Review: Monopoly Casino
Price: $29.99 (MSRP)
Requirements: 180MHz Mac, Mac OS 8.1, 250 MB disk space, 800x600 monitor with thousands of colors
Recommended: G3-based Mac with 64 MB of RAM
MacSoft has done a lot of things right with this game. It installs and plays easily, and as we expect from a company specializing in Macintosh software, the presentation leaves little to be desired. I wish a few things could be speeded up or altered in a player controls menu, but surely those things will be addressed in future versions. For now, we have a very playable casino with plenty of games inside. There really is a game for everyone here, including slots, video poker, roulette, a money wheel, keno, craps, blackjack, and table poker games.
MacSoft is even good about its packaging, including a 52-page instruction book that walks the player through technical elements such as installation and network play, and also provides rules for play on all of the games. Yes, I know you want to hear more about the games: we’ll get there in a minute.
Most of my testing was done on a 350MHz G3; its main claim to fame is over 700 MB of RAM and a fresh new 40 GB hard drive. Otherwise it’s all factory specs, including ordinary video and graphics setups. Game play was fast enough, although I wanted the ability to skip to the next hand once I’d folded from a poker hand. For those good players who know the value of studying their opponents, though, this is a handy feature that makes you pay attention to some of their bets.
I also tried the game on a 300 MHz iBook, which was bearable until the screensaver came on. After that, game play was horrendously slow. To be fair, the iBook is running both OS X and OS 9, and the system software is gobbling up much of the 160 MB of RAM. This sort of game isn’t what I had in mind for that unit anyway, but bear in mind that if you want to play it on a similar computer, you’ll at least want to shut down OS X or anything else that chews RAM.
Other technical stuff: you must leave the CD in to play the game, and I had to reinstall Sound Manager (part of QuickTime).
Network play comes in two varieties: you can host your own game on a local area network, or you can go to GameRanger to find online opponents. GameRanger’s services are unrelated to those provided by MacSoft, so if you have any online issues, they’re not MacSoft’s fault. That said, several of MacSoft’s games are available for play there, including Scrabble and Risk II, both of which really rock with online opponents. For Monopoly Casino, you’d probably only want to play against humans if you really wanted to play lots of the table games. Keno, money wheel, video poker, and slots are pretty much you against the machine, and the machine’s going to win anyway, so there’s not much point in trying to play them online.
For those table games, though, you could arrange to meet your buddies for poker one night a week, and not even have to leave your own house. If you met up on your local network, or arranged to play together at GameRanger, you could save yourself the trouble of getting dressed. Several of the games also have tournament play options, with 25 hands and set dollar amounts.
If you want to dive right in and get started playing, the one thing you need to know is that when you finish playing at a game or table, be sure to click Cash In—otherwise you’ll lose your winnings. You did win, didn’t you?
When you first enter the casino floor, you’ll see the familiar Atlantic City-themed game board layout, with slot machines in the center of the board and everything else around the sides of the room. You can mouse over a table or machine to find out what it is, or you can use the Games menu to quickly select a game and dollar amount.
The instruction book is very helpful at explaining the game levels and rules. My eyes still glazed over when I read the instructions for craps, but I’ve never been able to really grasp that particular game, so probably nothing they could have written would have made a difference. All the other games made sense to me after a quick glance through the book.
I’ve found that most of us have between one and three casino games we really like, and the rest we either don’t like or don’t understand. My personal favorites are the ones in which I have lots of control, especially blackjack and table poker games. Bear that in mind as we go through the games.
Slots—16 different machines ranging from the familiar 3-line version to some really complicated stuff with five reels and nine bet lines. These fancy-dancy machines have Bonus Rounds that kick in if you hit a certain combination of symbols, but it’s all explained in the instruction book. Whichever slot game you play, make sure you always bet the maximum, otherwise you can’t win the big jackpots and you might as well not bother (true on any slot machine). An easy way to do this is to click on a large amount of money, hit Place Bet, and then all you have to do is click Bet Max each time. Use this same tactic on video poker, keno, and the money wheel.
Video Poker—six machines, three with wild cards, varying dollar amounts. Pretty standard play controls—you click on the cards you want to hold, not the ones to discard.
Keno—choose up to ten squares on an 80-square board, then watch the balls drop. The pay table shows you how much you win based on how many squares you picked correctly. For me this is only fun in a real casino if there’s a drawing every half hour or so, as a distraction from other games.
Money Wheel—another one that’s more fun if played only now and then, but I could actually have fun with some strategies on this one. Similar to Roulette, except the object is to place your bet on the currency denomination that wins if the money wheel’s pointer lands on it. There’s an odds table in the book to help you figure out that continuous play will wipe you out very fast unless you get lucky.
Roulette—place bets on various possible numbers, rows, columns, etc., according to where you think the ball will land when the dealer spins his wheel. Two versions: a standard table and the Monopoly version, which is fun for the casual player.
Craps—this is the one game I’ve never really understood. The idea is that you place bets based on what you think the roll of the dice will be, or what you think it won’t be, but beyond that I have no clue. The book spends three pages on this game, so even for them it’s not a simple game.
Blackjack—my favorite. This is the game in which proper play gives you the best chance against the house. The house percentage against proper play is something like 0.6%, less than a penny on the dollar. I’m willing to live with those odds, especially since in many other games the house percentage is more like 8 or 9%. The dealer in this and the other games, is Mr. Monopoly, the dude with the top hat and bushy white mustache from the original board game. As a human player against three computer opponents, you sit in the third seat of four, and I couldn’t figure out how to take over the prized final seat. Other than that, I enjoyed playing this game.
Table poker—include Five-Card Draw, Seven-Card Stud, Texas Hold ’Em, and Omaha Hold ’Em all in either high only, Lowball, or Hi-Lo. For the biggest pots, play Hi-Lo, because more players stay in with chances to win either way. Pai Gow Poker is the final table game, in which you get seven cards and have to split them into a five-card hand and a toward hand, but the toward hand can’t be better than the five-bagger. Trust me, it’s fun, except there are lots of pushes, where you beat the dealer on one hand and lose on the other.
Bet ’em Up
Monopoly Casino makes me wonder what would happen if someone constructed casinos using game themes from other favorite board games. Can you imagine a casino based on Clue, for instance? You’ve got all your separate rooms for various games; the dealers could be characters from the game…now that’d be lots of fun, playing blackjack in the Conservatory with Colonel Mustard as the dealer! For added excitement, if you started winning too much money from the house, they could send someone in to bop you over the head with a candlestick…well, okay, there are a few kinks to work out. For now, we’ll stick with giving them the Boot in Atlantic City.