Gourmet Ranch entertains without breaking much new ground.
Popular social games such as Farmville and Café World are all grown up now, and evidently they’ve decided to hook up because their hybrid children are running wild on Facebook. Playdemic’s Gourmet Ranch is one of the more precocious children, brilliantly combining familiar restaurant and farming methods in one chic little package. Unfortunately, it brings little else to its outrageously expensive tables, but disgruntled Zynga ex-pats seeking a change of scenery will find much here to enjoy.
Unlike many real-life organic restaurants, which are often suspiciously disconnected from farmland, the restaurant in Gourmet Ranch is conveniently located next to your crops. After planting your crops and fencing in your animals (which take anywhere from several minutes to several days to grow), you can then harvest them and cook up any number of tasty organic dishes on your stoves and then place them on a counter. Waitresses will then serve these to your customers (whose hip attire in the rural setting implies that Gourmet Ranch is some posh Napa Valley outfit), who will in turn cause your restaurant’s popularity to rise based on the diversity of your dishes. Each stove and counter can only hold one item, and servings, like crops, can spoil if not used.
Of course, if all this sounds like too much work, Gourmet Ranch‘s social elements allow you to focus on either the farming or restaurant element more or less exclusively. Players are allowed to put excess crops up for sale, and your recipe book gives you the option of seeing what your friends have available if you’re unable to cook something. Alternatively, you can buy supplies from the greedy NPC Big Mart, who charges $1,740 in coins for items like carrots, which take only ten minutes to grow. Even so, focusing on the restaurant is ultimately more profitable than focusing the farm, since the latter requires having many friends to buy your supplies. Also, as is common with farming games, you can visit your friends’ farms and fertilize their plants for a few boosts to experience.
The option to decorate your operation is available, although this doesn’t have as much influence on your popularity (which increases the rate at which your servings are sold) as does a diverse selection of food. This is just as well, since knickknacks aren’t cheap at Gourmet Ranch, with tire swings ringing up at $500,000 and fishponds at $300,000. (Somehow, classical ruins only cost $59,000. There has to be an educational message in here somewhere.) Fortunately, however, there’s little emphasis on buying items with real-world cash here, and most items can be bought with in-game revenue after a lot of hard work.
Ultimately, there’s nothing new here aside from a very successful combination of two popular Facebook game genres, but Gourmet Ranch is extremely remarkable in this regard. Not long ago we previewed a game with a similar concept—Meteor Games’ My Sweet Shop—noting that in its current format, My Sweet Shop’s combination of farming and restaurant work seemed awkward and made little sense. Gourmet Ranch‘s rural organic farm and restaurant setting neatly overcomes this hurdle, and the game’s impressive popularity and polish ensure that it will likely serve as a model for imitators. In short, if established farm and restaurant sims aren’t holding your attention, take a visit to Gourmet Ranch for a spell. It’s hardly groundbreaking, but sometimes a good change of scenery is all you need.