by Arthur M. Walsh
Artworx Software Company, Inc.
1844 Penfield Road
Penfield, NY 14526
Medium Resolution $29.95
Reviewed by Steve Panak
Most of my favorite games are thinking games: Chess, Go and any of a score of others that require some thought and strategy to succeed. Don't get me wrong. I like the wrist-busters too. It's just that thinking games really fascinate me, probably due to the fact that they outperform pathetic humans at their own games. And while it may not be the greatest player in the world, Bridge 5.0 proves to be more than a match for most of us.
Artworx has completely refurbished their bridge simulation, supplying it in compiled BASIC to speed up the program execution, as well as incorporating numerous suggestions from bridge experts. The resultant game, while still possessing a few rough edges, offers newcomers and pros alike a challenging game. Play follows the normal pattern of bridge, allowing you to first bid, then play a given hand. Just as the documentation refers you to other works to learn the rules of this complex game, so will I refer you to others for instruction. Probably the best book on the game is Goren's Bridge Complete. Another option might be Artworx's Compubridge tutorial, which allows interaction with a computer teacher. Either will get the novice started on the right track.
Upon booting the program you are presented with a list of options. Click on "PLAY" to set up a randomly generated hand. Or you can choose to be dealt a hand with at least 13, 17 or 22 points. These would be considered to be stronger hands. More advanced players might choose to play a previously saved hand, or to set up the cards into four hands of their own design. This final option allows you to study the bridge problems which so often appear in major newspapers.
Using the mouse, you first select your bid, then play your hand. Tossing in a card is as easy as clicking it on with the left button, while the right one brings up a mini menu with options terminating the hand. After each hand you can choose to display all the cards, and you may play the hand over if you so desire. The screen displays are just what you would expect from an ST in medium resolution. The playing cards are easily discernible, even when all 52 cover the screen. And the playing field is designed nicely, with the only distractions from the cards being unobtrusive selection grids. A status line at the top gives the current tricks awarded to each team, as well as the bid and the next hand to be played. Still, there were a couple of problems, mostly in program execution.
When you set up a hand, the program wastes your time by making you click on each card to go into the final hand, rather than simply using these remaining 13 cards. When displaying the hands, the trump suit is not placed on the left, as is customary. Also annoying is a small "hot spot" on the cards which often forces you to click all about on a card in order to select it. Finally, a bug exists in the version I tested which caused the program to renege, playing trump improperly in certain instances. This latter flaw has since been corrected (in program files dated later than August '87), and updates are available from Artworx at no cost.
As for how well the program plays the game, it can keep up with most of the population, although experts might find it a little lacking. Its algorithms underbid the hands, ensuring that the bid is usually made. It follows the Standard American (nearly identical to Goren) bidding system and, if it should mean anything to you, it follows the Blackwood and Stayman conventions. It plays its cards rapidly, and is very addictive, especially if you enjoy the game. Documentation is slight: a single, folded sheet of thick paper holding the three pages of instructions, which are applicable to seven different machines. It takes careful reading to determine just what has to be done to get the ST version to work.
Overall, despite its rough edges, I must recommend Bridge 5.0 to anyone interested in playing and studying this complex game. While it could have offered a little more in the way of options, and been a little more attentive to ease of use, its price/performance ratio still makes it a very good buy.