Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

Hidden item games have a strong following in the iTunes store, and the same can be said for the time management genre as well. It’s not surprising since both types of games are well suited for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. What would you get if you combined the two genres, and more importantly, would it be fun? You get Gourmania, which does a reasonably good job offering a challenging, yet different twist on time management. Not only must you quickly create and serve orders to customers, you have to first find the ingredients hidden away in a cluttered kitchen. While the game offers some rather peculiar recipes, the gameplay should satisfy your time management and hidden item cravings.

Aside from the cooking theme presented in the visuals, Gourmania doesn’t have much of a storyline. Basically, you’re a trainee who is working his way up the restaurant business to one day become Master Chef. Your task is to keep customers satisfied and generate enough profit so they you can finally move on to bigger and better food establishments. The game has 60 levels and 8 different restaurant locations with a low-rent fast-food joint being your first stint. Every 3 levels, a bonus game breaks up the monotony where you match food items to matching food items to their corresponding outlines that roll by on scrolling bars. It’s a rather harmless mini-game where you earn new recipes.

The graphics look good, and the music rather understated. At each restaurant, a cut scene with dialogue from the waiter serves as your introduction. The game is not heavy into animation, and that’s perfectly fine for this type of game.

The mechanics of Gourmania is simple: find and tap to collect ingredients hidden or literally right in front of your face to prepared dishes before they get angry and leave. Order tickets arrive and are placed at the top of the screen. Besides the order and the list of ingredients needed, a satisfaction gauge is used to indicate the level of satisfaction or in some cases growing dissatisfaction for each customer. The more satisfied a customer, the more they will pay…if only that were true in real life. A separate gauge shows your progress and the time left as you collect individual items.

In many cases, once you’ve collected all the required items for an order ticket, an action icon appears on the ticket that you tap to activate. This is the cooking part of the game if you will. These can include skillets, blenders, and chopping board, and this can add a few seconds to the actual completion of the order. Once an order is served, a money action icon appears which you tap to collect and finally complete the order.

The money earned also can be used to upgrade appliances which you’ll want to do since they increase your cooking performance. Since you can collect items non-sequentially and for any of the order tickets at any time,, bonus points are awarded when completing an order in a single bound. Also, if you have all your appliances working at the sime, they will temporarily speed up. The underlying objective is the happier the customers, the more customers you’ll have, and the bigger your earning potential.

The gameplay itself is pretty fun, and in some cases stressful since you’re not only cooking which is the easy part. On the other hand, finding hidden items within a time limit in a disorganized kitchen is both challenging and frustrating. Gourmania has responsive pinch zoom and a drag to pan screen functions, and these come in handy. Even so, many of the items look the same or tend to be hidden behind other items so you’ll need to have a sharp eye. Bottles and packages with writing on them such as ketchup, mayonnaise or tea can be especially tough to make out. Some tems don’t look the same which adds yet another element of challenge. For example, tomatoes and cucumbers can appear either as whole items or sliced, and don’t get me started on the sausages. A Hint option is also available, but once you’ve used it, there’s a slight delay before it’s available again.

Once items are selected, they disappear, forcing you to either look for an alternative or wait until the item reappears which takes away valuable time. One thing to note is that certain items only appear in specific places which helps it a little easier. My main frustration with Gourmania is it’s difficult to differentiate some items, and it takes trial and error to see what everything is even with the zoom. The recipes themselves tend to be strange as well from pizzas made with hot dogs and lettuce to concoctions involving caviar and cream cheese.

Gourmania has a few perks hidden in those cluttered kitchens which come in handy. Hourglasses for example provide additional time to complete orders, while batteries increase the speed of appliances.

Overall, Gourmania provides an engaging time management slash hidden object game that should satisfy casual gamers. While the storyline seems to have been an afterthought, the game itself offers the right balance of challenge and casualness that should appeal to a broad audience.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (fun game that offers a good mix of time management and hidden object gaming; cooking theme should click with many and offers a satisfying experience; objects can be difficult to differentiate especially in a time crunch; zoom and pan functionality included)


Have you ever wanted to see how well you would do running your own business? You may want to try your hand with Cock-A-Doodle Inc., a new tycoon game where you can be the king of the cock, or rather the fried chicken business. The game incorporates some very innovative elements from the basics such as building hatcheries all the way to business management. It’s a solid game where you’re not only doling out orders, but you have to maintain a certain hands-on approach if you’re to succeed.

