A master looks at computer card games. (evaluation) Ken Uston.
A Master Looks At Computer Card Games
The Card Stars-- Cribbage and Solitaire
The instructions that come with this package make the point that video games tend to come and go, since they eventually lose their appeal to players. On the other hand, some card games, such as cribbage and solitaire, have been played for centuries by millions of players.
That point would appear to establish the need for a computerized version of these games. With cribbage, a competitive game played against other players, this certainly makes sense; the computer provides a handy opponent, available whenever one feels like playing.
However, I question the need for computer solitaire. The four solitaire variations on this program are authentic portrayals of their pasteboard counterparts and are indeed quite playable. However, are these programs really necessary? I, personally, would prefer to play solitaire with actual playing cards--they can be moved around more easily, without referring to computer codes, they're easier to read, and I, for one, enjoy the tactile experience of handling and shuffling the cards.
Datamost has come up with a winner in its cribbage game. The display is colorful, with an attractive green background, a cribbage board in the center of the screen, and the player's and Apple's cards on either side.
The play of this game is faster than if playing cards were used. Dealing is computer-rapid, and the computer further speeds up the game by rapidly calculating the value of each of the hands and the Crib--not an easy task.
It would be difficult to play this for very long without getting much better at the game. Aside from getting more knowledgeable through more playing, the player can also observe which cards the computer saves for the crib and how the cards are played on the field.
This version of cribbage has significant differences from the cribbage game developed for the Atari by Thorn EMI Video Programmes Ltd. Despite the Atari capability for colorful graphics, surprisingly the Apple version is in color, and the Atari version is not. The Apple package does a lot of the work for the player, such as calculating the total on the field and displaying the total score. While this makes for easier playing, the Atari package more closely resembles playing in a card game, where the player, of course, must do these calculations.
Several other options assist the player in learning the game. He may ask the computer to display all combinations of four cards out of the six he is dealt, which helps in determining which two cards to discard for the crib. The player may also delay play for a while or halt the game to give him time to evaluate point calculations or strategy.
We are offered four versions of solitaire:
Klondike is the popular version of solitaire that we all played as kids. We deal out seven piles of cards; the first pile has only one card, and each succeeding pile has one more card than the previous one. The cards are played in columns on the piles, in decreasing denomination and alternating color, and removed to form four packs, one for each suit, ordered consecutively starting with the ace. The undealt cards are turned over one-by-one, and the player may use them as appropriate. He may go through the pack only once.
Klondike Variation is the same as Klondike, except the undealt cards are turned over three at a time and the player may continue running through the pack until he has no more moves.
In Picture Frame Solitaire, the cards are arranged in a four-by-four square. The objective is to put all 12 picture cards in predesignated locations around the periphery of the square.
For Pyramid, a 28-card pyramid is formed, the goal is to remove as many cards as possible from the pyramid. Only two-card combinations totaling 13 may be removed (kings are automatically removed since their assigned value is 13).
At first, the games play quite slowly because it is necessary to learn the computer coding in order to move the cards around. After a few games, however, this comes almost automatically.
I suspect that most players would rather play solitaire in the traditional way, than use this program. This is because the cards are much smaller than conventional playing cards, and the suits are more difficult to identify because of unrealistic color contrast.
Solitaire, indeed, reflects a computer programming accomplishment of the highest order, but there is serious doubt in my mind whether these games have significant practical value.
This package, I believe, fills a real need. Have you ever wanted to play gin rummy, but couldn't find someone to play with? Or maybe, really wanting a gin rummy fix, you figured you might as well play a game with your kid sister, and instead of enjoying a game, you end up as an instructor for hours on end.
Well, Datamost has solved this problem with their Computer Gin Rummy package. The Apple owner can now play gin any time he wants, day or night, against a quite capable opponent.
The player selects from one of three gin games: the standard game that we all know so well, in which players can knock for 10 points or less; Knock, in which the players may knock at any time during the game and there are no "lay-offs' (i.e., playing one's cards on the other player's hand); and One-meld, in which the players cannot knock, but must keep playing until they "get gin.'
The program allows the player to arrange his hand in any way he wants, at any time he wants. This is done by assigning letters to each of the cards. At first it is a bit confusing to input the data, but after a few hands, it becomes almost routine.
The player's cards are displayed face up at the top of the screen; the computer's hand is shown below, face down. The discard pile and unused deck are displayed at the right. The player is well-prompted through the entire process.
When either the player or the computer knocks, both hands are displayed face up on the screen; the computer arranges the player's meld so that he will have the lowest possible point count. If the player chooses to play his hand differently (I wouldn't advise it), he is allowed to do so.
The program provides a helpful learning assist in the gin no-meld option. After each hand, the player may request a "summary'; the two hands are displayed, as are each of the cards in both the discard pile and the unused deck. In this manner, the player can conduct a "post mortem' and evaluate how he (and the computer) played the hand.
At first, the player will probably destroy a few games. This, of course, can be quite frustrating, particularly in the middle of a close game. But that's the price one must pay to have a permanent gin rummy opponent, any time, day or night, rain or shine.
After playing a number of poor adaptations of blackjack on home systems, it is a pleasure finally to run into one that's authentic. Most of the other versions unrealistically restrict the players' options. Apple 21 does not.
After the title screen is displayed, we are given the option of playing at a $1, $2 or $5 table. These have limits of $1 to $100, $2 to $200 and $5 to $500, respectively. I tried betting $1 at a $2 table and was reminded, "minimum bet is $2'; when I tried to bet $300, I was told, "table limit is $200.' When I tried to bet more than the amount remaining, I was told, "You're out of your league!!'
The game is played with one deck of cards (eight decks are currently used in Atlantic City, but single deck games can be found in Nevada). We hear the deck being shuffled and are reminded, "You're tapped. Need a loan?' When we admit that we do, we are asked "How much? (1 to 1000)?' (I once responded, "No,' and was told, "we're even #1 . . . GOODBYE,' and was dealt out of the game.) This program means business.
The players (from one to three are allowed) place their first bets and the game begins. Each player's two cards are dealt face-up. The dealer is dealt two cards, one face up and one face down.
Players have the option of hitting (drawing additional cards), standing, doubling down (doubling the amount of the bet and taking only one more card), or splitting pairs (making two hands out of a hand with two cards of equal rank).
After splitting a pair, the player may split again, up to a maximum of four hands. If the dealer has an ace upcard, the players may make an "insurance' side bet, which pays 2-to-1 if the dealer has a blackjack (ace and a ten or face card). I have never seen a home blackjack game with as complete a set of player options (and I have played just about every one that has ever been produced).
The graphics are fine; the backs of the cards are in multi-colored detail, and the screen background is simulated green felt (what else?). The amount that each player has is displayed after each hand.
If you run out of money (you cannot bet more than you have), you are offered an additional loan. If any player chooses to leave the game, he enters a bet of "0'; he is told how much he has won or lost and "goodbye.' The game continues for the remaining players.
About the only blackjack playing I do these days is on a computer (I'm not allowed to play blackjack in Nevada; although I won a lawsuit and am now allowed by law to play in the Atlantic City casinos, the rules there are too tough). Apple 21 is the most realistic simulated blackjack game I have seen to date.
Products: Datamost The Card Stars - Cribbage and Solitaire (video game)
Datamost Computer Gin Rummy (video game)
Softape Apple 21 (video game)