My Fantastic Ranch, developed by Piece of Cake Studios and published by Nacon, is an adorably chibi-fied ranch management sim where you raise dragons and unicorns with the goal of becoming the most highly-regarded ranch in the kingdom. It’s definitely targeted more towards kids, with a fairly simple gameplay loop and not a ton of content, but more casual adult gamers can find a few hours of fun in this vibrant fantasy world. Serious dragon enthusiasts and gamers looking for a deep management sim may want to give this one a pass, however.
The game is available on all major platforms, but for the purposes of this review, I’m playing on PC.
My Fantastic Ranch boasts colorful and charming stylized visuals. The chibi, somewhat blocky character models have an almost paper-craft quality to them, giving the world a storybook feel which suits it so well. The models stand out from the pastel scenery, and overall the world feels cohesive.
The UI is pretty simple, clean, and easy to navigate. There’s not much in the way of menus or gameplay options, making it accessible to kids. There’s an in-game codex which contains gameplay tips, explanations of game icons, and some in-game achievements.
The game has two game modes to pick from: a normal mode that serves as the campaign, and a “dreamer” mode that allows free creative play. The tutorial is easy to follow and goes by quickly, and I appreciate that there’s an option to skip it in the pause menu.
There’s only a bit of voice-acting, from the fairy character who walks you through the tutorial and advises you throughout the rest of the game, and surprisingly, it isn’t grating or annoying. Kids in particular should find it cute. The rest of the sound design is fine, and the music is pretty calming, though it could use a little more variety to fill in some silent gaps.
UNICORNS ARE COOL, BUT…
Obviously, given the subject of this blog, I was most interested in the dragons, so I focused my ranch entirely on them and completely ignored the unicorns (I’ll let Alice over at The Mane Quest handle that someday).
Personally, I think the dragons are the cutest part of the game, but they still retain plenty of dragon-ness in both appearance and personality. I appreciate that they’re visually distinct enough from the unicorns while still being cutie-fied. Both dragons and unicorns have four elemental types, unique to each species, with the dragons being based on the traditional elements: fire, water, air, and earth. The various elemental types have different basic designs and colors. Water-types will have fin-like jaw frills, air-types have feathery wings and accents, and fire-types are a bit spikier and toothier. Earth dragons are the most visually distinct, with stockier bodies that make them look a bit like adorable baby rhinos as they lumber around. There’s also a rare design for each type that have the most unique appearances, drawing the most inspiration from their respective elements.
The dragon’s animations are particularly stand-out. They have such personality; they’ll look overjoyed to be trotting around a pasture or balancing on a circus ball, and they may stretch and yawn sleepily while curled up on the ground. They’ll hold their heads up in triumphant smugness when they hit a target, but they’ll also look dejected with droopy wings when they miss. The animations can definitely be a bit floaty at times, though. The dragons tend to slide across the ground when they turn or when they jump up the rocks in the aerobatics lesson. There’s a lot of motion with their wings, which is a great detail, but those movements don’t always match up physics-wise with the rest of the body. But, given the extremely stylized nature of the game, I don’t feel these hiccups detract much from the charm. Overall, My Fantastic Ranch is a great example of cartoony, stylized dragons done well.
The goal in My Fantastic Ranch is to create the most famous magical creature ranch in all the land, and to impress the prince and princess of the kingdom. In the campaign mode of the game, you start off by meeting Ferilita, the fairy who advises you on ranch matters. She walks you through the tutorial, which sees you setting up a tack room, individual stalls for your critters, a barn for food, and fields for various activities like free-roaming and lessons. You’ll also hire staff to help care for your creatures by feeding them and cleaning their enclosures.
Once you’re all set up, you’ll choose a dragon or unicorn to get started with. The game definitely expects you to end up with a mix of both (more on this shortly), but I was able to easily get through the full campaign without any unicorns. But doing so does limit you slightly in some minor ways. You’ll have three creatures to pick from, and you can spend gems (the in-game currency) to re-roll your selection, which randomizes the creature type, elemental, appearance, and name. You’ll find out later that this also automatically resets at the beginning of each in-game week, if you don’t want to spend the money (though for adult players, this very quickly becomes a non-issue).