At the heart of Cock-A-Doodle, is a time management game where you’re literally running around like a headless chicken between 4 different screens: Farm, Grow Out House, Fried Chicken Store, and Corporate Headquarters. The game has 19 levels (plus a bonus mission upon completion of the story mode) that deal with a variety of different and in some cases, challenging tasks that will test your multitasking abilities. You can also choose the game speed—Slow, Normal and Fast—which you can change at any time. From hiring and firing employees to building and maintaining facilities, Cock-A-Doodle has a decent amount depth. But as you soon learn, Cock-A-Doodle is not a game where you sit back to watch things happen, and the game includes some nice touches to keep you engaged.

Presented in cut scenes and dialogue boxes, the story follows Cock-A-Doodle Inc., a company in dire straits with falling revenue and failing market share. One day, the executives decide to hire a legendary management consultant by the name of Richard to come in to save the company. Unfortunately, he gets into an accident and is left in the hospital to watch American Idol. So, he decides to send Danny, a novice with limited business experience, in his place. Obviously from a business ethics standpoint, the game isn’t on solid ground when it comes to being honest with clients, but who am I to judge.

The early levels serve as a tutorial and provide the basic skills for building facilities and running a retail outlet. But, the game has many different nuances that you’ll need to master. A set of buttons in the lower right corner provide quick access to each of the 4 different screens which you’ll need to constantly keep tabs on. Here’s an overview of what happens in each screen.

Hatcheries, feed lots, and sterilization centers are accessible in the Farm screen. Building structures requires flagging locations or even reclaiming land to do so which can be limited. If this game were only about building enough facilities, then it would be simple for the intermediate tycoon player. But, there are things that require constant monitoring. For example, hatcheries can become contaminated which can produce sick chickens that can spread to other hatcheries which of course cannot be served to customers. If you planned ahead, then you would’ve already built a sterilization center to decontaminate hatcheries. The catch is that a hatchery cannot produce any chickens during sterilization.

In the Grow Out screen, this is where the chickens are sent to be processed. To keep the player engaged, there are certain things that require a hands-on approach. For example, to encourage the health growth of chicks, the air temperature gauge must be controlled by turning on/off the air conditioner or heater at the appropriate time. A feeder must also be monitored to make sure there is enough feed for the chickens. These require you to manually go in to control them.

The Fried Chicken Store screen tests your ability to run a store. The employees mainly consisting of cashiers and cooks are usually reliable but over time, they develop issues. For example, cashiers can get irritable thus impacting customer satisfaction, while cooks who are overworked will fall asleep on the job. Beyond keeping track of employees and ensuring adequate supplies, you also have to manage the waste oil container and remember to empty it when necessary. A full waste oil container will overflow and spill, preventing additional fried chicken from being cooked. Again, to empty the oil container, you must manually do so.

In the Corporate Headquarters screen is where marketing promotions can be researched and activated to generate sales. You can also view sales numbers and profits to gauge progress. And as you progress through the levels, individual centers for training, technology and facilities become available that you can tap into to further grow your chicken empire. There’s also an arcade available on Sundays where mini-games are available at the risk of profits.

Each level has specific mission objectives and theme and builds on the previous levels. While the early levels focus on game basics, later levels focus specific business issues and problems. Some may focus on introducing new marketing strategies such promotional meals, and new chicken flavors for example, while others will center on upgrading facilities and staff training.

Also, you get to select an assistant from among three available each with her own attributes. This assistant will try to help you during any kind of crisis or issue that arises during the game so remember to choose wisely. Also, she won’t solve your issue, and there’s even the risk that the advice she provides may actually make things worse…can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Sylvia—facility management major and perfect secretary
Ann—chicken farming major who’s all about profit maximization (she’s the best, but also a prude)
Stephan—store management major with strong interpersonal skills

During the game, a calendar keeps track of the days, while the bottom of the screen provides a weather gauge which comes in handy for promotional items. The gameplay includes the basics such as upgrading facilities, but also includes things designed to throw a wrench into things. Lawsuits from animal rights groups, striking employees, bad morale, customer complaints, espionage and even a potential from gambling away profits are examples of other elements in this game. I mentioned promotional meals, and depending on the weather, you’ll have the final decision on whether or not to offer them. In other words, the game is very engaging and really provides quite the experience besides just simply driving up profits. Depending on how you perform, items—9 in all—are earned that can help in subsequent levels. These include Development Booster accelerating facility upgrades, Pollution Expert offering an overview glance of hatcheries, Titanium Container offering increases waste oil capacity, and Purification Charcoal for preventing soil degradation.

