It’s time to look beyond HOPA and see what else this part of the industry has to offer. If you have the time, that is…
Here’s a new genre for you: time management. Yes, I’ve graduated from being just a HOPA nerd to a full blown casual nerd. You might think: what’s the difference? And I’m here to tell you that there’s a huuuuuugely minor difference. You see, casual games to a gamer is just that; a game for casuals. But within the casual industry, there are now many different genres. Such as HOPA, Match-3 and Time Management, just to mention a few.
Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t really play anything but HOPA with the odd foray into some other obscure genre. For instance time management, a genre I’ve been aware of for quite some time and even tried one or two of them but never really got into them. They always seemed like a bit of fun but the longer they wore on, the less fun they became.
At least, that’s what I thought back then. These days I’m more of a fan and I’m not exactly sure where the change happened. I decided it was time to try again and I actually ended up enjoying them. A lot. Way a lot. So much so that I splurged and bought a ton more. And that’s why I haven’t talked about HOPA in a while, I’ve simply not played any… well, I did play one but… the less said about that, the better. I gotta keep that for Casual Friday.
So Time Management games. What are they? Well, the basic idea is in the name itself, it’s a game about managing time. But you don’t play Father Time or anything like that and the theme varies quite a bit from game to game. But basically each level has a number objectives that need to be completed within a certain amount of time. This means figuring out the best order to do everything in and delegating tasks effectively to minimize wasted time. There’s two distinct types of time management games; solo and workforce. At least, that’s what I call them.
In this post I’ll be talking about “workforce” and leave solo for another day. Quite frankly, I’m not that knowledgeable about “solo” time management so I’ll have to research that further before making any sort of general review. Workforce and solo differ simply in the amount of workers you have at your disposal but this tends to change the nature of the game as well. Workforce typically gives you two workers right from the start and from there you have to manage this workforce effectively.
But to describe what time management actually entails, I figured it was easier to just review three games that I recently played to give you more of an idea. Starting with…
Rescue Team 4 was the first of the three games that I tried and as such it’s probably responsible for me even doing this. I remember trying its predecessor a long, long time ago and not liking it but like I’ve tried to suggest, I’m a changed man. That being said, it’s easily my least favorite of the three but don’t let that scare you because it’s still good and out of the three games it’s definitely the most challenging. At least to get top scores in.
So here’s what it looks like:
This is the basics of any workforce time management game. In the upper right corner you see the goals of the level, in this case saving eight people. How you save these depends on the level but more often than not it entails sending your workforce to do a number of tasks. Each task typically cost a number of resources to complete. Building a bridge, for instance, might cost food and wood whereas clearing an obstruction from the road might cost you only a small amount of food but net you wood.
Workers can only travel along the predetermined roads which is why their path can be blocked. Don’t ask me to explain why they can’t run over grass, they simply can’t. This restricts the workers’ movements and keeping the distance they have to travel in mind at all times is part of the game and knowing when to clear up a shortcut and when to accept the added time in favor of having more resources is core to the game.
As such finding the correct chain of tasks to complete the level as fast as you can is the goal of the game. You can, of course, take your time if you want but the thrill lies in trying to get those shiny three stars. That normally entails a number of restarts though funnily enough, the more I played it the fewer times I had to restart. After a while you sort of get into things and you know by heart just by looking at the map where you need to start and what resource will have to be generated the fastest.
What’s somewhat unique about this particular time management game is that you can freely choose what structures to build in designated areas. These structures generate one of the four resources and finding the right balance to quickly complete the stage is very important. Once you’re into the game you’ll know from the start whether you’ll need a lot of money or food just by looking at the tasks ahead of you and you’ll build accordingly.
Eventually the game throws a few spanners into the works by introducing things that your normal workforce can’t handle on their own, such as thieves or fires and wounded people. Thus you’ll need cops, firemen and doctors to help you out, giving you more people to manage and doing so effectively becomes more important than ever.
Later on you’ll also have to manage a boat or a helicopter or have resources flown in, adding even more layers on top of the management pile.
The only reason I didn’t like the game is because it struggled to evolve itself towards the end where each subsequent level simply entailed more things to do and needing longer planning. Which is fine but it made the game feel very samey as it doesn’t really have that interesting a premise to hook you with.
But it’s a very solid game none the less and it becomes hard as hell towards the end.
The second game on my list is Northern Tale, a viking themed time management game but basically the same as Rescue Team 4. As you’ll see from the screenshots, however, you’ll find the paths littered with items and you can only repair the structures already there and you’re not free to build as you please.
