Gaming now central to Facebook experience

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      Many developers are using the hugely popular social-networking site to distribute their games among the on-line masses

      Facebook’s 300 million active users make it the most popular on-line gaming platform. So it’s no wonder many developers are using the social-networking site to distribute their games to the masses.

      Playing word games, harvesting crops, and joining the Mafia with friends are now a central part of the Facebook experience for many. While Facebook’s casual social games might not hold a candle to massively multiplayer on-line role-playing games like World of Warcraft in terms of depth, graphics, or playability, they are accessible to a much larger group of people.

      Here’s a look at six games that debuted on the Facebook platform this year.

      Dictator Wars (GameLayers)
      The word wars is commonly found in the names of Facebook games. These games tend to be a variation on the same basic gameplay, which requires more patience and persistence than skill. A simulation only in the vaguest sense of the word, Dictator Wars sees players take on the role of an up-and-coming ruler, completing missions in order to raise money to buy things that will allow them to complete more missions. A lot of the game involves waiting for your energy to replenish, which limits the gameplay to short bursts interspersed between long periods of doing nothing—perfect for office workers killing time between filing TPS reports. As in most Facebook games, nearly everything you do causes Dictator Wars to want you to invite your friends to join you, but then again, most dictators don’t worry too much about spamming their friends.

      Emergency Surgery (Red Rocket)
      Most Facebook games eschew the need to use precise controls and tend to be about making choices, as opposed to testing the hand-eye coordination of players. But Emergency Surgery, developed for a health-care recruitment agency in the U.K., tests gamers’ ability to keep a steady mouse hand as they trace around organs in order to remove them from patients. The frustratingly difficult gameplay ensures that all of your patients will die.

      Farm Land
      There are several farming simulators on Facebook, perhaps because of some innate need to grow our own food that’s encoded in our DNA. (Zynga’s FarmVille is the most popular game on Facebook, with more than 56 million active users.) Farm Land claims to promote a cleaner Earth by letting players run a virtual sustainable farm, but all it really promotes is boredom and sadness. The game is the epitome of the click-and-wait type that’s so popular on Facebook. There are approximately 10 seconds of play for every six or seven hours of waiting. Apart from the passable graphics, players would be better off declaring that deleting files from their desktop is a game, because at least that would accomplish something.

      Restaurant City (Playfish)
      It seems that most of the best Facebook games to come out recently were developed by Playfish Games. The company’s games tend toward hypercute characters doing something fairly common. In Restaurant City, players run a restaurant with the help of freakishly inaccurate versions of their Facebook friends, whom they can hire. Players furnish their restaurant using various items that are sold using the in-game currency, which is gained by serving food to customers. The game is somewhat addictive, as players try to reach the next level, where they are allowed either to hire new employees or to expand their restaurant. But once again, the game suffers from an issue most Facebook games have, which is that players are pestered to invite their friends in order to be really successful at it.

      Shredder Chess Puzzle (Partha Sarathi Ghosh)
      Chess may have been invented five or six centuries before Facebook, but the game seems to be a good match for the site. Shredder Chess Puzzle is different from most chess games: rather than letting you play a simple game of chess against the computer or another human, it creates a scenario for you and forces you to pick the best move in that situation. Should you sacrifice your knight or move it back behind your pawn? The game, a good training tool, provides you with the answer. It also features links to a number of on-line books about chess strategy to help you build your game.

      Wordy (
      Scrabulous, now known as Lexulous, was one of the early gaming hits on Facebook. So it seems appropriate that word games remain popular on the site. Wordy avoids aping the Hasbro and Mattel board game, and offers up a host of single-player and multiplayer games for the word nerd in all of us. Word Twist, a Bejeweled-like letter-sliding game, is the best, though each of the games will stretch your vocabulary muscles.