One of the things I don’t like about the game is that the mission abruptly ends as soon as the objectives are met. What may actually be a better approach is to allow the store to complete the rest of the day to maximize profits or even to see how well or bad the store could be. In some cases, the store was in trouble, but because I managed to meet the mission objectives, I cleared the stage. In addition, it may be worth making the store employees less generic and instead more customized with individual attributes.

Overall, Cock-A-Doodle is a solid tycoon game that offers the typical elements you’d expect, but also incorporates additional components to spice up the game. It offers casual gamers the right amount of challenge and gameplay even if you’re not hankering to be the next Colonel Sanders.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (engaging gameplay incorporating a variety of elements so you’re more of a player rather than just sitting back to watch; not overly difficult to play, but challenging because of the multiple screens)

Time management games are prevalent in the iTunes store so it takes something different in gameplay to stand out. Cooking Dash is a game that goes beyond simply delivering items to customers, but gets you involved in the cooking process. If you think this is just another time management game, you’d be wrong. That added element in the gameplay brings a different yet fun challenge and more importantly, the frenzied intensity and strategy missing in most games in the category.

The story follows Flo and her grandmother who are suddenly thrown into running their diner because Chef Cookie has left to host his own cooking reality show. For many time management gaming veterans, Flo is a familiar character having appeared in other Dash games. Instead of just seating and serving customers, the difference in Cooking Dash is Flo and her grandmother must also do everything else from cooking and clean up to customer satisfaction and profitability.

The first thing you notice is that this game is predominantly focused on the kitchen and less so on the dining area which is more of a diner counter set-up with limited seating. The graphics in Cooking Dash are polished and what you’d expect from the devs at PlayFirst. The animation runs smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0.

The game follows the storyline which is presented in a comic book format and has 50 levels presented through 5 different restaurants each with different cooking appliances and menus. As I mentioned, the game involves more of the cooking process so rather than just assembling something and delivering it, time management and strategy is more crucial. Cooking a steak, for example, requires selecting the meat, putting it into the oven, and allowing it to cook before serving which takes a few seconds. In addition, you also need to take it out of the oven quickly after it’s done cooking because leaving it in the oven too long will burn and ruin it. Once ruined, not only does Flo have to begin again, it also impacts the daily revenue since ruined food counts a monetary loss. The cooking process is illustrated by a green circle when cooking and turns red when the food is on the verge of burning.

Besides the cooking, the other elements are in play including seating and serving customers, and then clearing the counter of plates before the process of seating and serving new customers can continue. Other food items actually require giving Flo’s grandmother the order to make such as sandwiches and hamburgers for example, and of course all of this takes time.

The entire game is controlled via tap controls which work extremely well, although in this game, you’ll need to be careful of where and what you tap. It’s relatively easy to accidentally tap on the wrong items and in that case, you’ll have to trash it resulting in a monetary loss.

Each level requires meeting a minimum scoring requirement before progressing to the next level. While the initial levels are easy, the game does offers a balanced increase in difficulty and builds on skills learned in previous levels. Diners are color coded and placing diners at seats that match their color provides bonus points. And just because no customers are lost due to bad service doesn’t necessarily mean advancement to the next level. In fact, perfection and even planning ahead will increase the ability to earn additional points needed to move on.

In-game play has a lot going on, and as you move to other restaurants since Flo and her grandmother will be asked to babysit other restaurants while their owners are away, different foods and appliances add to the challenge. Foods are varied from burgers and submarines to sushi and salads in later stages, but there is plenty of variety involving different cooking steps and processes. Even something as simple as a fruit smoothie involves a few steps from choosing the fruit to bringing it to the blender before it can be served. Other dishes incorporate multiple foods such as steak and fries for example so cooking them in the right order and picking those up before they burn are essential. Flo can also handle two items at a time, and she’s intelligent enough to know which item goes to which customer.

