The Grinns Tale is a new Facebook-based role-playing game developed by Nexon and published by 6waves. The game showed up as the No. 1 top emerging Facebook game towards the end of last week with an increase in monthly active users of 25,139 (169%).
The Grinns Tale combines two main components: a citybuilding element in which the player must construct a “base camp” village in order to generate supplies and resources, and a role-playing game component where the player takes a team of up to three “hero” characters into a tower to battle monsters, acquire treasures and advance the game’s story.
This combination of elements is nothing new, but the flair with which the whole package is put together is what sets The Grinns Tale apart from its rivals on Facebook. Nexon has been making online role-playing games for over fifteen years now, so has a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, particularly in the lucrative free-to-play casual player market. This really shows throughout The Grinns Tale which, while providing enough familiar mechanics to allow Facebook game veterans to feel at home, doesn’t patronize more experienced players with oversimplified systems and “hands-off” sequences.
This is particularly apparent during the game’s battle component, in which the player’s team of three customizable heroes works their way through a linear series of rooms by defeating monsters. Rather than taking the “automatic battle” approach displayed in several recent titles such as Tynon, The Grinns Tale’s battles are much more interactive. Players must click and drag to draw a line from their hero to their target, at which point the hero will begin automatically attacking until the enemy runs out of health. A “cleric” character that the player picks up early in the game may also be dragged onto heroes in order to heal them — again, she will repeatedly cast healing spells on the targeted hero until interrupted. Players must also manage their team’s hunger levels by feeding them bread when their energy gets too low, and ensure that their health remains above zero. Heroes receive experience points as they successfully clear waves of enemies, and grow in strength accordingly. Players may also find equipment in the dungeons as well as craft it back in town.
The town-based gameplay similarly provides a few twists on the conventions of the citybuilding genre. Rather than limiting players’ actions by an energy bar, for example, building and crafting tasks take varying amounts of real time to accomplish. These times may be reduced either through the expenditure of hard currency or by assigning villagers to the task. The more villagers a player has in their settlement, the quicker they can get things done, but each villager is only able to take an action every two minutes, and the player’s population is capped according to their progress through the dungeons. It is a good system that works well, allowing for gradual, organic growth of the player’s town without feeling like progress is being obviously and artificially throttled. There is always something to do, in other words.
In terms of monetization, the game handles this primarily through its hard currency, which may be exchanged for various building resources, used to bypass wait times if no villagers are available, expended to purchase villager action points if they have been expended, and spent to purchase special decorative items that help to increase the town’s “happiness” rating. At no point is the player badgered to spend money — an early quest walks them through how they may use it to hurry production, but the spent currency is given straight back to the player as the quest reward.
The only thing really lacking in the game is social interaction with other players. It’s possible to invite friends and send them gifts, but beyond this there does not appear to be any means of playing with them. There are several possible ways this could be implemented: perhaps a PvP component, wherein players would be able to engage in asynchronous battles between their teams of customized heroes. Or perhaps an asynchronous cooperative element similar to that seen in EA’s now-defunct Dragon Age Legends or Atari’s Heroes of Neverwinter, in which players can “borrow” each others’ characters to allow them to take on various challenges. Either way, the absence of true social play is not really missed, as it’s clear that the game has been primarily designed around solo play, and that’s no bad thing. Forcing players to invite friends and play socially when they perhaps do not wish to is a sure way to lose that proportion of the audience who just wants to sit down and play without being nagged.
All in all, then, The Grinns Tale is an excellent example of how to put together a good-quality, player-friendly Facebook role-playing game. Its mechanics are simple enough to attract casual players, yet provide sufficient depth to keep genre veterans interested. The writing throughout is good, the Tim Burtonesque “Nightmare Before Christmas” aesthetic is distinctive and full of personality, and the gameplay is fun. Nexon should be commended for not taking the easy way out and simply cloning the vast numbers of almost-identical Facebook games, and instead taking their own distinctive approach. The game certainly deserves to catch on and find a strong audience, and 6waves certainly has the marketing clout to make it happen.
Distinctive, entertaining, fun and free from compromises on the gameplay front, The Grinns Tale is a fine example of how to get a Facebook role-playing game right.