As such, what path to go down first becomes more important as you’re far more dependent on the resources littering the roadside here than you were in Rescue Team 4. Also deciding when to repair the few resource generating buildings there are is crucial as repairing them as quickly as you can is not always the right choice. But then other times you have to rush to repair a building, skipping what has been the normal strategy for level after level.
Northern Tale also has a narrative, something Rescue Team 4 didn’t have beyond “people in danger, save them”. It’s sort of inconsequential, the gameplay itself doesn’t change much beyond the first few levels, simply throwing more spanners into the works. There are often less factors at work as well, you only have two additional forces (Druids and Exorcists) and there tends to be less work for them on the typical level.
The game definitely began to wear thin towards the end, the last few levels were more annoying than difficult. Though this game did offer a bonus for completing all stages with three stars it was simply in the form of three extra stages that didn’t really do much of anything. They might as well have been stages 46-48 rather than “bonus levels”.
Perhaps the feature that separates it the most from Rescue Force are the bonuses, a set of perks, if you will, that give you certain advantages for a very limited time. You can see them on the bottom of the screenshot and each does different things. Knowing which one you want and when to activate it is hugely important as it can make or break the level. You can either freeze time for fifteen seconds or have an extra worker for twenty seconds, for instance, extremely rarely both. They’re activated when the bar on the bottom fills up enough, which simply takes time, and the more useful ones tend to be at the end of the bar, thus taking more time to activate.
Again, knowing which bonus to use when is part of the tactics you must employ.
I actually started playing Northern Tale 4 but when they went through past stories in the series, I decided it’d be worth it to go back and play the first one as well. I am now actually looking forward to playing the fourth game again as it did a few things differently that I think will really help the game feel a bit fresher.
The narrative also really helped to keep the game a bit more interesting though I wished it showed more in the gameplay than it did. Just a few more additional tasks related to the story itself wouldn’t have gone amiss, in my opinion, as the ones that were story related always felt a bit more special.
Third and final game also happens to be my favorite, go figure. Viking Saga, made by the same people who did Northern Tale and borrowing much of the graphics, is far more narratively driven and less by paths. Your workers are freer to move around and objectives are scattered around far more organically.
Though there are paths for them to take, often they’ll need to stray from those to reach their objective. Resource management is crucial here and correctly figuring out the needs of the stage early on is key. Here there are less resources scattered about than in Rescue Team 4 but like that game you’re free to build the structures you want yourself. They don’t automatically generate resources, though, but instead it costs you manpower and silver to create these other resources. Silver is the only resource that is automatically generated whereas wood, food and stone require silver input.
And like Northern Tale the game has a story but here it is far more tangible and each stage has a little blurb that explains why you’re on this stage and what you need to do. There are characters and a lot of humor which somehow makes the game feel more fulfilling and stages feel more memorable. Completing all levels with three gold stars also gives you three additional bonus stages but unlike Northern Tale, here they actually fill a bit of a purpose, often simply being for the sake of “fun”.
Yes, that one word which reviewers scoff at because it’s so vague. What does “fun” mean and how can there be more of it in some games? And if it’s not vague then it’s subjective and thus, supposedly, pointless to measure. But the bonus stages really are just there for the fun of it and often entails something completely different than you’d get in the normal game.
It also has the same bonus powers that you had in Northern Tale though I dare say knowing which power to use when is far more intricate due to its gameplay being very focused on resource and less on time.
It also throws a lot more spanners into the works and you don’t know all the objectives from the start. This gives it more of an adventure feel and though some elements pop up a bit too frequently for my tastes, it never once felt like a boring game. I absolutely tore through this game, unable to put it down once I started. And if that’s not a glowing review, I don’t know what is.
So those were the games. Common to all of them is that they had 40+ levels each and I think you’ll find that’s typical for games like this though I intend to research more.
I think the reason why I like these types of games more now than before is simply because I see them less as… well, action games and more like puzzles. The goal is to figure the correct chain of events that lead you to victory and those beloved three stars. As such they managed to challenge me and scratch an itch that HOPA simply haven’t been able to as of late.
If you’re not into PC gaming all that much, fear not for most of these games can also be found on tablets (possibly phones but I wouldn’t recommend it).
The reason why I bunched it together like this is because it’s hard to review these as individual games without going over the same things over and over again. As such any further reviews will be grouped together as well though in what format I’ve yet to decide. We’ll see.