Sierra, $29 Requirements: PowerPC, 16MB RAM, System 7.5, 2x CD. For more information, visit Sierra at http://www.sierra.com.

Review by Edward Carmien

Hoyle Board Games (HBG) is a fantastic collection of 14 board games. Battling Ships, Mancala, Reversi, Backgammon, Chess, Line 'em Up, Dominoes, Snakes and Ladders, Checkers, Placer Racer, Pachisi, Yacht, Chinese Checkers, and Zen Bones make up the roster of games. If you see some games you think you've heard of before, you probably have: "Battling Ships" is of course "Battleship," Pachisi is you know what, Snakes and Ladders is Chutes and Ladders, Yacht should have a Zee on the end, and so on.

It may seem that HBG is taking the cheesy, rip-off route by giving these lookalike games soundalike names. Luckily, the excellent manual includes a droll, but also very learned, history of each game. In each soundalike case, there existed a game before American game companies got a hold of it, according to the manual. The manual, in fact, could quite possibly be the best thing about this software package.

Opening the game reveals a sumptuous box: as with much software, the game is overpackaged. It's too bad that software companies are forced to fight for shelf space using ammunition culled from the world's forests. Firing up the program reveals a RAM-hungry little beast replete with animated, talking opponents and a very slick game menu that gives you a quick peek at each game as you slide the mouse around.

Most of the games are quite entertaining. Some are duds for adults; I didn't have a chance to expose the game to any kids kids, though. Battling Ships moves a little slowly, even with animations turned off, but it is worth a game or two even for jaded old gamers...if only for the nostalgia value. I can see this game being a big hit for face to face play with a live person (though playing with a physical game would be much more convenient unless we're talking about a wired, multi-CPU household). Mancala is a good interpretation of the "out of Africa" game. Reversi and Backgammon provide good challenges to experienced players, though. Chess does not however, being much better suited for casual players. Line 'em up ("Connect Four") proved to be much more aggravating than I thought it would--the computer is really good at seeing slant solutions.

The dominos game includes several variations, but is limited to sixes, which was a mild disappointment. Snakes and Ladders looks like it might be fun for kids, as does Placer Racer, a kind of "Tetris With Guns" game (and the only game in this collection which reflexes count). Pachisi and Yacht are exactly like their more familiar counterparts, though I found the Parchisi game hard to control with the mouse, and Yacht moves slowly, as you spend a lot of time watching the dice cup move and the dice fall. Chinese Checkers is a delight; I'm sure many people have seen the game, but few have ever owned the game and had five other people around to play it. Zen Bones is a variation on Mah Johng, including multiple setup configurations and tiles that animate when matches are made. Checkers joins Pachisi with some annoying mouse-control problems--getting those checkers to drop on the square requires exact placement. None of the caveats I've mentioned so far are truly serious, however; they are merely minor blemishes on an excellent suite of games.

Though the game is a memory hog, it ran without complaint, except when I asked it to "fill screen," when it quietly aborted neatly to the finder, causing no other problems that I noticed.

The animated characters are clever and well-done, and their antics are completely under the player's control. There is background music if you like that sort of thing, and the game includes two animated background environments: a cabin and a spaceship, "in" which you can play HBG.

Hoyle's Board Games is well worth the money, as it gives you access to hundreds of dollars of board games. Of course, playing face-to-face with a crowd at one computer can be awkward and tiring, so it came as a great relief to see that the game includes an internet play option, as advertised on the box.

But wait. Does it? Since the game is on a hybrid CD, the box mentions PC-only internet play. There's even an internet "globe" on the main menu screen. Unfortunately, the Mac version is not included in this fun (though it is easy to imagine it was meant to be, but perhaps didn't make the ship date). Internet play for the PC version is through www.won.net, and from what I was able to see of the on-line game-playing process, I'm almost happier that the Mac version is incompatible. You have to wade through (using a browser) various Java permissions, including scary permissions that allow Javascript to modify files and start applications on your computer.

In theory, there is an insert that comes with the game to let you know that the Mac version is not internet-capable. No such insert shipped with my copy of the game, so if you run out and pick up HBG for your Mac, keep that in mind. Then again, such omissions are not unheard of--if you open enough copies of enough games, you'll find boxes without CD's enclosed, or manuals, and so on. Even so, it's a pity Sierra didn't take greater pains to notify buyers the Mac version does not include internet play--if you pick up the box, the words "Free Internet Play" are sure to catch your eye. This is a major disappointment, and I hope Sierra will take action to either make the game internet capable or make it clear on the box exterior that the Mac version is not internet capable.

Speaking of disappointment, discovering that the game was not internet-capable was the only major flaw I discovered while using this software. The manual, with history, strategy tips, and clear instructions for each game (I learned more than one new thing about various games just by reading the manual--and I'm a game maven!) is outstanding. I wish more game companies took the time and effort to produce such stellar documentation. The games are fun, and players can set a wide variety of options, allowing for different challenges playing the same game.

An internet-capable version of this game would earn a 4.5 from this reviewer. Too bad I have to downgrade it to 3.5, pending a patch or upgrade that fixes that problem.
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