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It's Not a Game, But I'll Play It, Anyway

Susan Arendt | 22 Apr 2010 17:00
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After seeing numerous comments from you, our lovely audience, that there are far, far better Facebook games out there than Farmville, I decided to do a bit of investigating for myself. To be perfectly honest, I didn't believe you. Not that I consider Farmville to be the pinnacle of game design, but every other Facebook game I'd ever tried varied in quality between moderately mediocre and complete crap (except for Bejeweled Blitz and Hexic, that is), so I eyed the possibility of finding something worthwhile with understandable skepticism. Much to my surprise, I did find something I enjoy playing. It's just not actually a game.

Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures at first appears to be a pretty solid, albeit quite simple, D&D romp. You choose your class, equip your gear, and select an adventure from among a buffet of outings such as "Dragonjaw Dungeon" and "Keep on Coilspine Ridge." The tale unfolds in Encounter Updates, which spell out exactly what kind of challenges your hero faces and the consequences of how well (or not) he rolls. Here's an example, from a recent adventure my hero Elleryn had:

Goblins attack anything. Hobgoblins attack anything twice. Surrounded by goblins and hobgoblins, Elleryn appeared to be in dire straits.

Elleryn made a Dexterity check with a difficulty of 15 ... and rolled 11

The first stab didn't hurt too much -- it was only a flesh wound. It was the eighth one that did the most damage.

Elleryn took 10 damage.

Elleryn received 33 XP.

Sounds like a fun little adventure, doesn't it? But you don't actually get to do anything. Every few minutes, you can click the "Update" button to reveal a new chapter in your adventure, but once you've started, you don't get to make any choices. You don't roll for yourself, you don't decide whether to turn left or right, you don't even get to turn tail and run. You just wait for the opportunity to spectate as your hero's story develops. It kind of sucks.

And yet I play every day, all day, and so do several of my friends - two of whom run their own D&D campaigns. We've all agreed that yes, the game is pretty lame, and yet we keep playing, crowing over our hauls of loot, healing each other when the opportunity arises, and comparing notes on how things played out. We bemoan the fact that we can't trade items, that nothing good ever seems to be for sale, and that you have very little control over when you can use a potion. And we keep on clicking that Update button.

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