Fairy Godmother Tycoon

Review

posted 6/5/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
She's got a little rock the size of Arkansas on her pinky finger. Her ballroom dress is impeccably tailored, sporting offset pinstripes … And she's about to make you an offer you can't refuse.
 
TheFairy Godmother (purveyor of endless magical phenomena, slayer of stigmatizing social strata, champion metaphor builder -- you know the one) is watching her family business slowly dissolve. Up-and-coming rivals are out to wrest the potion-making monopoly from her hands, and frankly, she needs a young blood to inject some life into her stagnating business. This is the precise moment you're called upon in this funny ha-ha take on timeless, family-friendly stories. Or horror stories, or cautionary tales, depending on your take. 
 
Armed with plenty of confidence but few words, you're brought before the Fairy Godmother just as her business is on its last legs, and you'll have to sharpen your business savvy against puffing magic dragons, not-so-handsome princes, Goldilocks and co., and many other twisted little versions of the usual suspects.
 
Each level begins in a similar vein, as you're introduced to a corporate rival (some make reappearances further along the rabbit trail) and set up shop in a corner of town. A suitable tutorial -- despite being vague about too many technicalities, so as not to overwhelm -- is narrated by a quintessential grandpa figure, Paulie Sugarplums. His toothless, good-natured smile introduces you to the most important concepts involved in turning you from a bright-eyed entrepreneurial hopeful … into a media and big-industry mogul. 
 
Starting out small is a boon to your sanity, since successive game levels (expectedly) add multiplying levels of conundrums to keep you business sense and multi-tasking muscles toned and flexed. Each village you wring from the competition will be composed of several rounds, each round composed of several phases to set you up for success.
 
One sometimes-exhausting aspect of each village is the fact that you start at the very bottom rung of the ladder of success, every time, with zero customers, zero popularity amongst the populace, and very few funds to get the ball rolling. But there's a slow-burning victory dance you'll feel in your head as your hard work and perseverance begins to tip the scales in your favor, and you approach each level's end-game absolutely stomping the competition into ruthless submission; until they're left with no other option than to close shop and pack their bags for not-so-green pastures.
 
But to get there you'll have to navigate some cleanly intuitive, tycoon-minded screens: reports, news and weather, supplies, pricing, marketing, upgrades, local characters, and research. Word to the wise: if you're thinking this might be a shallow kiddy-game, you're in for a wake-up call, Rip Van Winkle. There's a reasonable amount of depth here to keep your calculator clacking, while there's also plenty of tools (namely the recipe cookbook) that'll simplify a lot of the fourth-grade math that drives Fairy Godmother Tycoon's economy.
 
To oversimplify, but to walk you through a decent round of gameplay, you begin on the reports screen. Here's where you can see charts of your progress, percentages of the people that checkmark your box in a popularity contest, and generally measure the amount of customers you pleased or ticked off. 
 
Most importantly is the news and weather screen, which predicts the level of curses that will afflict the meandering populace the next day. These curses range from Cupid-induced broken hearts, to ego-swollen big heads (literally), to percentile chances of appearing naked in public (hat tip: The Emperor's New Clothes). Don't worry. Black censor bars strap themselves across their animated, uh, fairy tails. 


Next you move to pricing, where you strive to make a profit over potion-making costs, but try not to drive your customers away in a fouled mood over inflation. Sometimes random news events depict a populace more (or less) willing to part with their hard-earned fairy bucks from day to day. 
 
Slide onto the marketing screen, and a plethora of advertising options are at your fingertips. There's the typical mailbox campaign of junkmail to send out if money's lacking, or you can hire goons to stand at strategic points in the city to advertise your store. Some of these goons are innocuous, some are cute, and some resort to more violent means of getting the people's attention. And anytime there's a chance to manifest a pun, Fairy Godmother Tycoon does it; one of my favorites being the "gorilla marketer" who doesn't make a huge splash overnight, but whose advertising begins to pay dividends further on. 
 
Upgrades are crucial to success, as you pay for larger warehouses to store more ingredients (more customers means more potions to store up for), increasingly efficient employees, upgraded interior décor, and so on. Again, here's where the always-starting-at-the-bottom of each level sometimes extracts a weary sigh. 
 
Local characters, however, spice things up by providing their services at mercenary rates. Sometimes little elves might sneak into your shop and automatically prepare all of tomorrow's potions -- for a price, of course -- thereby having zero wait-time for your customers the next day.  This might have your customers love their shopping experience, which is always good for ratings. Another local character that appears might be Pandora with her notably chaotic box of effects; you've got about a 50/50 chance of something good or bad happening, let's put it that way.
 
As the rounds tarry along, you'll be pouring money into potion research, since one or two new curses will pop up before you capture the entire town. Put up enough cash for research, and you could be the first on the block to satisfy your customers' new malady. Not enough, and you could be losing precious business to your persistent competitors as they perhaps find a cure to having a song stuck in your head (another curse) before you do.
 
With all of these variables attended to, it's time to start the day, watch the population swarm about the town, see if your advertising pays off, see if the components you purchased for today's sales last until close of business, and see if you have the temerity to handle crooked fairy tale characters that might stroll in the door.
 
One amusing example is when Little Bo Peep came into the store (in one of the many storyline missions that crop up) looking for a missing sheep. Clever me, I thought we should ask Mary where the sheep might've gone. Mary came into the store later, admitting that "the lamb had followed me to school one day. School one day. School one day." I tried to pull off a little King Solomon-styled wisdom and threaten to split the lamb in half giving Little Bo Peep and Mary one-half each. I was shocked -- but laughing out loud -- when they were both satisfied with the decision, since both of them found that the taste of lamb made delicious dinner dishes.
 
So many of these stories are on a similar ingenious scale that it'd be criminal not to reprint them all here -- and likewise criminal not to let you discover them for yourself. I haven't even fully divulged every variable involved in each day of business, which gives you a solid hint about how deep this simulation runs, but not so deep that you can't have a solid hand in the goings-on from sun up to sun down. Just don't be fooled by the "Tycoon" tacked on at the end of the title, since it has little in common with a Zoo Tycoon or a Roller Coaster Tycoon beyond the business modeling itself. There's nothing lasting in Fairy Godmother Tycoon: nothing physical to create, no floor plans to sketch out, no employee patrols to map … there's only just-in-time production of potions, instantly consumed, and percentage numbers to finagle. So while the economy is wonderful to manipulate, Fairy Godmother Tycoon doesn't draw on your own inherent creativity. It only asks you to do the math. But taking it for what it is, it accomplishes all of its design elements with a cool confidence, and simultaneously hits on that essential Addiction Factor that gives budget-priced casual games their longevity.





B-
More enjoyable in chapter-length nibbles than novel-length bites, Fairy Godmother Tycoon has hours of fun vested into its deep and easy-to-grasp business model. The rethought cast of characters, and warped, re-imagined fairy tales are brilliantly written. And while it doesn't ever tax your own creative stamina, it respectably bridges a gap between casual and tycoon games -- even if it's heavy on the math to do so.