Things just got real: Playing Hasbro’s Zynga board games

Hasbro and Zynga’s partnership finally bore fruit this week, with Zynga-branded board games coming to store shelves nation-wide. We received some review copies in time for Inside Network’s monthly office happy hour and decided to play through them in order to see if these were new and interesting takes on the games of our youth.

We received review copies of Hasbro’s Hungry Hungry Herd, based on FarmVille, and CityVille Monopoly. This is only a portion of the products released on Monday, based on the full range of titles and toys we detailed last week.

The board games’ arrival in stores is a smart move for Zynga because it helps prolong the life of their source IP. While FarmVille 2 recently launched on Facebook and, the original FarmVille is still going strong on the social network with a little over 3 million daily active users, with a healthy 17 percent DAU/MAU rate. CityVille is in a slightly lower standing with 2.5 million DAU and a DAU/MAU percentage of roughly 14 percent.  While these are far cries from the games’ peak traffic numbers, they’re still among the top 15 titles on Facebook and aren’t likely to fall away any time soon.

As we noted last week, each of the board games comes bundled with a code that can be redeemed for a certain amount of each corresponding Zynga title’s hard currency. So, not only do kids get a board game to play, but their parents are motivated to go back into FarmVille or CityVille and spend their free money. From Zynga’s perspective, this could be a win on two fronts: Not only does it get a share of the profits from the board game sales, but the currency could drive a number of lapsed players back into the games they left behind. It’s too early to tell what kind of effect (if any) the board games will have on Zynga’s online audience, but we’ll be keeping track of their progress via our traffic-tracking service AppData.

Now, onto our experiences with Hungry Hungry Herd and CityVille Monopoly.

Hungry Hungry Herd

This is a FarmVille-branded version of Hasbro’s popular kids’ game Hungry Hungry Hippos, for better or worse. The game requires some assembly, and it actually took five people with nine degrees between them longer to set everything up than it did to actually play a round of the game.

If you’re not familiar with Hungy Hungry Hippos, here’s how the game works: Players choose an animal on one side of the playing field and press the lever on its backside (its “tail”) to cause the head to snap out and back. Gameplay consists of players releasing all the marbles  stored on their side of the board into the center area and pushing their tail as frantically as possible in order to snap up as many marbles as possible. The winning player is the one who gobbled up the most marbles, earning them first choice of animals for the next round.

Hungry Hungry Herd’s got a couple of things going against it: It’s over way too quickly and it’s incredibly loud to play. In fairness, these are flaws related to the game’s design rather than Zynga’s branding. In theory, Hungry Hungry Herd is meant for children who are at least three-years-old. According to one of our engineers (who has children in this age bracket), Hungry Hungry Hippos is loud to the point of obnoxiousness when its played by kids. When you have four twenty-something adults pounding on the animal tails, it’s all but deafening. After a round, we opted to move on.

Verdict: Skip

Hungry Hungry Herd isn’t bad, but it’s clearly a game meant for kids with a short attention span (and only when they’re in a soundproof room).

CityVille Monopoly

The Zynga-branded version of Monopoly was a pleasant surprise, mixing both elements of the original board game and throwing in some neat CityVille twists.

Anyone who’s played Monopoly can tell you how long the game can last once all the property on the board has been acquired. It’s not uncommon to see players going through cycles of being flush with cash to being heavily leveraged in order to pay the rent, and a full game can last hours or days. In CityVille Monopoly, though, it seems like the board and rules were re-designed to create a much faster-paced experience.

First of all, the game’s only designed for four players (the original version supports six, while other variations are designed for up to eight). Second, the way to win the game is to build four skyscrapers on one’s pieces of property, as opposed to waiting until all but one player is bankrupt.

Building is largely the same as building houses and hotels in the original version, but the twist here is players stack the structures on top of one another in order to build a tower. Each added level causes rent to go up dramatically for other players who land on the property, and the fourth level marks a completed skyscraper. The towers are also meant to be placed on squares set into the game board, which creates a nice visual effect of a scattered city skyline, too.

“Visitor Center” cards serve the same function as “Chance” cards in the original game, with players who draw from the pile running an equal risk of reward or misfortune. Instead of the “Community Chest” cards, though, players have the opportunity to draw from the “Mystery Gift” pile, which provides decorations they can attach to their properties. These decorations increase the value of a property with a matching property color, and will stay with said property until the end of the game. It’s a cute idea that allows each game to feel a little different every time you play the game, and it’s also good for a laugh when you start talking about why your jet-ski shop has sharks on its property.

We wound up playing CityVille Monopoly for roughly an hour. About two-thirds of the properties had been purchased at that point and skyscrapers were already starting to appear around the board. We had to pack things up in order to head home, but it felt like the game would have been over in an hour or so, based on the relatively fast play we were experiencing.

Verdict: Play

A clever, fast-paced and fun version of Monopoly both adults and kids can enjoy.