GnomeTown on Facebook: 1 tbsp Ravenwood Fair, 1 cup saccharin, fun


If cuteness were a virtue, GnomeTown, the new game from Playdom, would be the patron saint. Take a village of gnomes, add a gang of little critters with big eyes and give them mailboxes for houses. Even the game's adorable garden snails would be right at home on LOLcats.

But is the game fun?

No. Not at first. I was chatting with a colleague when I first started GnomeTown, and I made some snide remarks like, "It's Ravenwood Fair with different art." But a surprising thing happened at minute 31 or thereabouts. I started to enjoy myself.

GnomeTown (in beta) asks you to join an adventure to save some doe-eyed beasts and the King of the Shrouded Forest from an evil gnome. While the story is secondary, it does allow you to follow quests through a larger tale, much like, yes, Ravenwood Fair.

The game follows all the standards you would expect from a city-building/harvesting game. It doesn't break much ground in that regard. You build your garden town with gathered resources, harvest crops for extra goodies and explore the edges of your domain to discover new items and adventures. You can speed up tasks by spending gold (available for purchase) or cupcakes. Apparently, these fuzzballs like sugary icing. Probably to complement their scruffy, kootchy-wootchy, widdle faces. Cupcakes are delightfully available and easy to get, which makes finishing tasks much less burdensome than other games.

But in the midst of this standard-fare are some new treats. First, the concept of energy has been limited to only one dynamic -- clearing forest with your machete. Clearing the forest is important since it expands your borders and reveals treasures, but it's not critical. And, behold, you can remove junk from your garden, build, mine, and harvest to your heart's content! The result is you can play this game for a long time without fearing the inevitable "You're out of energy. Go bother your friends, spend money or we'll see you tomorrow!"

Another nice touch is that you control all the critters on the screen. So if you want to do five things at once you don't queue up the actions, you just have your five cutesters do the tasks at the same time. Very cool.

Finally, there are the Gnomespeditions. These are little adventures where you can interact with folks outside your friends list. Playdom pulled a card from their City of Wonders deck here, allowing you to Brawl, Journey or Party with other players. No communication required. Just click on a player, select one of those three buttons and the results are spit out. It's a good way to get a few extra items and maybe even find a new buddy.

On the downside, GnomeTown shows its beta status in a few ways.

First, when I returned to my garden for day two I was surprised to find that there wasn't a lot of new junk to clear. I actually had to look around for awhile to find new tasks. Second, going to a neighbor's garden town doesn't really provide much to do. Leave a gift, look around, zzzzzzz. And last, a lot of the quests in the early game require you to clean up stuff that, oops, I had already cleared. This is a common problem with games like GnomeTown, but it would be nice if we could get past it.

In the final analysis, GnomeTown enjoys a shiny veneer that you'd expect from a veteran developer like Playdom. The game looks nice and it doesn't crash much -- a welcome perk these days. Yes, you still need to get past all the tutorial messages. And the number of sharing pop-ups can step on your fun at first. But if you can get through the clunky beginning, the game is worth a whirl.

Got any must-know cheats or tips for GnomeTown? Or are you looking for friends to play the game with? Leave a note in the comments below. Add comment.