Cooking Dash also has upgrades that can be purchased. Upgrades can be purchased in between levels for each restaurant that span the spectrum from practical to cosmetic. On the practical side, higher-quality and faster cooking appliances can be purchased to serve more customers. From a cosmetic perspective, you can upgrade the look of the restaurant such as better tiles, counters, and brighter paint. Honestly, I choose the better appliances whenever possible because they improve performance while the cosmetic improvements really don’t impact performance in any way. In many ways, it would have been nice to include more performance-enhancing upgrades rather than cosmetic ones, but this is subjective of course.

While the customers aren’t the most varied (10 different types each with their own attributes), another nice touch is that they can impact each other. Especially in the later stages, customers will lose their patience quicker when seated next to the wrong type of customer. As I mentioned, customers are color coded, but if you seat older customers next to younger ones, there is a tendency for tempers to be shorter and thus require faster service.

Cooking Dash isn’t your typical time management game because it involves strategic thinking. Going beyond the tap to serve concept, the cooking component makes this one of the more difficult time management games and adds significantly to the challenge. The fun gameplay is addictive and should provide time management novices and advanced players enough to keep them engaged.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (solid time management game with a cooking component that differentiates this from others in the category; gameplay is challenging yet highly engaging even if you don’t know how to cook; smooth graphics and decent controls)

I never worked in the fast food industry so I can only imagine what it’s like. Or, I can live vicariously through my iPod Touch and play Success Story, which is a good looking time management game running fast food joints. The devs behind this game G5 Entertainment are knows for creating polished games with excellent gameplay, and Success Story doesn’t disappoint.

Typical of most of G5 Entertainment’s titles, the storyline is introduced in a comic book format. As the story goes, the McMooMoo’s fast food chain decides to replace human workers with robot servers which undoubtedly is a bad idea. The robot servers apparently hate the fast food business as much as most human beings because they go on a rampage and attack customers. After all the spilled ketchup and hurled condiments, the franchise is royally screwed with no staff. That’s where you the iTunes gamer comes to save the day, and thus begin your illustrious career in the world of burgers, French fries, and all things that taste good.

The objective here is simple: fill customers’ orders as quickly and accurately as possible. The happier the customers, the higher your profit margin will be, and most importantly, the faster you get to move on to the next fast food restaurant. Of course, it’s not as simple as grabbing this and grabbing that. To fill an order, you actually have to assemble things using the right ingredients and in the correct sequence using a variety of different ingredients. And, that doesn’t include those high-calorie side orders such as sodas, ice cream, pies and French fries.

In terms of content, Success Story offers a good deal of it with 10 different restaurants for a total of 46 levels including a final supermax franchise level to be the ultimate fast food guru. Customers appear with their orders and wait patiently at least for a short while for their orders. Controls are straightforward: tap on the desired ingredient or food product. And if you choose the wrong ingredient, tap again to remove.

Ingredients appear on a layout of 11 tables which constantly appear and disappear throughout so you’ll need to act fast. As I mentioned, accuracy is important. For example, to assemble a cheeseburger, the ingredients must be placed in the following sequence on the bun: patty, onions and then cheese. If any of that is in the wrong sequence, not only will your picky customer storm off, but your satisfaction will also take a hit if it happens too often. In order to proceed to the next level, you’ll need to meet certain profit targets and a running tally keeps track of progress.

As levels are completed, profits are tabulated which can then be used in the upgrade store. Think of the upgrade store as the IKEA of fast food, except way more expensive, and probably more durable. Here you can buy additional items to sell in your restaurant such as foods (coffee, pies, candy popcorn), supplies (lids), and more importantly bonus perks. The game has several perks that require a boatload of money so you’ll need to sell a lot of dollar meals.

Robo-cook—provides a robot helper to automatically cook your burgers
Sale—boosts the price and quality of each ingredient while on-screen
Radio—soothes the savage customer with tunes (think Muzak)
Time—slows down the pace
Hint—highlights the next ingredient needed for an order

On a side note, Success Story has 7 mini-games that appear in between levels which are fun but nothing particularly difficult. These games include ingredient memory match, where you match pairs of ingredients by type; pattern match which involves rotating tiles to match a pattern; tic-tac-toe using food, and a funky game where you assemble burgers backwards. While the games are optional, keep in mind that you earn a Benjamin Franklin each time you complete a mini-game which does help the bottom line.

