Review: Bridge Baron 12
Developer: Great Game Products
Price: $59.95 plus $6 shipping (list); $29.95 (upgrade)
Requirements: 68020 Mac with 4 MB of RAM, 10 MB hard disk, System 7.5.
Trial: Fully-featured (24 deals).
This software has everything I want in a bridge game. It’s smart, fast, uncluttered, and has plenty of ways for me to modify it to suit my own bidding and playing style. Bridge Baron 12 is the latest version of a game that has in many ways led the computer bridge game race. This is the twelfth version of a game that has been around for nearly two decades.
Installation was very painless, and if you know how to play bridge, you can dive right in. Be sure to stop by the Options menu, to customize all sorts of things to suit your style. If you set the bidding and playing judgement higher than normal, the game will take longer to play, but will make better decisions. In my first session, I played at the fast settings. For my second session, I set the judgement levels as high as they would go and had a much more fulfilling experience. The first session was faster but not very challenging. The other significant change I made was to add many of the bidding conventions to the active window. This improved my bidding experience about a thousandfold.
Beginning players—and players new to computer bridge—will find a wealth of information in the Help files. Windows users also get a Learn To Play Bridge feature, presented by the American Contract Bridge League. Favoritism is at play, as Windows users also get the option of using French, German, or Spanish. Maybe Bridge Baron 13, expected in October 2002, will include these features for Mac users as well.
This software is extraordinarily vast and efficient; it includes two billion deals, with tournaments available for purchase. You can use the software to generate hands to practice many bidding conventions, save ’em, print ’em—all kinds of stuff. This program makes a great teaching tool or practice tool for the serious student.
The only drawback I noticed is that the interface is not as cuddly as some other programs (notably Freeverse’s 3D Bridge Deluxe). For beginning bridge players, another program might be a bit more user-friendly. Talking player characters and such would be an easier way to get started, and for a lower price. For those of us who want to roll up our sleeves and get dirty, though, this is the software to do it. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s an ugly interface; players can change the background color to anything on the color wheel, and the card backs have several choices as well. I just think that many beginners might prefer the talking heads in Freeverse’s game.
Bonus: the CD and instruction booklet are attractive, with classy artwork of the steamship Finland, which was traveling in the Panama Canal on November 1, 1925, when Harold Vanderbilt’s version of contract bridge was invented.
Novices, of course, should try the free demo, but if it doesn’t suit you (Ha! I said, “Suit you!” We had to get at least one bit of card-suit of wordplay in here!), try the less expensive and more visually compelling Freeverse game.
Intermediate, advanced, and expert players: your decision will depend on whether you already own an earlier version and are trying to decide whether to upgrade ($29.95). Not having played an earlier version, I can’t speak for the improvements touted on the graphical user interface, and to bidding, declarer play, and defense. Here are the additions you’ll get which are more objectively evaluated: the French 5-Card Major bidding system (you also get Standard, 2/1, and ACOL); 11 new bidding conventions (I won’t list them here—they’re on the developer’s Web site); 24 new problem deals for the Challenges menu (there are now 96); two new tournaments from the early 90s; new card faces, including easy-to-read cards; improved online play and stability.
If you have some playing experience and have been thinking about taking the plunge into a computer bridge game, or if you need a tool for generating hands for learning, this is the way to go. If you’re brand-new, start with something a little cheaper until you’re sure you want to stick with it. Then come back for Bridge Baron 12.