Game Review - by James Allen
When I was a kid (some would argue that I still am), my family had a whole mess of board games. This would be the primary form of indoor entertainment at my house, until the computer arrived. So, collecting all of those favorites, we have Hoyle Board Games, which includes sixteen old titles. Promising to recapture that old spirit we remember from non-digital gaming, will Hoyle Board Games get checkmate, or sink like so many battleships?
The number of features in Hoyle Board Games will probably be the reason for most people to purchase this game, and I don't blame you. We have SIXTEEN different games, recreated in all their glory. Before I probe into the individual game features, I'll just let you know that online play is certainly available, and you can add a Backgammon game to your Palm OS handheld. With that in mind, let's go to the games!
First off, we have Backgammon: you can choose to alter the rules by adding the doubling cube or changing the first roll options. In Battling Ships (also known as Battleship), you can choose a fixed number of shots per turn, or make it dependent on the number of remaining ships. Checkers gives you the option of changing the board type (to include funky frogs) and requiring you to jump an opposing piece when available. In Chess, you can set up the initial board in any fashion imaginable, to recreate your favorite scenario. Dominoes can be changed by the fashion of play (Block, Draw, or Sebastopol), starting with the highest doublet, leaving the last two bones in the boneyard, requiring people to play when they can, the number of bones in your hand, and the overall winning score. In Line ‘em Up (Connect Four), you can place the win conditions by connecting four or getting the most rows of three. Mahjong Tiles can be played by one or two players in the historical game, or played as a memory game or the gravity click-fest. You can customize the number of initial stones and the starting player in Mancala. To change the difficulty, Master Match (Mastermind) can incorporate one or two boards, a changing number of rows, colors, and pegs, scoring opportunities, and using duplicates in the solution. You can use the classic Monopoly of three doubles and go to jail in Pachisi (Parcheesi). A Tetris mutation Placer Racer is included; a somewhat weird addition to the collection. Finally, you can change the board type in Reversi (Reversi). So, you can plainly see that there are a whole bunch of options and games here, most of which are easy to learn (if you don't know how to play them already) with the included manual and help files. Yep, lots of games.
The sound in Hoyle Board Games is fairly average. The scarcity of the sound in the game is slightly countered by the blaring (and sometimes annoying) "background" music. Each of the computer characters occasionally state certain comments on the status of the game, but they are usually too infrequent to be realistic, and slow the pace of the game down when they do appear. As for the games themselves, most of the sounds are in short spurts: of course, when you play the real board games, all of the sounds are made by the participants, so it's not that much of a surprise. Still, the games seem somewhat lifeless in Hoyle Board Games, surrendering the dynamic attitude of most computer games.
Since I discussed all of the games in the Features section, I suppose that I will delve into the computer AI here, since that's about the only subject left in the gameplay realm. Well, the AI is pretty challenging, and rarely makes silly mistakes giving you the win. You can customize the difficulty, but I have yet to see this make a difference, since the AI is ruthless on even the lowest difficulty level. Beating the AI is more of a function of the quality of your play rather than capitalizing on mistakes on the part of the computer. So, the AI certainly isn't a pushover (evident by my severe losses in Chinese Checkers), and this only serves to elongate the play of the game, at the expense of some annoyance for the human players.
Most of the games are faithfully reproduced with no added bonuses, lacking any sense of 3-D or perspective for the most part. You will recognize the specific games at a glance, however, and that's something to be noted. Sometimes, though, the individual game pieces are entirely too small to see; I encountered this problem in Chinese Checkers on more than one occasion. While most conversions to computer form add some sort of animation or life to their games, it seems this is mostly devoid in Hoyle Board Games. One of the few exceptions are the floating cup in Yacht. Sure, the games are true to life in the arena of recreation, but few innovations inhibit Hoyle Board Games from being truly authentic.
Hoyle Board Games is a fair representation of the dominion of board gaming. The number of features are staggering, and this alone will probably draw most fans of the genre this way, overlooking the average graphics and sound. There have almost certainly been better board game computer games, but it's hard to find a collection like that found here. So, if you are looking for a place to find all of your favorite games in one place, Hoyle Board Games will most likely deliver.