Friday, August 31, 2007

The Bojo Game – Home Edition Review

The Bojo Game – Home Edition, developed by Black Knight Productions and BBM Multimedia and published by G3S.
The Good: Simple game mechanics, large simulated online environment
The Not So Good: AI bettors need work, no real online play
What say you? A good foundation for a betting game, but the dumb AI makes it feel much less realistic: 5/8

Note: Version 1.5 of the game fixes the AI issues I discuss in this review. This patch was released after I posted this review but before retail release, so potential buyers won't experience the issues with the AI I mention below. While I didn't feel like re-writing an entire review (cutting out the rant about the AI would have made it extremely short), you can go ahead and bump up the overall score to a 6/8.

Gambling has become so popular that it’s almost bordering on “sport” status; the World Series of Poker gets many showings on ESPN, complete with the action-packed excitement of watching cards turn over. Obviously, most gambling-type games would translate well to the computer games. I’ve been known to enjoy some poker, and a new card-based gambling game has come in the form of The Bojo Game – Home Edition (Ty Pennington not included). This is a combination of poker and craps (you know, what you get after eating too much Taco Bell), incorporating side bets for each card drawn and a main bet for the result in a simulated online environment. Will The Bojo Game – Home Edition prove to be an engrossing gambling game worthy of your virtual dollars?

The Bojo Game – Home Edition features some utilitarian 2-D graphics, similar to the consoles you’d find in an Applebee’s. The background is supposed to look like a casino, with flaming flames that don’t seem to ignite the playing cards for some reason. There aren’t many special effects in the game, other than the countdown timer and the flames in the background. The cards appear on the game table and you use the mouse to select your bets each turn, and that’s pretty much it. The game does have a bunch of stats that are accessible from the main screen and you’ll never have to navigate away from it, so that’s nice. This is about the best the game could have looked without making the leap to 3-D (which, honestly, is unnecessary) and the interface promotes speedy and unhindered gameplay. The sound in the game is underwhelming, though: a lot more could have been done to promote the casino atmosphere. Overall, The Bojo Game – Home Edition has a fairly standard presentation that lacks the loud noises and shiny things that accompany most gambling ventures, but it still looks decent for a straightforward gambling game.

The Bojo Game – Home Edition is a betting game surrounding five card stud poker (and I, for one, should know about stud poker…because I’m a STUD). You bet on each individual card’s color, suit, and rank, as well as the overall hand (one pair, straight, flush, et cetera). Being a Home Edition, you don’t actually play online, rather against simulated AI players numbering between 200 and 100,000. While the lack of online features should be noted, the game would progress exactly the same if you were competing against real people, so it’s not really missed. You can change some of the settings in the game, from the number of AI players to the amount each bet costs (you always start with $200). You can also adjust the amount the casino charges for betting for a more realistic monetary experience. You are playing against the other players and not the house, so the strategy is to bet in the categories that others are not to maximize your profits. The game displays how many competitors have bet in each category, but I would like to see a bar graph for easier identification of underutilized bets: staring at numbers is a bit strenuous.

The basic premise of The Bojo Game – Home Edition is well executed, for the most part. There is the potential for a very entertaining game: while the side bets are mostly luck, you can adjust your betting to take advantage of the least used categories. There is also some intrigue associated with the poker bets: will the next card produce a straight or a pair? You must play a poker bet before the first card is thrown and you can only increase your poker bet (meaning you can change your bet from one pair to two pairs but not back again). The thing that ruins The Bojo Game – Home Edition is the elementary AI. The first sign of trouble is that each of the poker bets gets an evenly distributed amount of bettors at the start of each round. You mean to tell me the AI thinks getting a royal flush is just as likely as one pair? This goes for the numerical bets as well: every card gets essentially an equal number of bets, no matter which cards have been played. This results in inflated winnings if you guess correctly on the side bets. The AI is even worse with the poker bets: no matter which cards have been played, the “royal flush” category always gets the most bets at the end of each round. This is caused by the even distribution and the fact that you can only increase your bets: evenly distributed increases cause a massive amount of “royal flush” bets. This could be partially solved by allowing movement up and down the poker tree and awarding more money for staying on a single poker bet longer. As it stands, you get the same amount of money if you chose two pair on the last turn than if you kept it all along, which doesn’t seem fair. What really needs to be done to solve the The Bojo Game – Home Edition puzzle is to improve the AI. The computer players need to avoid poker bets that are impossible according to the current cards played. If an eight is the first card, there should be nobody betting royal flush (other than those who played it from the beginning, which actually shouldn’t be anyone since you can move up to royal flush from one pair anyway). If you have a king of clubs and a three of diamonds, why are the AI bettors throwing their money on a straight or flush? It doesn’t make any sense and it’s quite sad since good AI would make this game much more enjoyable. The AI should also be programmed to look at the played cards when doing single-card bets. Although single bets work well enough since they are more suited to evenly distributed bets, more variety would result in more exciting gameplay. Although the basic game is fun enough, the lack of thoughtful competition will turn a lot of people away from The Bojo Game – Home Edition.

The Bojo Game – Home Edition is a good card betting game destroyed by incapable AI. I like the premise and it opens the window for some interesting betting, as you try to out-maneuver your AI opponents. While there is only one mode of play using the default rules and betting structure, the combination of short-term and long-term bets makes for an entertaining gambling game. However, the shoddy AI makes winning in the game all too easy. When 23 people bet on one pair (usually the winning hand) while 7,000 bet on royal flush, there is a problem. The AI completely ignores the cards that have been played, so straights, flushes, full houses, and three of a kinds will continue to be bet on even if they are impossible to get. Hopefully the AI can be easily improved and The Bojo Game – Home Edition will be a better game in the future. I do like the overall design, and The Bojo Game – Home Edition is an AI fix away from being a notable gambling title. But as it stands now, the AI is too unintelligent to enjoy as a competitor.