We didn’t expect to be impressed with Farm Craft. Sure, you can finally hire farmhands, but did we need another garden game? After the first two rounds, though, it opened up with surprise mid-level goals and dozens of decision points. A well-balanced mix of money and task goals, and many ways to approach each challenge, made it a compelling offering.

It’s not perfect, and unfortunately our enjoyment was hampered by crashes due to video card issues, but like Build-a-lot, it’s a strategy offering with a lot mroe going on than you see at first glance.

Garden games are popular because they offer complexity that’s easy to understand. We all get that plants need to be watered, fertilized, picked, and stored. So the stories are engaging without requiring much explanation.

In Farm Craft from Nevosoft and Positive Games, you are Ginger, a young woman  with a natural gift for farming. Instead of the old “save Grandpa’s farm” plot, this mixes in an evil factory affecting the region in different ways. Some farms are flooded, some are bone-dry, some face market challenges. Ginger visits neighbors to help with their specific needs.

Each level starts out with a goal, but you also get surprise tasks.  You may have to grow 4 exotic vegetables for the County Fair. Then the judge likes yours so much he wants two more crates to take to the Agricultural College. If you ignore the timer, you can take all the time you want. However, the only way to win trophies is to finish before the tracking timer. That makes midlevel tasks a major twist.

Then there’s the business sim. There are many different ways to use your resources. If you have $400, should you buy a sprinkler? Hire a farmhand? Invest in slowgrowing high-profit goods? Add another chicken coop? You’ll make decisions like these continuously throughout the round.  

The game does a brilliant job of mixing money and task goals. You need money to buy a license to raise chickens. Then you need to raise corn to feed them. Then you need more money for a storehouse for the eggs. This means you’ll often use strategies not directly related to the goal, like adding a field of mushrooms as a cash crop. That makes the game much more complex and interesting.

Decisions aren’t easy, either. Crops need watering and fertilizing; livestock need feeding, which means more crops to take care of. You can move a building after you’ve placed it, but only by renting a crane, which eats into profits.  Every investment requires time and money for future maintenance. Finding the right balance is tricky, which gives the game replay value as you try different success strategies.

Detailed graphics convey important information. You can see dirt drying out in stages even before the “needs water” warning. That lets you plan well in advance.  

Click management is fantastic. We had over 100 clicks queued up at one point, and if you save midround, you come back with all clicks intact. You can cancel out of a click sequence at any point with a right click.

Farmhands are a great addition to the genre. You can hire as many as you can afford, but they’re not always a good thing as they may interrupt long click chains.  Each pay period is about a third of a round, so you can hire them more than once on the same level.  It took us a couple of replays to figure out how best to use them.

That leads us to our main complaint. The strategy tutorial is inadequate. If you don’t already know it’s a good idea to have feedcrops planted before you buy cows, you’ll face  frustration after you’ve chosen a strategy that can’t succeed.  You can start over with a replay, but we found most levels had to be played multiple times to earn a trophy.   The timer also feels unfinished. There are no countdown cues like turning yellow when you’re near the end.  It’s not essential, but it would have improved the game.

We also need to mention we ran into a crashing problem on level 7. We were able to continue, but it was frustrating.  The system we were using is a standard brand less than two years old, lots of memory, fast chip, all software current. The game requires a more expensive video card.  We understand most developers use high powered “game configuration” computers, but they do need to test casual games on the kinds of systems families typically buy for under $1,000, as that’s a large part of the market. We have reduced our rating for the game by a full star because of this problem. If other games have crashed on you because of videocard issues, this one probably will, too.

We do recommend the game for those with higher end systems. If you like Alice Greenfingers 2, you can play Farm Craft as a similar game with much better graphics. If you like challenging strategy games like Build-a-Lot, we think you’ll find this compelling once you get past the first few levels.