Playdom Outdoes Itself with New Facebook Game, City of Wonder

City of WonderDisney-acquired Playdom has outdone itself with a new Facebook app discovered by the folks over at Gamezebo. Called City of Wonder, it’s a game that combines some of the best parts of Playdom’s past titles, as well as socialized mechanics of others.

In short, City of Wonder is a streamlined, very social version, of Civilization, but unlike other titles influenced by the classic Sid Meier PC game, it focuses more on city building, and has a beautiful pattern of game progression. While some may complain that it’s a Civ clone, the truth is, that it feels more a balanced combination of Social City, Civilization, and Facebook social mechanics.

So what is the point of City of Wonder? When starting out, the game is primarily a city builder set somewhere between the Stone and Bronze Ages. The idea is to create a bustling society by growing one’s population in the same manner as one does in Social City. This means that residences are constructed that periodically increase population, and things like décor, markets, and cultural structures must be built to keep happiness up, lest population decrease. Like in its predecessor, if happiness is not kept, population will stagnate, and here, even decline.

Bronze AgeWhat makes this critical is that a high population is needed to reach various milestones in the game (sort of like achievements, which are here too), but more than this, they are required to construct more “Goods Buildings.” This is where minor, “farming” elements come into play as these Goods Buildings create one’s primary income. From farms, to quarries, to vineyards, players use these structures to produce goods for sale. Also, any unclaimed goods will “spoil” if not collected in time (à la Social City contracts). In addition to this, different market buildings such as a grocer or trade depot can be constructed to add periodic income as well.

Most social games would get to this point and call it quits in terms of depth. But in City of Wonder, here is where the Civilization influence comes into play. Yes, it’s fun to decorate a city the way one likes, but now each type of building has a deeper strategy to it. Not all structures are unlocked by mere level gains, but rather require a certain types of research from the statistics of Culture, Trade, or Military.

Aside from the residences, every type of building increases one of these stats. However, many of the better, more advanced versions of these structures require a certain type of research to be done. For a sum of in-game currency (Silver), the player’s society will study some new form of knowledge such as writing, masonry, mysticism, and so on. Each one will take a certain amount of time, with higher level ones taking longer. What determines their “level,” though, is where they are in a technology tree, meaning research on pottery (clay), for example, must be done before masonry can be studied.

ExpeditionsThis earns more than just aesthetic reward, but plays a major role in one of the game’s primary social mechanic called Expeditions. City of Wonder actually has a world map, of sorts, where users can set out and explore other players’ cities. From here, one can not only view another users’ creation, but can consult with their three non-player advisors about the benefits of cultural exchange, trade, or battle (as a side note, these advisors also help the player through the construction of their civilization itself). Unlike Civilization, there are no units that determine the outcome of any of these three actions. In order to win a cultural, trade, or military exchange, the player’s collective buildings must have higher statistics, determined by the type of buildings they build in their civilization, than the other player, and the advisors will let the player know what is their best option.

The benefits of each are great, so no single one is better than the other (assuming all stats have an equal chance of success). If players choose culture, a successful exchange will earn bonus experience. If they choose trade, Silver will be acquired. And if they are feeling aggressive, a successful military attack will garner more populace. Furthermore, and though it is unclear, players can also initiate a “Quick Attack” before exploring a civilization. This appears to be a sort of surprise attack that influences the outcome of battle. Regardless, whatever choice one chooses needs to be a wise one, as only so many expeditions can be made before they have to recharge (about 20 minutes for one).

AdvisorsYou should also be cautious about picking to many fights too, because other players can just as easily start one with you, while you are away, leaving your city in flames. It’s easy enough to repair with just a click, and the game even gives the player a chance to instantly retaliate. That said, there doesn’t seem to be any real detriment to losing, other than a win/loss record.

Allies can also influence results of these three exchanges as well. Like most social games involving any sort of virtual space, friends can be added as neighbors/allies and will occasionally grant bonuses when out on expeditions. In addition to this, the game has a typical visit spur random events that players can “help out” with for some added coin. One slightly new addition, however, is that once allies, both friends will get a free embassy building from that player. Once placed, it will not only increase the populace’s happiness, but that ally can click on it daily for extra monetary rewards.

Friends can also add benefits through gifting as well. Beyond random decorative items, they can also gift NPCs called “Legends.” These include some of history’s biggest names such as Socrates, Pericles, Sacagawea, Hannibal, and so on. Each one will provide a different bonus to things such as military power, income, population, expeditions recharges, and so on. Some require virtual currency (Gold) to buy, – these can also be bought in virtual card packs – some can be bought with Silver, and others can only be gifted. Moreover, there is also a collection book, that grants added reward for collecting sets, such as Legendary artists, tycoons, politicians, etc.

LegendsSocial mechanics also continue in the form of Marvels. These, unsurprisingly, consist of the great Wonders of the World including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Wall of China, and the Colossus at Rhodes. The buildings grant tremendous bonuses to culture, trade, or military might, as well as bonus income when market structures pay out. The catch is that unless one uses Gold, it must be posted to the player’s Facebook wall and friends must help out to build it, gaining a bonus themselves when doing so.

This same concept also comes into play with the expansion of one’s land. While the first increase of real estate just costs silver, subsequent ones require both silver and allies or virtual currency.

Coming down to the last, very cool, features of City of Wonder, is a random loot system. As was already noted, residence and market structures periodically produce more population and income. What makes for a nice bonus, is that every once and a while, players will get a “tribute” from their citizens in the form of a free gift. This could be décor, a building, or even a legend.

Random CityThe biggest part of City of Wonder, however, is its sense of style. Like Social City, the game just feels completely alive with citizens working in fields, tending homes, and even marching parades when happy. More than that, the progression is phenomenal as rather than just unlocking new buildings of the same feel with each level, players progress through the ages of history. Everything that has been talked about thus far has only been from the perspective of the Stone and Bronze Ages, but players can level all the way up to the Modern Age and beyond! It is incredibly gratifying to watch the world grow and change so dramatically. Furthermore, players never have to leave the Age they are in either. Granted, the efficiency is lower as far as population, income, and cultural gains are concerned, but the game is fully functional as a city builder at any Age.

Typically, this is where we would start listing some of the shortcomings with the application. Fact of the matter is, the only, minor complaint to be had with the Playdom title is that players cannot cancel the placement of a structure without exiting the build menu entirely. Other than that, there is only the fact that many may complain about the heavy Civilization influence. Nevertheless, the combination of City of Wonder with that concept, and with one of our top social game picks for 2010, Social City, has created a Facebook title that is a step above the rest. In the end, the game looks great, is highly social, a ton of fun, very addictive, and, of course, free. And there’s not many that can complain about that.