The recipe for making a game that profits through microtransactions is ostensibly a simple one: provide an enjoyable activity for players and then throw in a few difficulties that they can ease through small purchases. The trick lies in finding the balance between fun and hardship. Too easy and there’s no reason for anyone to reach for the microtransaction button; too hard and players will feel that they’re being gouged.
Right from the start, the iOS game Puzzle Craft (€0.79) from Chillingo gets two things very right. First the name: puzzle games are perfect for smartphones and tablets, and the “craft” suffix has worked for some major properties (World of Warcraft and Minecraft most obviously). Second the art, which is a luscious spin on the Euro boardgames style, with tiny, characterful workers and cartoonish buildings. However, when it comes to gameplay, it errs (perhaps understandably) on the easy side of the microtransaction equation.
The goal of the game is straightforward: collect resources to build your settlement up into a city, complete with castle. The resources are collected by dragging your finger to link up groups of tiles on two 6×6 grids, representing a farm and a mine. Both cash and resources can be used to hire workers, craft tools and construct buildings, introducing higher-level resources and easing the process of building up their stockpiles. The game is generous with its handouts, and the core mechanic of linking resources will stick in your brain when you put the game away for a while.
The problem (apart from some serous bugs that have supposedly been squashed in the latest update) is that there just isn’t a huge amount to do at the moment. The only current element to the game, the “campaign mode”, in which you build up your settlement to a city complete with castle, isn’t going to last for more than a week. Worse, there isn’t much challenge to be had along the way. The lack of a need to reach for microtransactions isn’t wholly a bad thing: this isn’t a free game, after all, and €0.79 for a week’s worth of fun is a decent deal.
Further content is promised, though exactly what that might be isn’t clear yet. Hopefully, it will provide a little more challenge and add some replayability and a social aspect. For the moment though, picking up this game will deliver a gentle, slick and appealing city-building game that you’ll come back to again and again as long as it lasts.