7 games that will eat up your free time

Last week, our company hosted an expert on digital efficiency, who gave attendees a great presentation on how to get more out of the workday with a whole range of tips, tricks and tools.

Key to his presentation was this statement "Wouldn't it be great if we all had an extra hour each day to get more stuff done?" Most of the audience agreed. But in my case, I'd probably use that extra hour playing video games on my Xbox, iPad, iPhone or Facebook account.

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In the spirit of today's "Free Story Day" (Network World and IDG News Service writers today are cranking out a bunch of stories on freebies we thought you might find of interest and that we'll be publishing this week), here's the list of free-time-sucking apps and games that are great in their own right, but will also cause you to quickly use up that extra hour that those other tools, tips and tricks try to give you back. Most of these are also free to play, although they all have in-app purchases and other premium content available for real money.

2048 (iOS, Google Play): At first glance, this game seems like one of those old-school tile-swapping games, or one of those games where you have to utilize long-forgotten math skills. But after you play it for a few minutes, you'll be hooked. The game is a simple 4-by-4 grid containing two number 2s. When two numbers of the same value touch, they double, creating a new number. The goal is to get to 2048 (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048). It's harder than it sounds, but incredibly addicting. If you don't want to play the mobile version (there are several knockoffs on Google Play), you can play the original web version here.

Simpsons: Tapped Out (iOS): At first glance, this game feels a lot like Farmville, the classic online time-waster of building a farm and getting your friends to help you manage said virtual farm. In the case of this game, the goal is to rebuild the town of Springfield from the TV show "The Simpsons." You start from scratch after Homer accidentally blows up the old Springfield. You slowly build houses, buildings and other decorations, and the "tapped out" part of the game has you tapping on houses or people to give you experience points and money, which is required in order to complete the quests (basically, a quest is "Build this new building") and unlock new ones. The game has premium offerings where you spend real money in order to get virtual donuts, which can then be spent on other buildings and characters. The game has the show's typical sense of humor, and it knows how annoying these types of games can be. Special events (especially around major holidays during the year) offer up new content (new buildings, characters, etc.) that help keep the game interesting, although at times the tapping can be very grind-y (especially if you're not forking over real money).

Subway Surfers (iOS, Android): This runner style of game (much like Temple Run) has you playing the role of a subway graffiti artist, who is being chased by an inspector through an array of subway tracks, tunnels and bridges. As the player, you can switch lanes, jump, duck and dodge barriers, and jump on top of trains that are barreling toward you. Special power-ups give you things like jetpacks, super sneakers or coin-collecting magnets. Coins can be used to purchase power-up upgrades, additional characters (including limited edition players) or special hoverboards, which should remind you of Back to the Future 2. Game updates bring new characters and boards to unlock, which drive you to continue playing. Daily challenges, special-event days (like Mystery Monday or Wild Wednesday) and score-multiplier-mission objectives help keep you addicted long after another subway splats you. Perfect game for killing time in a waiting room, commuter bus or other short-term period.

Marvel: Avengers Alliance (Facebook game): Trying to describe the details of a Facebook game can be difficult, especially when the game has several playing options and ways to accumulate more energy or power-ups, etc. In the end you realize you're just clicking things to unlock other things, but at least with this game you have a bunch of super-heroes to unlock. In this game, you are an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and you fight other bad guys with the Avengers. While you start with only a few heroes, you can eventually unlock (or pay to unlock) other heroes. Well-written stories will keep any Marvel fan engaged, even through some of the monotony of clicking to receive enough money to buy another power-up or hero.

Disney Hidden Worlds (Facebook, iOS): Hidden picture games are very popular on Facebook, in which players look at a drawing and try to locate objects within said picture (just like Highlights for Children magazine!). In this case, you get to play different scenes from Disney movies, including Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. My 8-year-old daughter loves the game, and it's addicting enough to come back each day for a 10-to-15-minute playing session in order to try to unlock the next scene or movie.

Adventure Time: Ski Safari (iOS): For my Adventure Time-obsessed son, this was one of his favorite games, in which you take the character of Finn and try to escape an oncoming avalanche. Much like Temple Run and Subway Surfers, this runner-style of game features an eventual loss (either you mess up or the avalanche catches up to you the longer you last), but this one is a two-dimensional side-scrolling version instead of 3D. Voices and characters from the Cartoon Network show make this enjoyable as well, although it's not as addicting as some other mobile games.

Xbox Live "Games with Gold" monthly game downloads (Xbox 360): This one isn't free it requires an annual Xbox Live Gold subscription ($60 per year). However, twice a month you get to download free games from the online service (new games appear on the first and 15th of each month). These are usually older games, but still very playable and quite enjoyable. The game from earlier this month, Civilization Revolution, ate up half my weekend while I sat there trying to conquer the world. If your Xbox 360 has the hard drive space to hold these gigabyte-heavy games, it's well worth it to get some free content for your paid subscription.

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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