We knew we had a problem with free, online social sims when we snapped awake one late night, sick with worry that we had forgotten to harvest a crop of virtual strawberries. If you’re currently suffering from a similar addiction, you might want to stay away from Trade Nations: It’s cuter than We Rule and has the potential to really damage your productivity.
Online social sims benefit from a stunning first impression, and Trade Nations grabs you right away. Your kingdom and its inhabitants have a fantastic art style, with bright colors and smooth animation. When your little workers are just waiting around, they’ll rock back and forth on their feet and whistle, like Steamboat Willie.
Watch the sheeple toil– no, wait, those are actual sheep.
In another improvement over We Rule and its ilk, you can actively assign the townspeople jobs. Every house you build will provide you with more workers, and you can have them cut wood, mine rocks, or harvest wheat. You can also assign each job a hauler, who will collect their goods for you and deliver them to a storehouse. If you don’t streamline your resource-gathering, you’ll have to check in more often and click on the resources yourself.
Where Trade Nations starts to sag is in its endless time limits. Like similar games, everything in Trade Nations requires that you wait. A typical play session will let you log in and do one or two immediate actions, then you have to turn it off and go do something else for a few hours. If you want to cancel a timer, you have to pay with “magic beans”, Trade Nation’s freemium currency and the equivalent of Ngmoco’s Gro, Mojo, Zap, etc.
Meet the new pusher man.
Magic beans are for sale, of course, but they’re also freely available for downloading paid and free apps. This system, which is identical to the one found in Glu’s World Series of Poker: Hold’em Legend, is quite generous compared to the tightfisted We Rule. Still, just getting through the tutorial in less than a few days requires you to part with a lot of magic beans.
One area where Trade Nations can’t compete with Ngmoco is in its choice of social network. While the We games have Plus+, where we’ve already built up a large friends list, Trade Nations uses the unknown Juju Play network. Chances are you don’t know anyone using Juju, but you can always take to the internet to find some friends, like those posting on Trade Nation’s Facebook page. Automatic Twitter or Facebook integration would have been a smart move for Juju, but it’s not available.
Trade Nations is a good game, but it’s still mainly a waiting game. As pretty as it is, and as much as we enjoyed the slightly more complex gameplay, it’s still not something you can play for an hour at a time without running into some major tollbooths. If you want to stretch out your town-building over the course of months, by all means, give Trade Nations a download. The first magic beans are free.