Last October, the New York Times published an article that claimed FarmVille farmers outnumbered actual farmers in the US by a ratio of more than 60:1. Dr. Phil recently hosted a show all about the dangers of FarmVille addiction. At a recent U.K. press event, Facebook executives boasted that FarmVille was even bigger than their chief competitor, Twitter. Move over Mario Madness. Take a hike Pac-Man Fever. There’s a new video game sensation that’s sweeping the nation, and it’s not afraid to get its hands dirty. It seems like no matter where you turn, just about everyone is playing FarmVille.

But what is FarmVille? A virtual farming simulation with ample bells and whistles, FarmVille is first and foremost a game about crops. You’ll plow plots of land, seed them, and harvest what grows. Ignoring all of the barn raisings and fertilizer, all of the elephants and maple trees, this simple three step mechanic is at heart of FarmVille. And unlike many games on Facebook, the only skill this one requires is patience.

Each crop will grow within a certain time frame. Blueberries will only take four hours, but cotton will take three days. You’ll need to return after the growing period has passed if you want to harvest your crops – but there’s a twist. Take too long and your crops will wither and die. Crops with at the same rate they grow, so if you plant blueberries right now, you’ll need to harvest them 4-8 hours from now. Anything earlier and they’re not ready, anything later and they’re dead stock.

Growing and harvesting crops will earn you money and experience, which you’ll use to buy more seeds and to level up. You’ll also use the money earned to buy buildings and decorations for your farm. Once you get used to the main mechanic, you’ll find that purchases like these become central to the gameplay experience.

Be it through gifts or purchases, your farm will build up a wild array of trees and animals. These can both be harvested, but unlike crops they don’t disappear once reaped or wilt and die – they stay around forever. Things can get out of control pretty quick depending on the size of your farm, so you’ll want to explore options to house these animals. Buying buildings like dairy farms and chicken coops can make organization and animal harvesting a breeze.

FarmVille wouldn’t be Facebook’s most widely played app if it neglected to include social features, and it has those in spades. You’ll first be introduced to the social nature of FarmVille when you check out the free gifts that are offered. Unlike most games that offer free items and paid premium items, FarmVille seems to offer a middle-tier. All of the animals and trees you’ll want to get will be available exclusively as gifts. Very few are actually available through the store, and those that are will usually require you to part with real world cash. This mid-tier gift system has been a huge success, with mist FarmVille players making gift-giving a part of their daily visit in the hopes that their friends will return the favor.

But the gifts don’t just come in the form of plants and animals – they’ll often play a part in a special event or project that FarmVille has going on that week. During Valentine’s Day, farmers could send their friends Valentine’s cards. Collect enough and you could exchange those for special Valentine’s specific items and animals. At the time of this writing there is also a horse stable project underway, where each farmer needs to collect 50 items from their friends to complete the new building. Gift giving is a simple, even common facet of most Facebook games – but FarmVille knows how to do it right.

Gift-giving isn’t the only social aspect the game has to offer. You can visit your friends farms to fertilize their crops and scare away birds, or feed their chickens to try and hatch a mystery egg – once you’ve finished your daily crop rotation, FarmVille tries to make sure it still has plenty to offer to keep you entertained. Some milestones, like increasing the size of your farm or raising a barn, can only be done if you have enough friends to make it happen. Needless to say, while it may annoy those who don’t play FarmVille, the frequent status updates that many of us choose to post from inside the game are key to the overall experience.

FarmVille also leads the charge when it comes to games offering fresh content on a regular basis. New buildings and farm vehicles add new twists to the gameplay regularly, and seasonal content is common and always a hoot. In the last 45 days alone we’ve seen New Year’s content, Superbowl content, Valentine’s content and Lunar New Year’s content – and it’s entirely possible I’m forgetting another theme or two in there. There’s always a celebration underway in FarmVille, and it makes sure there’s always something new to see or do or grow.

FarmVille is not a complicated game by any stretch. There are no dragons to slay, no race cars to drive, no dungeons to conquer. FarmVille is a game about planting strawberries and squash and watermelons. It’s about building a fence around your sheep. It’s about getting your friends to help you raise a barn. It’s a simple, family-friendly farming experience that everyone can enjoy – and just like the delicious taste of farm fresh fruit, once you start it’s pretty much impossible to stop. Maybe Dr. Phil was right!