Video Poker. (Masque Video Poker, Strategic Video Poker, Stanford Wong Video Poker computer games) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Step into any Las Vegas or Atlantic City casino and prepare to be overwhelmed: video poker machines, as far as the eye can see, each adopted by a hopeful gambler looking for a lucky draw. Now, three software versions of this popular casino attraction allow players to hone strategies and have fun without risking the rent money.
Behind facades of flash and glitter, there's some intense number crunching going on. Each package takes the business of tracking odds, percentages, and payoff schedules very seriously. In addition, the simulations offer as much depth and detail as the user cares to indulge: fast and fun entertainment or meticulous tools with which to develop expert, workable strategies.
Features common to all three packages include Las Vegas and Atlantic City variations of the most popular casino machines: Draw Poker, Jokers Wild, and Deuces Wild. Most provide the option to change payback schedules and other values to create unique games. Other common features include multiplayer tournaments, onscreen strategic advice, hand evaluation tables, automated statistical play, and detailed game reporting. Each company has a Windows version of its product available or in development.
Of the three products reviewed, Stanford Wong's Video Poker makes the most effort to re-create the look and feel of a real casino machine. It's also the only game in the group to offer sound card support, adding atmosphere with digitized crowd noise and the incessant clinking of coins. On the other hand, the game's low-resolution, garishly colored graphics are authentic almost to the point of distraction. The game's many strengths include a unique split-screen, two-player tournament mode and the option to save multiple play sessions in progress. Another big asset is the ability to redefine and save custom machine configurations. Weaknesses are mostly cosmetic--cluttered screens and meager audiovisual feedback--coupled with a slow graphics display and poorly programmed mouse option.
Masque Video Poker trades bells and whistles for lightning speed and statistical prowess. As a token of its emphatic dedication to real-world strategy, the game simulates only "full pay" machines--units with unaltered payback schedules. Strong points include a detailed play history analysis, showing alternate outcomes to all hands played against the computer's advice. The game is also highly configurable, with excellent mouse and hot-key controls. Beyond its narrow scope of machine simulations, the game's only weakness is its dour personality. If not for some rudimentary graphics and sound effects, you could almost mistake it for a spreadsheet.
Strategic Video Poker falls comfortably between a flashy arcade-style game and rigid statistical simulation. Featuring clean, high-resolution graphics and fast gameplay, this could be the one to beat. Strong points include the ability to play off credits--thus preserving your nest egg--and a unique "hand tester" to compute odds before committing to play.
The game also features 31 preset payoff configurations, players' session stats saved to disk, and the ability to print strategies for use in real casinos. Audio feedback is excellent, despite the program's having no sound card support.
Annoyed by the constant nagging of the computer strategist? Turn it off by playing smarter: The more you've learned, the less advice it gives. And unless you're a long-lost relative of "Diamond Jim" Brady, playing with a $1,000 bankroll simply isn't realistic. Limiting your coffer to a reasonable amount adds excitement to winning and agony to defeat. As diehard gamblers say, "No threat, no thrills."
Overall, the only clear winners in this race are video poker enthusiasts. For both casual and serious players, all three products offer a wealth of entertainment and instructional value.