Welcome to Country Story, another title in a long line of Facebook games that tasks you with running your own virtual farm, giving you the opportunity to try to raise a teeming homestead out of little more than a vegetable patch.
Developers Playfish have created a neat, colourful little game in Country Story. You start with nothing but a piece of bare land and a handful of seeds and tools which you use to start your own small farm. You need to direct your character with the mouse to plough plots, sow and tend to crops and harvest the fruits of your labour. Doing such jobs earns you experience points which level up your character over time, unlocking such things as new crops and letting you plough more plots of land. You also earn gold coins by completing quests and selling harvested crops which you can use to buy new seeds, items and decorations for your farm, the size of your operation growing over time.
Rather than trying to create some kind of agrarian powerhouse, working on your farm in Country Story is more like running a cottage industry. It looks and feels like your character is tilling away in his or her own backyard rather than running an actual farm and that's part of the game's limited charm. It's cute and sedate, the pace of the game largely determined by the length of time it takes you to grow crops. This happens in real time, some crops taking as little as four hours to grow while others can take an entire day. It's slow by design, meant to stretch out your play time across weeks unless you purchase special fertilizer in-game to speed things up (which you'll need to pay real world cash for).
Characters in the game world (your home is part of small village that includes the likes of a market and a place to purchase animals) will give you quests to help give you some direction as you start and these can be completed fairly easily. Some, however, are tied to the more social aspect of the game, requiring you to invite and work with friends on your respective farms. If you fancy a simple solitary pursuit, this means you won't be able to complete a large chunk of the early quests and it will seriously slow down your progression.
In terms of ease of use there's not much that will trouble you, beyond a few interface quirks. For example, at one point during my game I decided I wanted to delete and rearrange the plots that I had tilled. The game doesn't present an obvious way to delete existing plots, which I found odd and frustrating given how straightforward the button layout is for other tasks. I eventually found the delete plot button tucked away under a tab in the decoration menu, which is quite silly. It's also too easy to break some of the quests; one required me to have a least ten plots of land ploughed on my farm. At the time I was given the quest I already had more than ten and the game didn't register that fact, forcing me to delete some plots and start again.
Like most games on Facebook, Country Story is free to play but offers certain advantages to those who wish to spend some money by purchasing blue Playfish Cash. These blue coins can be used to buy items like the aforementioned fertilizer (in fact, this is the only way to get fertilizer outside of the small supply you earn through quest rewards) and special decorations for your farm. I can't say that during my play time I ever felt the urge to fork out for such things, because as relaxed and pretty looking as Country Story is I never got any lasting sense of satisfaction or reward from playing the game. Unlike the more complex games of this type (such as Farmville) there's not enough here to hold your attention for very long. It might be worth sampling, but I don't think many will chose it over the competition.