The game also has an achievement system based on points earned (not profit) called the Grill Hall of Fame where you can be crowned anything from Chief Cook and Burger Professor all the way up to Burger Hero and ultimately Burger God.

Early on, the game is relatively simple, but as you progress, the orders become more complex, requiring more ingredients, as does the number of customers. Visually, it can be tough to make out what’s actually in an order. For example, some customers request extra lettuce or cheese, and sometimes, that’s not readily apparent from looking at the order. In addition, the game throws a wrench into things by including indecisive customers—customers who change their mind while you’re preparing their order. It’s as real life as it gets. For some, the gameplay can be repetitive because honestly you are constantly assembling things. But on the other hand, the diversity of items and the fast-paced flow of the game are both challenging and entertaining.

Success Story is a terrific game with high production values and a ton of content. The gameplay should appeal to those interested in time management games as well as those looking for a faster change of pace. This can be a frustrating game if you don’t handle stress very well, but it offers a fun experience.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (game offers plenty of content with engaging gameplay; challenging enough to frustrate advanced players, and provides a fun time management experience)

Check out my review at

The iTunes store has plenty of games that emulate old school titles such as Risk and Civilization. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality because most are pretenders that do not offer much depth in terms of content or worse, the game isn’t challenging enough. I don’t think you’ll have that problem with The Kings from developer XenoStorm that delivers a rich turn-based game of strategy and conquest that I recommend if you enjoy this genre.

If you’ve played games similar to UniWar, vConqr or Lux DLX, then you’re familiar with the level of decision-making necessary to succeed. This usually involves managing armies, deploying attacks, and expanding colonies. In The Kings, the experience is supplemented with heroes, diplomacy and even loyalty, and uplevels the strategy quite a bit. I’ll tell you right now that this is not a game for the impatient as there is a moderate learning curve. Since this is based in a fantasy world, you’ll come do battle and ally with some of history’s notable conquerors including Attila The Hun, King Arthur, Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, and our favorite Asian emperor Chingiz Khan among others. And because fear mongering and pillaging is an equal opportunity sport, female leaders include Queen Elizabeth and Cleopatra.

Castles are identified by flag colors, and visually, the graphics are adequate, but alone, they aren’t what will draw you to the game. A zoom function is included, but honestly, it’s not used consistently throughout. For example, in the wide view of the entire map, I can’t zoom in on a specific kingdom which would’ve have been an ideal feature. Besides swipe and drag to scroll the map, the touch controls are generally responsive, and the menus are intuitively laid out. An optional in-game pop-up tutorial is provided, and I advise you to turn off as soon as possible since it appears at every action and turn and slows the pace of the game down considerably. What the game lacks is a fast forward option, and you’ll understand why shortly.

With three levels of difficulty: easy, medium and hard, The Kings offers 6 scenarios based on time periods and degree of unrest.

Rise of Confusion—AD 203
Path to Power—AD 205
Lions with Wing—AD 208
Five Dreams—AD 210
Superpower—AD 211
Chaos—AD 210

One particularly nice touch is that the scenarios follow their own individual timelines demonstrated by changing seasons and present other strategic considerations. Each time period has characteristics in terms of rule. For example, in Rise of Confusion, the land is equally divided among the different rulers, while in Superpower, there is a more dominant ruler to contend with. In addition, the game offers autosave and 4 save slots so you can experiment with the different time periods.

Conquest is the name of the game, and in The Kings, you are responsible for a multitude of things one of which is the use of Heroes. A Hero is the leader of a castle and directs armies and builds alliances to say the least. At the beginning of a game, you choose one Hero from among 50 to represent and provide with direct rule. For example, if you choose George Washington (yes, he’s in the game), you can manage the 5 areas at that castle or castles. These areas requiring oversight are Resource, Military, Hero, Diplomacy, and Castle. Heroes have certain characteristics that make them better suited for specific situations denoted by a number (the higher the number, the better).

INT—development and commerce
CHARM—diplomacy and alliance building
WAR—military prowess

There’s even an option to scout for heroes nearby to join your forces.

