Roleplaying gaming is the field I know best, but I mean to cover other aspects of gaming, too, so here I am with a computer game review, following on the heels of earlier remarks about casual gaming.
Gamehouse publishes little games, mostly puzzle games of various sorts. I got Bejeweled 2 way back when, but haven't really looked at their output in recent years even though they employ one of my favorite people, programmer, gamer, and cool guy David Dunham. (Be it noted that I didn't talk to David or anyone else at Gamehouse about this review.) I went browsing, saw they had a version of Monopoly, and picked it up.
Well, I'm hooked. So's Mom, who got this as a birthday gift.
Links in the following paragraphs mostly go to screenshots I took while playing through a sample game. I originally tried scaling them down but decided that when shrunk enough to fit comfortably in a column here they lost too much detail to be worth much even as thumbnails. So you get nine opportunities to go look at images on Flickr and play the extra bonus game "Identify the Programs In Bruce's Menu Bar", at no extra cost.
Setup for play is very easy, with up to four players. The first one will always be a human being, and the game remembers all the names people have typed in. The others can all be computer-controlled. What's not obvious from the big shot here is that every piece is animated. The top hat, for instance, moves when the bunny inside it walks along, and when its move is ended, the hat flips over and the bunny pops up. That's pictured up at the top of this review. The horse rears and trots along. The cannon lowers to the horizontal and charges, then aims back up to fire a salvo into the distance. And like that.
Optional rules are available in amazing quantity. I've never heard of some of these and want to try them out sometime.
Buying properties is straightforward. If you look at Tennessee Ave's place on the board, upper left side, you can see the bunny peeking out of my top hat. This is the sort of thing that made stop and laugh just about every move, as did the very well digitized sound of dice rolling in a carboard cup at the start of each turn.
Money transfers got to Mom even more, and also to me. Notice that the paying player has an open wallet, from which money flies out to the waiting hand of the receiving player (or, in the case of the bank, an open bank vault).
Auctions of property use a simple set of spinner buttons to let players raise their bids above a necessary minimum, or lower them again, if they choose to bid rather than pass. Notice in this screen shot that Horse (one of the computer players this time around) has its properties listed in a simple schematic view, grouped by color and position on the board. I wasn't sure how well it would work out, but Mom and I both got the hang of it very quickly.
Going to jail is pretty dramatic. They send out the paddy wagon for you! Your poor piece is hustled into the wagon and dropped off at jail.
Trading with other players uses the same kind of schematic view I mentioned two paragraphs up. At the first two levels of difficulty, which are all I've played so far, the computer is pretty sensible about what it accepts from human beings, but sometimes prone to offering irrationally unappealing offers of its own. Still, not bad at all - I've seen worse in play, and, um, have sometimes done worse myself.
Building properties is one of several activities you can engage in with a button click when it's legitimate to do so (along with selling, mortaging, unmortgaging, and trading, all listed along the bottom edge of the screen). Houses and hotels appear both on the central enlarged image of a card and on the main map board, accompanied by building sounds that Mom found all too reminiscent of the recent work on her home.
Victory is commemorated by suitable fireworks.
Getting the Game
Gamehouse makes purchase easy. I've seen my share of bad e-commerce sites, and I'm sure I'm not alone. This one is pretty good. The page for a particular game, like, say, Monopoly, has the purchase option front and center. You can get a free trial version with a trial limit, or the whole thing. If you go the latter route, they take enough info to get your money, give you a link to a zip file or disk image to download, and e-mail you a registration code. I got it nearly as fast as I could switch from Safari to Mail, and promptness makes me happy.
Now, understand, I really like this game, and I haven't any hesitation in recommending it if you have a hankering to play Monopoly while at your computer. I can only feel wistful that I didn't have a laptop stuffed with games like this when I was in the hospital a lot, or on frequent train trips. Good stuff.
But it's not perfect, at least not on OS X. It's not a proper app: it doesn't show up in the task switching list, or in the Dock, while running. It's in sort of a layer of its own in the Finder, and hard to fish out if you get anything displaying over it unless you go to the Finder and Hide Others. It also completely stops running if it's not in the foreground, rather than the computer going on to do everything it can until it needs player input. I'm not sure what's up with that. You'll notice from my screenshots that I had everything else hidden. That was partly for clarity, and partly because it's not an app well suited to playing with in fits and starts while doing something else. I'd like to see that fixed.
Apart from that, no caveats. The game doesn't leak memory, or bind up the CPU, or do anything else awful. It just sits there and is a lot of fun to play whenever it's in the foreground.
Playing this solo made me feel happy, in that, hey, I've reconnected to a pastime I had to give up back when, thanks to being away from other players so much. Playing it with Mom via iChat screen sharing, though--that was something else again. It's been a long time since she laughed so much or so hard, and a long time since anything my brothers and I could give or do for her was such a pure hit. I feel better for it, and am looking forward to more. (Also, she beat me soundly, and I must have revenge.)