Homescapes is a video game for smartphones and tablets that’s designed to remove money from your wallet, time from your day, and you from engagement with everything else that’s going on in your life.
It’s a match-3 type of game, very similar to Bejeweled (which I used to like a lot) or Candy Crush. It has levels to pass, and to break up the repetitiveness, it’s also an exploration, makeover, redesign game. There are periodic events where you compete head to head, within your team, or against other teams. There are also “seasons” lasting about 4 weeks where you are supposed to gather tokens to trade in to redesign areas of the game, or to change the appearance of an in-game character. There’s a fair amount of exploration; as you progress through the levels you first renovate and redecorate the main character’s family home, then a lake cabin that he buys, then an estate belonging to an estranged family member. Along the way you help “Austin,” the main character, make his parents’ lives better and fix their mysteriously neglected mansion. There’s a whole storyline with characters, separate from the simple match-3 mechanics where you gather tokens and stars to advance the “plot.”
I’m on a pretty good “team,” Freckle Juice. I thought the name was funny when I joined but I hope it doesn’t put off prospective new members who might suspect that it’s for pale people only. When I joined, it was new and I was the second or third person. The team leader is pretty engaged and expects team members to be minimally engaged, which is better than my last team. Homescapes has a “limited lives” system – you get 5 turns and then have to wait for your lives to refill… unless you pay extra for more lives. But you can ask for and give turns to teammates, and Facebook friends who connect to you in-game. Occasionally, we’re pretty successful as a a team in the weekly competitions. We won the one above for example. We got a lot of coin out of that.
Coins are the in-game currency; you can buy extra lives and power-ups (called boosters in-game). Stars are awarded for every level you clear – 1 level, one star. Hard levels, you get more coins. And then there’s various kinds of tokens; sometimes it’s a different kind of object that you match, like red bow ties (Austin the butler is famous for always wearing a bow tie) or some seasonal object (Christmas balls during the Christmas seasonal redesign event, etc.).
Currently, we’re in a sort of short seasonal event called Mysteries of Wood Escape. Here’s a walkthrough on You Tube that makes it look easy and achievable in the short time you’re given (about 10-14 days on this one). Newsflash: it’s not possible to complete unless you cheat.
YouTube: Mysteries of Wood Escape Walkthrough
Here’s a good example of Time Suck: while working on this blogpost, I absent-mindedly opened the game, forgetting that today is my “seventh day” in a row, that comes with some timed bonus power-ups. They only last 30 minutes. Can’t waste time blogging when I was stuck on a level!
But first, I’m offered an Instant Showdown against someone who may be a real player… all I have to do is create more bombs than they do in the next 6 hours. With the bombs booster activated, I’m pretty good at creating “carpet bombing” with the “disco ball” (like a Hypercube in Bejeweled). This is actually one I win at pretty regularly when I get a good start. Notice the extra bonus icon for an extra charge in dollars.
So, I clear quite a few of the standard match-3 levels, gaining just 9 of the blue energy bolts required by this “Wood Estate Mystery” event. During my run through the levels, I get irritated by the fact that having “double jet planes” which clear 4 spaces on landing” don’t always mean 2 separate planes hitting 2 separate targets – in this case, both planes went to the same target twice, forcing me to repeat the level at least once to finish it. The game design sometimes seems to “cheat” you out of a play. I mess myself up sometimes, too.
So I make good progress and clear as many levels as I can in the time allotted, gaining more energy to clear the Wood game, coins to buy my way out of trouble if necessary, and stars to advance the “main narrative” of helping Austin renovate the family homes.
But wait! I’m offered yet another side challenge, an easy looking mini-game that looks like the original ad that drew me into the Homescapes universal time/energy/star/coin black hole. Ads like this are reportedly banned in the UK as misleading as they’re not representative of normal gameplay. I knew this, very quickly, when I started about a year and a half ago (I started playing a few months before my furlough from work finally ended and I was assigned to a new set of accounts to support).
This side challenge, and many other distractions that come up, only appears when in the middle of a timed event that benefits the player.