Here is an overview of the five areas:

Resources—Purchase goods and develop food sources to feed the population and military
Military—Build forces which includes recruiting, training and fighting
Hero—The leader of the castle; not all castles have a hero and you’ll need one in order to direct actions
Diplomacy—Form alliances with surrounding castle leaders outside your empire
Castle—Develop the castle into a cash cow and develop loyalty with the population

The way these areas are organized and the level of depth and options within each are well thought out, and really a degree of complexity to the gameplay. In carrying out tasks involving Resources, Military, Diplomacy and Castle, an option is to appoint a Hero to oversee actions which either can enhance successes or minimize damage. An Info option within each of the areas also provides a brief overview.

One area worth highlighting is Diplomacy. This enables the forming of alliances with nearby castles with or without the use of gold. Alliances are essential because enemy castles and heroes support other allies if attacked and vice versa. Alliances are not automatic, and you’ll want to use this and Hero scouting whenever possible to complement your own kingdom’s strengths and weaknesses.

Gold is at the root of all this because it will be necessary for building armies, maintaining loyalty from the population, and forming alliances. Gold can be acquired in several ways including the development of castles, selling food, and receiving gifts from alliances.
Each castle also has characteristics that require your attention with statistics provided for population, loyalty, military strength, food levels and gold among others. Loyalty which refers to the population can be a bit nebulous, but know that it can help make a difference in whether a castle can withstand an attack.

One thing to keep in mind is that some castles simply serve as outposts, and regardless of whether the castle has heroes, you do not have full command responsibilities unless you choose to rule directly. You have the flexibility to delegate that responsibility to the AI who will then make strategic decisions on your behalf. This is actually an ideal set up because if you’re successful and add castles to your kingdom, you won’t have much time to manage each and every castle, unless you want to of course.

The gameplay itself is where The Kings differentiates itself and delivers an immersively engaging experience. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a single game took a while to complete. At the beginning of each turn, castles under direct rule each have 3 moves or Action Points. Conducting or implementing an action from any of the 5 areas will count as an action point. As I mentioned, you’re responsible for many different areas and in some cases involve several steps. Building troops is not as simple as, well, building troops. In fact, you will need to maintain food resources to make sure they’re being fed, generate commerce to pay troops, and train them so they can take on enemy armies. Conversely, the game automatically feeds troops at every turn as well as pays them and collects taxes from the citizenry but only if there are enough resources. Actions such purchasing items or hunting for food are decisions left in your hands but remember, these count as action points.

The battles themselves are quite unique and offer two modes: Auto Battle and Manual Battle. In Auto Battle, the game will automatically conduct battles which quickly determine a victor while you watch. Nothing elaborate, but it keeps the game moving. However, choosing Manual Battle opens up the game opens another form of turn-based gameplay where you can direct and fight the battle through 50 different maps. Similar to UniWar, you will be responsible for moving troops and conducting attacks, and literally is another game within the game. And, if both sides have Heroes, a “showdown” match precedes this. It definitely adds variety to the gameplay, and those manual attacks by themselves, while not deep, can be time consuming and intense.

By tapping on castles that are not within your rule, military capabilities, alliances and heroes are presented and come in handy in determining the feasibility of attacking. The AI seems to do an effective job of realigning armies and conducting attacks. Enemy armies will even attack you, which then provide an option for you to send reinforcements. Because this game is turn-based, a good deal of time is spent watching the AI carryout its tactics which are illustrated in the overview map. The lack of a Fast Forward button is an inconvenience because there are a number of empires, and watching them can be a somewhat monotonous.

What The Kings could use is an achievement system which I think would add even more to the replay value while tracking player statistics. Beyond some of the issues I’ve already brought up, one issue that is particularly irritating for me is the amount of typos and grammatical errors. Throughout The Kings, dialogue windows provide intros, overviews and game tips, and at least one error is present each time. Misspellings are everywhere and the tutorial, while helpful, is a chore to read because of formatting issues. I understand mistakes happen, but the errors are almost systematic in this game. And, unfortunately, these errors tarnish an otherwise solid game.

