I’m not a big computer game player, but here’s a few that have reeled me in recently.
Skyrates: One of my favorite types of board games are those using a mechanism we call “pick-up-and-deliver”, in which players acquire things in one location (quests, passengers, commodities, etc) and receive points or money upon successfully transporting the cargo to its intended destination. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that I find computer games employing this gameplay to be equally satisfying. I lost several weeks to Escape Velocity back in the day. More recently, I have been hooked on Skyrates, an online, browser-based game where you assume captainship of a plane, and fly around the various “skylands” buying goods where they are plentiful (and cheap) and selling them where they are rare (and expensive).
Two aspects of the game really set it apart. First, it can take anywhere from 30 to 240 minutes to travel between the skylands, in real time. So rather than playing for large blocks of time during the day, you instead give your pilot his marching orders, close the game, and check back on his progress a later. It’s the perfect game to “play’ at work, as you need only visit the site for five or ten minutes, a few times a day. Second, the economy of the world is influenced by all the players. If diamonds are abundant (and thus inexpensive) on skyland X, you may rush over there to fill up your cargo hold; but if dozens or hundreds of concurrent players get there before you and buy in bulk, the gems might be rare (and thus pricey) by the time you arrive. It’s a clever way of introducing player interaction that doesn’t involve combat. A solid game all-around, and one which I have become addicted.
Blocksum: Just when the whole “match three” genre of video games (epitomized by Bejeweled) seems played, someone comes up with a new gimmick to revitalize the field. In the freeware game Blocksum, each piece contains a number, and when a certain quantity of pieces containing the same number form a contiguous group, they disappear from play. The gimmick here is that you can merge adjacent blocks into blocks, containing the sums of the merged blocks. (You could merge a 3 block and a 4 block into a 7 block, for instance). A bit more cerebral that most titles in the field, but one that you will nonetheless find enthralling. I defy anyone to get past level 8, though.
ForumWarz: Unforgivably profane and entirely too hard, ForumWarz still managed to gnaw away at my free time for a span of two weeks or so. After a while I found it to be pretty repetitive, but I was undeniably hooked there for a spell. The game allows you to start playing even before having an account, so there’s no reason not to give it a try–assuming, of course, you are essentially unoffendable, which is the only people to which I would recommend it. (Also: Andy Baio interviews the game’s creator.)