I usually skip these as they waste time while the timer keeps ticking down, for a reward of only 50 coins and just 1 star, unless I’m close to finishing an “area” or a “day” in the main narrative and need stars.
“Woo-hoo!”, as Austin the bullet is fond of saying. I cleared a “super hard” level worth 150 coins, 12 energy bolts, and… just one star. It’s always just one star, no matter how hard the level is. At this moment, an “infinite lives” timer has just expired, but I have boosters due to the “kite event” being active as long as I keep winning on the first attempt.
Energy Suck: so I go into the “Wood Estate Mystery” with more than 220 energy bolts. The premise is you have to clear brush and fog in order to reach objectives in the story (“chapters”) and along the way, pick up coins and energy and boosters from various bushes and chests that have glowing beacons. But most of these booster bushes and chests must be accessed by a very convoluted route requiring huge amounts of energy. They rarely show up in the normal course of clearing a path in the “chapter” narrative. And sometimes, you encounter a red bomb package that clears a LOT of fog at once… but costs you 1,000 coins. And in the normal game, it costs 9,00 coins to get just 5 extra moves in a level, or if outside a level, to get 5 more lives (better value unless you’re desperate to pass a difficult level).
Energy is hard to earn, but easy… oh so easy to buy. Fortunately, Homescapes has been set so that I can’t buy anything in-game without getting David to agree to the purchase from one of his devices. This is the ONLY game or purchase that is set up like this; it’s a safety feature and I’m actually glad it’s there. I would have drained various gift debit cards otherwise.
Coin Suck: There’s ALWAYS something buy in this game. There’s a safe stuff with coins, that I earned the right to buy at a a reduced rate… 2 days into the game. I thought I was earning FREE coins. Nope.
There’s this bonus event thing that gives you boosters and coins and lives and so on as you clear levels. The goals are easy to achieve at first, and then IMPOSSIBLE to complete as you go. All to get a special “pet” that wanders around the estate, or a special profile picture. These events change monthly except that right now, it’s a weekly payment and thus is about 4 times the cost of the previous monthly bonus deals. About 3 or 4 months ago, I resolved to NOT buy my way out of hard levels any more, because I was constantly too “broke” to afford 900 coins. I also resolved longer ago than that not to buy any of the extra bonus event benefits like 8 lives instead of 5 plus more loot, because the owners of the Playrix games company are obscenely rich Russians now based in either the UK or Ireland, and I wasn’t comfortable with giving them MORE money.
So since my Homescapes team regularly seems to win or place or show in the “coin challenges” that come up every week, I’ve literally been saving my coins and not using them unless there’s a very good reason, and I keep raising my “hard deck” below which I will not go, which is currently at least 5,000 coins, but often raised to at least 8,000 coins. I’ve got pretty good strategies for not having to buy my way out of a hard level now; these include “ABC” (“always be clearing”) moves, and “XYZ” (“examine your moveZ”) for either a combination of boosters, or a move that achieves at least 2 and preferably 3 actions toward that level’s goal.
My advice to new players interested in this game is this: Don’t get sucked into it, unless you set yourself some rules to live by first. Don’t spend money. Don’t go looking for game cheats that’ll only get you banned. But do find a good team to start out with to help you with lives and tips (Facebook groups are probably the safest place to look). If you know someone who plays it, ask them if their team has an opening. Do ignore the events and redecorating that don’t interest you; they’re frustrating as you go up the levels because they’re so hard to complete and the payoff in boosters and coins isn’t worth it. Do set timers to remind you to close the game and go outside and do something else.
At some point if I keep going up the levels in my current location in-game, I’ll be in the “Tournament of Champions,” the level where people have to wait for Playrix to release new levels and eventually, new “estates” and areas around the fictional lakeside community. This isn’t ideal because as you play in “TOC” you’re not accumulating stars in order to advance quickly once a brand new area is opened (there are 3 so far). But at least I don’t plan to spend a lot of real world money from this point forward, and you shouldn’t, either.