In my review, I barely touched the surface of all the elements in The Kings, and frankly quite a bit of content and depth can only be discovered through actual gameplay. The Kings ranks up there as one of the better turn-based strategy games when it comes to the level of resource management and gameplay. Now, if they would only invest in a spell checker…

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (strongly recommended for TBS fans; the level of depth and resource management make this a standout; aside from the lack of polished text which impacted my rating, the game has a ton of replay value)

Managing a space station apparently can lead to love, at least that’s the premise behind Kaloki Love, a new release that builds on the original space tycoon title Kaloki Adventure. Kaloki Love is a more story-driven game than its older, more goals-focused predecessor. The name of the game is love as Roger, the space station manager attempts to build his way to marriage. While I recommend gamers play through Kaloki Adventure first, Kaloki Love’s unique premise and challenging gameplay make this an ideal choice if you’re looking for a more casual tycoon game.

As in the original, Kaloki Love is about resource management, and depending on how you manage them, different scenarios involving love interests are possible. The objective is to build out a barren space station to meet the various needs of customers as they come from every part of the universe. Each station has hubs or ports where structures and generators can be built. For every satisfied customer, money is earned which can then be used to upgrade structures and generate even more money. The game has two modes: Love Story which has 5 levels; and Scenarios, which provides 5 additional self-contained situations.

Visually, the 3D graphics are nicely rendered with a full 360-degree view controlled with a drag of the finger. The soundtrack is decidedly swing jazz so it maintains the legacy of the original.

The main storyline in Kaloki Love is about meeting financial targets while building structures and also meeting requests from 4 potential sweethearts—Blenda, Poppy, Ann and Wraeth. The objectives for completing a level, however, are strictly financial such as earning $2500 while serving customers who range from demanding alien scholars and gossip mongers to business traders and industry spies. These sweethearts are robots so it gets a little kinky, and besides that, the robot women in this part of the galaxy are all superficial. During the game, robot women will request that you build them certain structures and based who you decide to build for will alter the ending. The five-part storyline follows a progressive linear mode that takes you through the following levels:
* The New Guy
* Puppy Love
* The Crush
* Responsibility
* Commitment

The five scenarios on the other hand follow in the tradition of Kaloki Adventure where objectives range from meeting financial requirements to building specific structures. The hitch in these scenarios is that there are limitations and unexpected events that add some extra challenge such as limited ports and damaging asteroid showers. The scenarios have some strange names that aptly describe the task at hand:
* Fireworks Sandbox
* Challenge of the Gods
* The Hammer
* The Eight Port Challenge
* The Crucible

For me, the scenarios were more of what I’m used to from playing the original game, and offered enough challenging and frustrating moments.

When you begin the game, the station is virtually a chunk of metal with empty nubs and ports. Simply tap on an open port, and a window appears showing available structures arranged by expansion categories with important information such as cost, energy usage, and expected revenue per customer. During construction, a bar illustrating progress appears over the relevant port. Once something is built, you can tap each to view profitability, energy use, and condition as well as customization options. A HUD in the upper right corner also gauges the wants and needs of your customers based on the expansion category so the goal is to maintain balance so you can keep the money flowing in.

As you progress, you also earn expansion packs, which are new structures available to you such as the Spy Training Center, History Hall of Records, and The Space Observatory among others. In the storyline levels, I found it wasn’t always the best strategy to implement expansion structures just because they’re available. While upgrades are important, maintaining positive cash flow is essential.

On the left side is a trophy icon which contains the objectives for each level. The problem I have with Kaloki Love is that the objectives aren’t automatically presented when beginning a level. Instead, you have to remember to manually check which isn’t exactly obvious especially if you’re unfamiliar with the game. Because the game uses a tab layout to categorize information, the buttons can be small for some. Again as in the original, Kaloki Love doesn’t provide instructions beyond the basics which can be confuse new players. It is fairly intuitive once you understand it, and the game is relatively easy to interact with from the start.

Kaloki Love is a standalone, complete game that delivers a casual experience that combines a short campaign mode with a good variety in scenario mode. The game offers a nice change of pace from the original with simpler, yet challenging goals, but it also provides an entertaining game focusing on man-robot love. Those who have played the original should definitely consider Kaloki Love, while newer audiences may enjoy the casual gameplay.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for fans of the Kaloki series and tycoon games; newer audiences may enjoy the lighthearted and less serious storyline)

It seems like only a few days ago I was writing about Old MacDonald and a quack-quack here and a quack-quack there. Time management games are definitely an acquired taste, but when done right, they can be entertaining. What makes a good time management game? One that not only taps into a player’s creativity but doesn’t limit it either. Ranch Rush would definitely fall into this category offering a good measure of entertaining gameplay and top-notch graphics within a flexible framework.