After this, visitors will start pouring in to your ranch to take lessons with your creatures. You’ll start with Dressage lessons available. I don’t know much about Dressage, but I think it’s a bit more involved than this game makes out; Dressage lessons here basically involve a student riding around in circles on the back of a creature. Lessons always require you to select a staff member to teach them, a student, and a creature. All of these individuals have badges that provide certain benefits like gems or experience, and they’ll all gain additional badges through training. Pairing up these badges in lessons nets additional bonuses. And here we meet one of the few limitations of a dragon-only ranch: about half of the students that visit will have a unicorn badge, so they’ll get less rewards from doing lessons with dragons. That said, I only had an issue optimizing lesson spots at the tail end of the game, when I’d maxed out my creature slots with all dragons.
There’s four lesson types total: in addition to Dressage, we have Target Practice, Circus, and Aerobatics. These are pretty self-explanatory, and they all have their own cute animations. Staff can teach two to four students at a time for lessons, depending on the badges they have. Teaching lessons nets you gems and reputation, which is your experience towards leveling up. Your progression is soft-locked behind specific tasks, usually like teaching a certain number of a specific lesson type, or completing a tournament or festival, which you’ll unlock as you progress. Tournaments are basically higher-level versions of your lessons (and happen off-screen). Festivals involve putting on a four-act show of different lesson types to impress the prince and princess while they are visiting your ranch. They’ll ask to see specific types of creatures; they asked for a certain dragon type during my first one, and one each of a certain dragon and unicorn for the second one. Even though I didn’t enter a unicorn, I still managed to pass and reach the final experience level of the game. There’s one more festival level after that, even though the campaign has technically ended, but I’m not sure how hard that will be to pass if you can’t meet the specific requirements of the prince and princess. But, if you’re playing a mixed ranch, it shouldn’t be difficult to achieve at all.
There’s a pretty simple happiness system for your creatures, based on how hungry they are and how much energy they have. Happiness will typically drop after lessons, but with a fully-staffed ranch, they’re back to maximum happiness pretty quickly. By the end of the game, all of my dragons were walking around with near-permanent happy eyes.
That’s about it for the main gameplay loop of My Fantastic Ranch. You’ll conduct lessons, let your staff automatically care for your creatures, and enter tournaments and festivals. You unlock dorms to allow students to enroll full-time in your lessons, but I’m not exactly sure what additional benefit this provides besides some extra bonuses after lessons. You also have a small assortment of aesthetic items like paths, benches, and fountains that you can place around your ranch, but again, I don’t think these actual do anything besides make it look nicer. You’ve got the option to donate unwanted creatures to the kingdom for a small amount of gems, but this became pretty pointless except to make room for new dragons. Finally, your critters are also prone to what the game calls “silly behavior” which I find nauseatingly cute. They may randomly start running around your ranch or causing a ruckus in lessons until you click on them. I think this will negatively affect lesson bonuses and festival results if it happens, but it’s super minor. Kids will get a good kick out of this, and the antics are all quite different depending on the lesson they’re happening in.
Most of my issues lie with a general lack of content, but I’ll start with some technical bugs and nitpicks. The camera controls are the first hitch I really noticed. Overall the camera isn’t the worst, but trying to pan with the mouse while zoomed all the way in sends the camera flying backwards, which made it difficult to get up-close views of my dragons until I switched to basically only using the keyboard camera controls.
You’ll get timed tasks that pop up throughout the game which net you a little extra money and experience, but they have an annoying habit of showing up right after you do something that would have fulfilled them. I gave up on those pretty quickly after I kept filling up all my lesson spots to look down and see I now had a task to start a new lesson, forcing me to wait until all the in-progress ones were done.
Overall, the game ran smoothly for me. There’s some bugs present, but nothing game-breaking or that couldn’t be fixed by re-loading from the main menu. The worst bug I encountered was that paths wouldn’t show up, even while placing them, until the game was reloaded. Nobody seems to have any sort of programming to follow any paths though, so they’re purely aesthetic, which again resulted in a feature I completely abandoned. Icons will pop up to alert you to problems, like silly behavior shenanigans or an empty feed barn, but occasionally they’d show up in the completely wrong direction on my screen, sending me on a wild goose chase across my ranch. I only saw a few other minor bugs, like visitors getting stuck on fences, or dragons in lessons getting stuck when I’d get pop-up notifications, but those were easily fixable in game. There’s some minor graphical issues: the dragon’s eye color peeks through the edges of their closed eye texture, and there’s no collision for models, resulting in everyone walking through everyone else, which I find annoying, but kids probably won’t care.
