Review: Ngmoco We Rule
Released this past weekend, Ngmoco's We Rule (Free*) is an empire-building game in a medieval setting where players focus on managing and expanding their own small kingdoms. The premise is relatively simple: you start with a fort on a small parcel of land and build farms, housing and businesses that generate gold, which can in turn be spent to construct more buildings and further expand your kingdom. We Rule gets you started by providing a few simple goals such as building a farm and growing and harvesting crops, which are sold for gold; eventually you can build cottages for taxation, and businesses that generate considerably more gold. Over time, you can upgrade your fort to increase your available land, and an experience point system lets players automatically level up as they progress through the game, unlocking additional buildings and upgrades.
Normally, everything that happens in We Rule takes time, with tasks that provide more gold and experience taking longer. For instance, growing a corn crop takes 45 seconds, but only returns 5 gold and 1 experience point, while a higher-priced bean crop takes 24 hours but returns 425 gold and 140 experience points. These actions all occur in real-time even while you’re away from the game, as your game is hosted on Ngmoco’s Plus+ servers. Push Notifications can be enabled to alert you when various tasks complete so you can return to the game to take further action such as harvesting crops once they’ve finished growing. Some actions are also time-critical: if you fail to harvest your crops in a timely manner, they will spoil, requiring you to spend time and money cleaning out the bad crop so you can use the farm to grow something else. The Push Notification system is well-implemented here, allowing you to choose to enable or disable push notifications for any specific building that supports them. Further, things generally happen slowly enough in We Rule that the notifications will be a benefit to the serious player, rather than a distraction. But there’s no doubt that the game is designed to keep you coming back with frequency to maintain your kingdom.
One major issue with this is that We Rule actually requires an active network connection with Ngmoco’s Plus+ network to play—if the servers are down, you won’t be able to access your kingdom, and in fact all of your saved game data appears to actually be stored on Ngmoco’s servers. During its initial release weekend, many users consequently found themselves unable to access the game at all, and some users even discovered problems in their kingdoms when returning to the game, such as recently-built structures having disappeared. On the upside, however, this cloud-based system allows Ngmoco to broadly implement a social network that enables players to communicate with one another, as well as to add new game elements without having to upgrade the app itself. In We Rule you can add your friends’ kingdoms to your map to visit them and place orders for items from their shops in exchange for gold from your own treasury. The other user is notified of order requests via push notifications, and can visit the game on their own device to either approve or deny the request. Items that you can order are used to host events in your own kingdom, such as gowns for a royal ball or wood for a bonfire, which in turn generate additional gold and experience. We Rule’s social features actually work well for a game of this sort, although you’ll quickly encounter goals in the game that require you to find other players with more advanced kingdoms than your own. For example, at one point you’re required to visit another kingdom and place an order from its shop, requiring that you find another player who actually has built some shops in their kingdom.
The patient player who wants to treat their kingdom like a Tamagotchi pet—growing it slowly over days or weeks—can get a lot of enjoyment from the free version of We Rule without having to spend an additional penny. Most players will likely get limited enjoyment out of the game in this manner, however, since they’ll only be in the game for five or ten minutes per day to harvest crops and build new structures. For the less patient player, Ngmoco leverages its freemium model through the use of an additional currency called “mojo.” Many tasks in the game such as growing crops and building structures can be completed more quickly by spending mojo on them.
Small amounts of mojo are awarded each time you level up, but much larger amounts of mojo can be bought via In-App purchases ranging from a “vial of 5 mojo” for $1 to a case of “800 vintage mojo” for $50. As you might expect, the amount of mojo required to complete a task will depend entirely on how long that task would otherwise take—on average, you can expect to spend 1 mojo for every 8 hours of real time. The effect of this system is to make the game sluggish for players who don’t play, or more specifically keep paying, while keeping it brisk for those who spend a lot of money on transactions. On the other hand, mojo can’t be used for everything; some tasks such as generating taxes from housing or revenue from businesses will still take a fixed amount of time with no way to apply mojo to them.
The graphics and sound in We Rule are nothing particularly special, but they’re good enough for a game of this genre. Using a forced 45-degree isometric perspective—essentially a faux 3-D view built with 2-D artwork—We Rule defaults to a widescreen display showing a segment of your kingdom at a given moment. Only two zoom levels are offered; double-tapping switches between the normal game view and an overview map of your entire kingdom, minus in-game controls. Ngmoco includes a medieval style chip music sound track and fine sound effects, such as clicks as feedback when you tap things, some clicky-swishy noises when you harvest crops, and clinking coins when you collect taxes, plus background noises on certain shops—sawing wood on the lumber mill, a school bell when tapping on the school, and the clipping of scissors when tapping on the tailor shop. They’re all basic, but at least they’re there.
Like Ngmoco’s earlier title Eliminate, We Rule is a well-designed game under the hood with a fair bit of potential, but ultimately falls short of what it could be due to its pay-to-play-better “freemium” model. In its current form, We Rule is only going to be of interest to two specific types of players: the extremely patient player who really does just want to spend a few minutes a day growing a kingdom over the course of many weeks, or the player with deep pockets who doesn’t mind throwing money at a game to advance rapidly in it. For the latter, it is dangerously easy to spend much more than the typical $5-$10 asking price of an iPhone game—the in-app purchase system can be addictive in the same way that arcade games encouraged players to “just put in one more quarter.” If you’re a player with an addictive personality, we’d recommend that you avoid this game altogether; it’s hard to say with a straight face that any iPhone game would be worth coughing up $50 for the 800-pack of mojo, but if you’re really hoping to play We Rule for a while, making a big investment up front makes more sense than losing your money dollar by dollar for smaller top-ups. For that reason, offering the unlocked game at a fair price to everyone who’s interested in it strikes us as a proper next step for Ngmoco, and a much better deal for both developers and users than preying on some users in order to subsidize free play for others.