The Best Facebook Games of 2010

It’s the end of June, and we have seen a tremendous influx of quality games into Facebook since the beginning of the year. Each month new genres, new ideas, and new evolutions of old ideas have continually raised the bar, from the boom of city builders to the sea of World Cup inspired soccer apps. Which among these many new titles are the top new games will differ according to individual taste, but we’ve endeavored to pick out the best Facebook games for this first half of 2010 with an eye to the many different popular genres

A note on our methodology: we’ve taken a look at all of our game reviews since January and picked out our top 10 Facebook favorites based on factors like presentation quality, style, attention to detail, originality or adaptation of old concepts, and, of course, fun factor. The number of users, as measured by monthly active users (MAUs), also plays a part, but the titles below are by no means all among the most popular Facebook games.

Here are our picks:

Mercenaries of War10. Mercenaries of War

The list starts out with a classic genre — the RPG — with a game from earlier this month: Mercenaries of War from Kaboom Social Games. To a degree, Mercenaries is your typical Facebook RPG, but Kaboom steers away from high fantasy, instead shoving the player into an apocalyptic world of war.

War-based RPGs are nothing new, but Mercenaries stands out in its blending of console gaming concepts into a traditionally text-based genre. Many missions involve animated action, with the player shooting up guards or pitting a squad of their mercs against some big bad boss, Final Fantasy style. Beyond this, even the text-based missions come with added polish, showing the player searching for an object or welding through a door.

As for battles, it’s gratifying to watch your mercenaries duke it out with other players in a bloody skirmish. And here Kaboom once again has a careful attention to detail, as each character responds and reacts to damage. Moreover, there’s a very cool element of “Adrenaline,” that makes you all but invincible after a few battles.

As it stands, Mercenaries of War only has around 15,000 monthly active users, but it’s a game we hope catches on.

FIFA Superstars9. FIFA Superstars

FIFA Superstars from Electronic Arts / Playfish is certainly one of the better soccer apps out there. Don’t be confused, however, as it’s not like the traditional FIFA console titles; instead, it’s a coaching-based sports game. Players manage a team of professional FIFA players and train them the way they see fit.

What really makes the game shine is the level of polish. For each training exercise the player performs, the team visibly reacts, and for each training tool purchased, their stadium changes. This produces something close to a city-building element in the game, with great aesthetic rewards to achieve.

It’s also worth mentioning that FIFA is the largest intellectual property brought to Facebook by Electronic Arts, giving the game a very “name brand” appeal. Couple this with gratifying matches against other players, and you’ve got a recipe for a very popular app.

Currently FIFA Superstars is closing in on 2.8 million MAUs.

Frontierville8. FrontierVille

Part FarmVille, part Treasure Isle, part city-builder, FrontierVille is designed to stem some of developer Zynga’s declining traffic. Set in the age when the American West was new, players set out to create a homestead for themselves in the untamed wilderness.

In truth, most of the features in FrontierVille are not new, but are rather improvements on concepts used in Zynga’s most successful titles. In order to make money and build their homes, players must grow crops, which FarmVille proved most players enjoy. The farm blends with the surrounding wilderness, which constantly encroaches on the land, forcing players to clear it and discover any number of collectible treasures (including a few bears and snakes to fight off), much like Treasure Isle.

One new addition is the non-player spouse that eventually moves out West with you, allowing you to eventually raise a family (or an entire extended clan) to help with the chores. There are also improved mechanics for helping friends, including a new concept of reputation that adds to the rewards of helping out.

Despite its newness, FrontierVille has over 12 million MAUs.

My Empire7. My Empire

Not all city-builders are about a bustling metropolis. At least that was Playfish’s point of view when it took players back to ancient Rome in EA’s entry to the city category, My Empire. This is a fairly simple game centered around two factors: Population and Happiness. In order to succeed, one first builds housing to attract citizens, then begins to tax them. Unfortunately, while this revenue stream is easier on the player than constantly harvesting crops, the NPCs hardly like it.

To mitigate this, players must collect resources to build attractions from the ancient world, like baths and arenas. What makes My Empire shine, though, is that with ancient Rome, Playfish is able to, and does, incorporate a very unique style and mysticism to the game, avoiding some of the rules of modern cities. From the great Coliseum to the Sphinx, everything in My Empire looks fantastic and when a city is in a state of completion, it is a truly gratifying sight.

My Empire now has north of 5.1 million MAUs.

Zoo Paradise6. Zoo Paradise

Released in early March, CrowdStar took a stab at the tycoon genre with Zoo Paradise. The whole concept was to construct a zoo of exotic and aesthetically pleasing creatures in order to attract as many paying customers as possible — who can then be exploited with overpriced merchandise and food!

What really made the game stand out, then and now, was the sheer variety of environments and decorum. Each habitat feels similar with their cell-shaded, almost anime appearances, but at the same time each also looks different. From forests to deserts, every element is gratifying to look at. Combined with special, new, habitats such as aliens, dinosaurs, and even World Cup animals, Zoo Paradise always feels pretty fresh.

Beyond constantly added mini-games, it also doesn’t hurt that it was the first major CrowdStar game to take part in the CrowdStar Cares charity for the Gulf oil spill (if only by a few hours).

Zoo Paradise has 4.4 million monthly active users.

