you play Tap Zoo, and no matter which one you choose, it’s all fairly safe and predictable. Now, Trade Nations doesn’t exactly shatter the mold, but it tries to build in an additional layer of complexity, making it a meatier, more satisfying experience than the usual “plant, wait, harvest” cycle.
Like We Rule and Smurfs Village, Trade Nations is all about building a little economy from scratch, and it’s tougher than it looks. Unlike most farm games, Trade Nations needs both structures and people to function. It’s not enough to just build a farm or a logging camp; you need villagers to work them, and everything ends up being interconnected. More villagers means you need more houses, but to build more houses, you need building materials, which means you need more wood gatherers, blah blah blah, you get the picture. Everything ends up being more or less balanced.
As you expand your village and gain levels, you start to gain the ability to build factory-type buildings that you can use to transform your raw materials into something else. For example, you can use a bakery to make pastries out of wheat or use a sawmill to transform logs into boards. Everything feeds into something else, and the whole economy becomes layered, like an onion. It’s a remarkably well-designed system, and there’s usually always something to do, in between all the waiting.
Unfortunately, all of these tasks are characterized by lots and lots of time delay, which is typical for these kinds of games, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. You can cut down on wait times by using “magic beans” to speed things up, but those are generally only obtained through in-game purchase, and parents should keep a close eye on their children’s spending if they’re going to play Trade Nations. And kids and adults alike may find themselves drawn in by the uber-cute animations and design.
The network aspects of the game, however, are a little less charming. The game requires registration to take advantage of the social aspects, but it requires an email signup through the all but unknown Juju Play network, rather than the more popular OpenFeint or Plus+. You can find friends through email, but there is no automatic Twitter or Facebook integration, and you may find yourself twiddling your thumbs through the long network connection process, as well as the constant session timeouts.
In the end, Trade Nations still retains a lot of the bad aspects of similar social sims, but the adorable graphics and more structured and complex gameplay help it stand out from the crowd a little. While you certainly can’t sit down and play with it for hours and hours, if you’re just looking for a minor and super-cheap diversion you can spread out over the course of months, Trade Nations is not a bad option.
Here is a video demo of the Trade Nations app on the iPhone
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