It's impossible to write an article about Facebook games without mentioning FarmVille. And as you'll know if you read our feature on that game, it's almost impossible to write anything at all if you're playing FarmVille. But Zynga's blockbuster isn't the only game on Facebook, so what else is out there? Are all Facebook games about collecting stuff? Do they all involve spamming your friends? Are any of them any good?
Surely there's no one better to answer these questions than Eurogamer's Ellie Gibson. More to the point, there's no one else willing to. So she picked a bunch of Facebook games to review, based on recommendations from friends and what's riding high in the charts. (For the record, FarmVille-style games such as Mafia Wars, Cafe World and FishVille were excluded, due to the fact they're basically FarmVille with mobsters / burgers / kippers, and we've all had quite enough of that thank you.)
As all these titles exist on a unique platform and are free to play, we decided not to award scores in the traditional manner. Instead, we're weighing up whether each game is "Worth it" - as in, worth spending your time on. And worth alienating your entire Friends list with constant updates, of course.
Match Defense: Toy Soldiers
This is a spin-off of XBLA game Toy Soldiers, which scored a healthy 8/10 on Eurogamer and was praised as being "the best tower defence game on Live". The Facebook offering shares the same vintage military stylings, but belongs to the match-three genre. Think planes and tanks instead of rubies and sapphires - Bejeweled for boys, in other words.
Enemy units appear on a map above the playing grid. Matching up three symbols or more launches missiles, air strikes, ground attacks and so on, depending on which symbols you've clicked. You can select any two symbols in the grid to swap them - they don't have to be adjacent - and you don't have to make a match every time. This means it's dead easy to set up big combos.
The idea is to make you think strategically about which enemies you're facing on the top map. In practice, things don't quite play out like that. It's easier just to click away furiously, eliminating as many symbols as possible as fast as possible - like you would in any other match-three game. But because it's so much easier to make matches, this game isn't as challenging or addictive as the likes of Bejeweled, and certainly doesn't have the depth of Toy Soldiers XBLA.
Serious fans of that game might be motivated to give Match Defense a go by the presence of Xbox Live integration. There's a virtual war going on between the Allied Forces and Central Powers across both games, with occupied territories shown on a frequently updated map. You pick a side and then contribute points to the war effort when you win rounds - regardless of whether you're playing Toy Soldiers on Live or Facebook.
This is a neat enough feature but it doesn't add a great deal to the gameplay experience, or make up for the fact that Match Defense is rather simplistic and repetitive. It might have helped if you could battle against human opponents, or earn Achievement Points for your Facebook efforts, but as it is this feels like a starting point for Live integration rather than an exploration of its full potential.
Only if you're into Toy Soldiers, puzzlers and blowing stuff up without having to think too hard.