Mall World5. Mall World

Published by 6 Waves, Mall World marks the midway point on our list as a game that truly hits its target market, teenage girls, successfully. Best described as a sim, Mall World is a game that allows players to run their very own boutique in the middle of a giant Facebook mall.

More than just making a store and avatar look pretty, players actually have to manage a virtual business, leveling up and unlocking new and better fashions to purchase and sell. What makes it even better, however, is that sales stem from real users buying your stock, making your choices all the more important. The only downside is that random Facebook friends visit the store are automatically turned into girls — although this could also be a source of amusement.

The game also has a wonderful mini-game to earn extra cash for its female audience, called the Dressing Room Game. Players are given one random clothing item to match an ensemble with and please a customer. Although exceedingly simple, it’s a very cool idea.

In fact, the ideas of Mall World has earned the title constant, steady, growth to 3.7 million MAUs.

NanoStar Siege4. NanoStar Siege

The strategy genre makes its appearance with the Digital Chocolate title NanoStar Siege. Though the game doesn’t top the charts as far as numbers goes, it’s still one of our favorites. Players are able to build up an army of characters and deploy them on a vertical plane, where they march up and attack anything in their path. The idea is to reach the enemy’s fortress and take it down.

What really stands out with the game is the idea of heroes. As part of the Nanoverse, Siege allows players to buy and create decks of virtual cards that are useable across any NanoStar game and grant unique, special powers. Here, they can buff friendly NPCs, strike down enemies, or become powerful units themselves.

It’s also great to be able to set up your own defensive AI when you aren’t present to play. Anyone that attacks you (friends or otherwise) must contend with your deck and your army. Furthermore,  players can strategically decide where place units to defend their fortress as well, as well as when special cards will be deployed.

Currently NanoStar Siege has around 660,000 MAUs.

Epic Goal3. Epic Goal

Here’s another game that’s been growing but hasn’t reached its deserved numbers: Epic Goal from Watercooler. Wrought with an amusing cartoon style, players recruit friends to play on their soccer team and compete for the top rankings. Nonetheless, unlike FIFA, this app is only part management, and takes a very action-heavy approach.

Unusually, players actually control what happens in soccer matches. For Facebook, that counts as a risky move, but Epic Goal’s controls shine wondrously, with a simple point and click interface that contextually creates a clickable button around teammates that are near for a pass, opponents with the ball for a slide tackle, and around the player controlling the ball for a shot.

This is taken alongside team management, for which each player (named after Facebook friends) must be trained in speed, shooting and other skills on a practice field in an amusing set of animations. With the attractive visual style, the training is fun in its own right.

As it stands, Epic Goal has over 166,000 monthly active users.

Soical City2. Social City

Playdom’s Social City was the first big-company title of the city-building boom. Like any of its ilk, this game tasks players with managing population, income, and the happiness of its citizens. It’s the balancing between the three that is fantastic. Income is obviously needed to do anything, but population is also needed to gain experience in any significant numbers; in turn, if happiness is not met, population cannot grow.

Like any quality city-builder, Playdom’s title also looks wonderful, providing a substantial aesthetic reward for building a great city. However, what did, and still does, stand out for the game is its attention to detail. Most of the city-builders we’ve seen have streets devoid of life. Sometimes there’s a guy chopping wood or a lone car, but that’s not what cities are like! Social City has people flying kites, mowing lawns, playing sports, and everything else under the sun. It actually feels like a living, breathing metropolis.

In fact, Social City became so popular that it even caught Zynga’s attention and kicked off a spate of city-building releases from other major developers, including our number seven pick, My Empire.

Social City has declined in recent months, but is still huge at 9.9 million MAUs.

Nightclub City1. Nightclub City

Finally, the number one game so far in 2010 is the sim Nightclub City, published by MyTown creator Booyah (though the game was never officially claimed). Forget restaurants, cities and malls, Nighclub City takes players to the more exciting world of nightlife parties, giving them the power to create their own clubs. Ever since we first spotted the app back in April, it has continued to grow and evolve into the epitome of style.

The basic concept of the game is to decorate your club, building up its luxury levels and thus increasing the cover charges and attracting more guests. More than that, however, the social features are incredible. Not only can you visit and spin a few tracks for a friend, but you can actually hire each of your Facebook buddies as bouncers and bartenders. Each one has sets of special abilities to improve your guest happiness or even the tip rates at the bar. This is further enhanced by the addition of the “Entourage,” where you can add even more friends as special guests and dress them accordingly.

Even though decorating a virtual space has been done before, Nightclub City’s décor oozes style. Nothing feels static: lights flash, objects move, fountains flow, and dancers dance, creating a truly gratifying experience. Moreover, each NPC has its own personality, from the dancing girl that rocks on, to the celebrity, to the jerk that picks fights: each element has its role in making your club the best around. Coupled with a constant stream of new buyable objects, daily giveaways of premium virtual goods, and phenomenal music mixes, Nightclub City seems like a clear choice for the top title, so far, this year.

Currently, Nightclub City continues to grow steadily, with about 4.2 million monthly active users.

The year is far from over, of course. While the pace of new releases on Facebook has slowed drastically, the quality bar has risen far beyond the waves of simple games and their clones that dominated in 2009. We have high hopes for the rest of 2010, so we’ll keep reviewing the latest games with an eye to picking out the best of the best at the end of the year.