Nothing can bring a family together like a board game. Especially the really well made ones like Yahtzee, Parchesi and checkers.
But although the computer has a world of multimedia to tap into, games originally built for group fun never really successfully made the transition. The computer until very recently was a stationary object, and only so many people could crowd around the screen at a time. Plus, people who are fantastic board game players are not necessarily computer gamers. So they have been slow to catch on.
On final reason for the lull in popularity could be much more simple to explain: the titles available so far were not very good.
Sierra Attractions may change all that. Their latest board game suite, called Hoyle Board Games, is not only fun to play, but its fun just to use the nonthreatening interface. I’ve no idea why they chose to use the Hoyle name on this product, Hoyle was a card player and odds maker, but I suppose if you buy the right to use a name you stick in on whatever you can.
When you first load up the program, you are given the option to create a face that will represent you as you play against others or over the Internet. This is actually quite fun, and I’ve seen people take as long as 30 minutes or more just to get their face correct. If facial construction is not your bag, you can instead simply choose from a bunch of cute clipart, ranging from dragons to puppies to vegetables. Oddly enough, when you are setting up a game to play locally, instead of seeing the face you created, you instead see an outline with the words "Face Maker" highlighted. I was a bit annoyed that Sierra could not find a way to make use of the picture that took so long to make. This is evident in games like Battling Ships, when a players face is supposed to be displayed on the large playing screen.
Some of you probably are wondering why I said Battling Ships instead of Battleship, which is the game everybody knows. Apparently Sierra could not get the license to use the actual names of games in a lot of cases. So Battleship becomes Battling Ships, Yachtzee becomes Yacht, Shoots and Ladders becomes Snakes and Ladders and Connect 4 becomes Line ’em Up. The Sierra games are exactly the same as the normal ones, but it takes a few times playing the game to get used to the new names.
There is also at least some quasi-original material in the pack. My favorite game by far is called Placer Racer. The game is sort of like a reverse Tetris, with players attempting to shoot colored balls into a pile of multi-colored orbs. When you get three to stick together, they disappear. If they reach your shooter as the wall slowly lowers, the game ends.
Head to head Placer Racer is quite fun and I’ve challenged many of the GiN staffers to games. Even the hard-core gamer types seem to enjoy the simplistic challenge offered by the game, and the adrenaline of head to head competition.
There are also a lot of traditional games in the pack. Checkers makes an appearance as well as chess, dominoes, backgammon and Chinese checkers. When you play against computer opponents, they complain when you are winning and – based on the personality of character you are battling – gloat when they are ahead. Many of the characters have been seen in previous Sierra games, though I also saw a few new faces. The talking and instant gratification when you make a good move will appeal to younger gamers, who will enjoy the interactivity of the suite. Heck, even older folks will like this feature. There is one character whom I HATE because she is so mean when she is winning. Beating her is very fun, when I am able to pull it off.
Battling Ships is also a lot of fun, and takes the game to a place the Battleship board game has been moving toward for a long time. New versions of Battleship incorporate sound and lights and a host of other features. Well, Battling Ships features explosions, missiles firing back and forth across the board, and a screaming opponent when you sink their Battleship, or Battling Ship, or whatever. Young boys will love this one.
There are a few games that are meant for single play which round out this impressive offering. I used to play Zen Bones on an old Apple II GS but until now never really found a suitable replacement on the PC. This version of Zen Bones is just as difficult to get your head around as the actual game and comes loaded with just enough little sound effects to reward players when they find a match.
Hoyle Board games might have gotten a perfect score if it were not for some outright bugs in the software. Apparently Sierra does not quite have their 3D engines for this game perfected yet. As an example, when playing checkers in 3D mode, your opponent will sometimes shout that you have to make a jump if there is one on the board.. Scanning the board you won’t see any pieces even close to one another. If this happens, go into the options and turn the game back to 2D mode. Suddenly, you will see a previously invisible chip. Sometimes the game forgets to render pieces in 3D mode for some reason, and this can lead to some real frustrations till you figure out what is going on.
Also, the fact that faces you create don’t always show up in games is a real downer. Users won’t like spending so much time making a figure only to have it replaced by a generic outline. Even when playing online, it would be such a minuscule amount of bandwidth to have the game load your picture that this is something Sierra should have done.
Despite minor flaws and some generic names, it has been a long time since I have found such an excellent family title. This game could have the family gathering around the warm glow of the monitor for some fun and action packed quality time. It’s suitable for kids of all ages, and earns in impressive 4 GiN Gems.