The biggest issue with My Fantastic Ranch by far is a lack of content and a general feeling of being unfinished. I reached the end of the game’s main content in about four hours. Kids will make progress more slowly, but for adult audiences, the game definitely falls short. Some of this shows through in smaller ways: even though there are benches throughout your ranch and around the bigger set pieces like lesson arenas, visitors never utilize them. The creature and human designs are diverse and very pleasant to look at, but by the time you’re maxing out your 24 slots for everything, you’re seeing a lot of repeating names and designs.
But worst of all, the game basically tells you it’s unfinished. After passing the mid-tier festival and reaching level ten, you unlock access to the third and final expansion of your ranch. But a pop-up notifies you that you’ve reached the end of the game’s content, and unless you’re going to plop down seconds of all of your lesson arenas, there’s not a lot of ways to use this new space. It feels like the game basically transitions to creative mode at this point, with no real incentive to keep working on your ranch, especially given the complete excess of money you have at this point. The devs are pretty silent on whether they’ll provide any future content updates to the game, only saying in their Discord channel that it’s up to the publisher to decide. The gameplay loop is probably enough to keep kids invested for a little while longer at this point, but there’s not much left for anyone wanting more.
My Fantastic Ranch succeeds at creating a very simplified, family-friendly ranch management game with a cute magical animal theme. I think there’s some things the devs could have done to improve the game, while keeping it appropriate for kids; but I also think there’s a lot that could be taken from this game and expanded upon for an adult audience.
There’s a few small nitpicky items that I would have liked in my playthrough, like adding some sort of progress bar to lessons so you know how much time is left. The amount of decorative items is pretty small, enough so that I think even kids would quickly get bored of the options. As far as I can tell, there’s no ability to rename your creatures, and since the pre-generated names are fairly repetitive, this would be a welcome addition. I also think some sort of day/night cycle or other time representation would be helpful. Currently the game clock is only measured in days, with a few specific events happening on a weekly basis, but because the game proceeds at full force all the time with no change in daylight, those events feel like they come out of nowhere. Having the ranch only open for maybe a certain number of hours a day, with the closed hours maybe being spent on caring more actively for your creatures, could make a more interesting experience.
While simple, I do think there’s a lot to build off of in My Fantastic Ranch. I’d like to see more involved creature breeding and raising mechanics. What might happen if you could cross dragons of different elements? Raising baby dragons could be very fun, though I think it’d be important not to fall into the trap of just the usual basic caretaking mechanics: feeding, grooming, etc. If you’re going to do that, at this point I think it needs more than just a little mini-game showing you washing off your dragon. Maybe your quality of caretaking affects their growth, through appearance or temperament? The training lessons are a good basic start, but these too could be made more interactive through mini-games.
There’s an indie game called Dragon Creek which tackles this dragon-ranching gameplay, though it’s obviously a smaller project and still falls short in many ways. But there’s at least more interactivity involved in its training lessons, and it has a simple battle system to participate in with the dragons you’ve raised. Fortunately, there’s a lot of directions you could ultimately take for a game about dragon ranching. Dragons are great candidates for competitive battles (ala the Monster Rancher series), but you could also instead focus on something more peaceful like skill- or aesthetic-based competitions. Even some sort of RPG like the original Digimon World could provide a good basis for a modern dragon raising game. It seems like most games in the animal ranching genre, whether they’re about horses or something more magical, fall into many of the same trappings of grindy, unsatisfying gameplay loops with little payoff. What do games like Viva Piñata, Bugsnax, and Slime Rancher (or heck, even the Chao garden in Sonic Adventure 2) do to create cute and charming creature raising games? Can we take some of those ideas and expand them into a dragon ranching sim that doesn’t just become a grind of hosing down your dragon and feeding them some meat? If you’re looking for a new game idea, maybe that’s something worth exploring.
At the end of the day, My Fantastic Ranch will provide several hours of enjoyment if you’re looking for something cute and relaxing, and kids will likely get even more mileage out of it. It’s definitely got a lot going for it in terms of style, even if its lacking in substance. But, it’s cute enough that even my husband was getting sucked in when he popped his head in during my playthrough. This would be a great “my first management sim” game for young audiences (I’d say ten or under; after that I think most would want something a little more meaty). There’s also some good, if really basic, bones here that could be expanded upon for a more in-depth ranching sim, should some other dev want to tackle that in the future. I picked the game up on sale for $11.99 USD, but I would hesitate to recommend it at the full price of $29.99 USD (and would outright advise against the $39.99 console price!). If you can grab it on sale, I think it’s worth spending a lazy, cozy afternoon with some adorable little magical creatures.