In Ranch Rush, you play the character of Sara who has taken on the task of starting a farmer’s market to raise money in hopes of saving the nursery for which she works. She has 8 weeks to raise the money using her farm management skills from growing and harvesting to long-term planning and sales. The opening intro cartoon narrated by Sara was enough to get me instantly hooked with a good mix of dialogue and animation. By the way, Sara looks like Ariel from Disney’s Little Mermaid which certainly doesn’t hurt her farming prowess.

The objective of the game is simple: fill the orders of customers who come to the farmer’s market to earn money. Of course, the actual task at hand is a little more challenging, and involves a combination of planting and growing crops, raising and feeding animals, and using equipment to convert raw materials. Ranch Rush does a terrific job of easing you into the game so you gradually learn the necessary skills without feeling overwhelmed at least initially.

Visually, Sara almost looks 3D because when you don’t send her off on a task, she’s standing there blinking at you. It’s a little freaky in a wholesome kind of way. And when performing a task such as digging, she actually looks like she’s digging so I have to commend the devs for how this game is presented.

The game has 40 levels divided into 8 weeks, and two game modes: Casual and Expert. Expert is unlocked after the third week in Casual is completed. The game also has 20 trophies/achievements that can be earned including:

Marketing Maverick—selling $10k in a single Farmer’s Market
Hotfoot Harvester—complete an order with 60% time left after week 2
Superior Specialist—plant 15 of one crop on your ranch at the same
Harvest Hero—harvest 7,500 crates for all games played

The touch controls are responsive and moving and performing tasks are mostly done by tapping at the desired location. In the bottom right corner are additional controls including a Move function for rearranging various things on the farm, and a Shopping Cart for purchasing items. To purchase items, a variety of items from seeds and plants to animals and gear are available in a neatly organized menu/thumbnail format.

A timer is located in the bottom left corner with the money counter in the middle. On a daily basis, you’ll receive a customer order to complete along with a time limit. Along the top of the screen is a running count of those items that must be harvested and/or produced.

In the first few weeks, you learn the basics such as planting and harvesting, then onto buying and moving. The most rudimentary item is the crate since this is what will be used to harvest and deliver crops and other items. Sara can hold up to three crates at a time so plan accordingly. Watering crops is also important so keep a watch out for thirsty plants.

One of the great of things about Ranch Rush is the different attributes of items and their impact on planning. For example, vegetables grow at different rates so you need to strategize on what to plant and harvest and in what order. To provide an idea of the nuances in the game, clovers grow relatively quickly, but tomatoes take a while longer. Once you buy a cow, it becomes even more convoluted because cows need to feed on clovers to make milk, but you’ll also to meet order requirements for clovers themselves. Another one worth mentioning is honey which means buying a hive. Bees require clovers to make honey. But, keep in mind that once the honey is ready, Sara can get stung if she’s sent over to harvest the honey when bees are present. And, this is just the basics. Wait until you get to processing raw materials with equipment.

The Farmer’s Market bonus round is presented each Saturday. Here, the objective is to sell as much as possible and maximize earnings within a set time limit. It’s a nice change of pace without worrying about item counts.

What differentiates Ranch Rush from other farm management games? One aspect is the ability to plan the layout of the farm and rearrange fields and planting areas whenever you want. By activating the Move button and using drag touch controls, items can be placed and moved at will, so you’re not stuck with any pre-set formats. Another is that progress from one day rolls over to the next. For example, any extra crops leftover or dying plants from the previous day are automatically there for the next which really forces you to plan for the long term. Also as the farm grows, so does the game area which means eventually, you’ll need to pan the screen to see everything. All of these elements extend Ranch Rush from a “tap here, tap there” game to a strategic standout.

One of the shortcomings of the game which happened to me a few times is that once you set Sara in motion such as walking from one area to another, you can’t stop her. This can waste valuable time with an inadvertent tap. Dragging the screen can be an issue because on occasion I would forget I had items in a location out of my immediate sight.

While there are plenty of time management games in the iTunes store, Ranch Rush is one of the few standouts that offers compelling and entertaining gameplay that is only limited by the player’s own creativity. With terrific production values and an engaging storyline, Ranch Rush is one you’ll want to finish.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for novice and advanced time management geeks; Sara is one tough farming chick)