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

This Sierra Attractions product suffers from the same (hopefully unintentional) false advertising problem that Hoyle Board Games suffers from: it is impossible to tell from looking at the box exterior that the Mac version of the game is not internet capable. Shame shame shame! As it turns out, the problem isn't with Sierra Attractions, it is with Sierra's on-line game handling software, which is Win95 only.

Once again, I'm forced to drop my review of the game (as I did with the similarly crippled Hoyle Board Games) from a potential near-perfect score to a merely above average score. Hoyle Casino (HC) is a great piece of software. It mimics the interior of a real casino, offering players the opportunity to play Blackjack, Craps, Keno, Pai Gow Poker, Poker, Roulette, numerous Slot machine variations, and various Video Poker machines. Your fellow players are made up of many of the same animated characters present in Hoyle Board Games, but you have complete control over how much they contribute to the gaming experience.

Hotseat options are more limited in this game; gambling is a mostly solo sport, after all. It is a bit disappointing not to be able to play hotseat poker, but I suppose the option to play via the internet makes up for...oh, darn. No internet play for the Mac version. Oh well.

The interface is slick, and the software is stable, if riddled with Windows-esque visual and execution details. The lack of a PC-style two-button mouse can be a mild handicap; be prepared to use Command-Click to perform certain functions. In some cases the animation speed is a bit languid, even with the "animation speed" maxed out in the options menu. There are sundry undocumented keyboard shortcuts for many commands.

The manual is another Sierra Attractions gem. It covers each game, provides strategy tips and betting strategies, and once again this old-hand gambler and gamer was taught a new trick or two. Hats off to Sierra Attractions for taking the time to produce a superior piece of documentation. Bravo! Bravo!

Blackjack is hotseat-playable, as is Craps. The Keno game is implemented differently from the other games, and is the least ergonomic. All of the games are as fun to play as their real-life counterparts--more fun, in many instances, as you don't have to put up with the din and smoky air of a casino in order to play. The fact you're playing with fake money helps, too. Less stress. I had the most fun playing poker, though I suspect real poker players would soon run into the limited AI abilities of computerized opponents. Playing Craps after reading the manual was educational, and I've played a lot of Craps in my time.

One of the best uses this software can be put to is to educate yourself about Casino gambling on the cheap. Casinos naturally spend as little time as possible explaining things like odds to new players--they figure if you bet without knowing what's going on, yay for them. On the other hand, serious players know all the ins and outs and don't need to be reminded. HC can serve as intensive practice for the real thing. Now that casinos are sprouting around the U.S.A. like mushrooms after a hard rain, many more people than ever before have easy access to a casino. If you're new to gambling, or looking to experiment with games you haven't played before, a few hours playing HC can save your bacon in a casino by letting you climb that learning curve at home, with virtual money instead of your own hard-earned cash.

Don't be fooled into thinking a quick run-up of money in HC means you can be successful in a real casino, however. There are a multitude of distractions in a real casino, for example, and it is also likely that many games will have slightly different rules than those presented in HC, although HC does an excellent job of presenting games with options. Folks interested in gambling should always remember three things: it is a form of entertainment, numbers don't lie, and the house always, always, ALWAYS has an edge.

HC's graphics, sounds, option-rich gaming environments, and outstanding manual make for a great game. It's too bad the game is as overpackaged as its close cousin, Hoyle Board Games, and it's an even greater shame that the game box doesn't clearly state that only the PC version is internet-capable. As in HBG, no insert in the box announced it was NOT internet-capable, and since the controls still include internet options, keep in mind your Mac version of HC won't go there. According to Sierra Attractions, they are working on fixing the problem, but no firm date has been set. If this is an issue that is near and dear to your heart (and it should be, as internet play is quickly becoming a standard expectation of computer games), consider contacting Sierra Attractions via the web or email and making clear your status as a Macintosh owner.

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