Given the success of Diner Dash, it’s not surprising that PlayFirst has developed numerous spin-offs that transplant the game’s classic time management gameplay into new settings. Hot on the heels of Doggie Dash and Wedding Dash (and we do mean hot since Doggie Dash was released a mere two months ago) comes Dairy Dash, a game that explores the challenges of farm life.

The Smiths – mom, dad, son Ethan and daughter Emily – are a family very much in love with technology, whether it’s mom’s online auctions, Ethan’s videogames, or the always-blaring television. But while out for dinner one evening at Flo’s diner, the family gets a call from Uncle Bill saying he’s going to lose the farm because he doesn’t have enough help. Flo says she knows restaurants that are looking for a good local seller of organic produce, which could be the break Bill’s farm needs. So, the family gives up their tech-loving ways for a very different lifestyle of working the farm.

Dairy Dash’s first major innovation is that it’s a family affair. Although you’ll start out only controlling Mr. Smith, soon his wife and daughter show up to help as well so you have two assistants and can perform up to three actions at the same time, queuing up actions ahead of time to your heart’s content and then watching as all three Smiths race around the screen to get everything done. Eventually, even reluctant Ethan makes an appearance to make lemonade and answer the phone.

There are two main tasks on the farm: the animals must be fed, watered and brushed; and crops must be planted, watered and tilled. If you manage to perform all these actions in a timely manner, you’ll be rewarded with produce to harvest whether it’s milk, eggs and wool from the animals, or hearty vegetables like corn, pumpkins and tomatoes from the soil. After a period of time, the sun goes down, the rooster crows, and it’s time for bed. The cash earned from selling the goods at market contributes to an overall total, and if you meet your goal for the day you can advance to the next level.

The game’s 52 levels span four farms, each one bigger than the last with a new layout to get familiar with. Upgrades are introduced automatically (in other words, you don’t get to purchase them yourself), and include things like a machine for turning basic feed into hay bales for the animals that need it, a cheese maker, a lemonade machine to give the Smiths a temporary speed boost, a wood pile for Mr. Smith to chop in order to make repairs to buildings, and a truck for hauling produce to market that frequently breaks down and needs to be fixed. Wolves and crows show up and cause distress, but a quick click sends the family dog after them. Sometimes Flo calls in a special order on particular items that she’s willing to pay extra for, which is a chance to rack in extra cash.

Every so often there will be a change of pace in the form of simple mini-games, such as harvesting falling fruit by catching it in a basket, or a match-three with vegetables. In addition to Story mode there’s also an Endless mode offered in three difficulties.

The fact that the animals all wake up at random times lends a less predictable and more chaotic feel Dairy Dash’s gameplay. This, coupled with the fact that there’s no item you can give animals to keep them happy while they’re waiting, makes it more difficult to chain actions together for bonus points. In fact, the best strategy to use seems to be simply to click on anything that moves or makes a sound as quickly as possible, which although hectic and fun is ultimately a less sophisticated strategy than that found in Diner Dash and other time management games. There’s also no way to cancel a cued move, which might trip up players who are expecting it.

Also, there isn’t much difference graphically between the first three farms. (The fourth one – a futuristic farm – has the opposite problem in that objects are so strange-looking that it takes a while to figure out what everything does!)

Still, true to form there are enough twists and turns in the gameplay to keep things interesting, and while the strategy seems like it hasn’t yet been totally refined, Dairy Dash still gets the thumbs up for bringing the whole family in on the action and introducing a whole new way to play the time management format.