Black Jack Pro Review
Developer: G3 Studios
Platform: PC, Pocket PC
Reviewed on PC
Official Site: g3studios.com/store/bjpro.asp
Black Jack Pro is a faithful, electronic version of the popular casino game, that aims to be your partner and tutor in learning Black Jack strategy and card counting.
Black Jack Pro accurately and attractively brings the game of Black Jack to a number of platforms. While I evaluated the Desktop PC version, this game was clearly designed for the Pocket PC. The screenshots you see here are actual-size versions of the game screens, just the right size for a Pocket PC screen, and Black Jack Pro packs an attractive package into a mere 4MB of space. While I expect that the Pocket PC version compares even more favorably to it's competition, the PC version does a journeyman's work in bringing the casino to a small window on your desktop.
Black Jack Pro accommodates many options (as seen to the right) including several different rule-sets (Does the dealer draw on a soft 17? When can players double down?), your choice of up to six decks of cards in play, and a tutorial. The tutorial option gives you feedback on actions you take during play, such as telling you that you should have drawn a card when you chose to stand on your current total.
What the game seems to pride itself upon is its card counting function. When choosing to bet, you can click on a spinning ace in the lower corner of the screen to see a tally of the cards played so far (shown below on the left). Card players who want to beat the house use the result of the count to influence their bets, to try to turn the odds in the player's favor. Essentially, you bet more when the cards should be in your favor, and bet less when the cards run cold. Two levels of card counting are available. The first level introduces the concepts of Running Count and True Count, which track the number of high and low cards played so far, and adjust those totals based on the number of cards remaining. The second level adds in the complexities that aces (which can count as one or eleven) bring to the count. By working up to the second level of card counting in Black Jack Pro, card players can learn to reasonably improve their odds of winning at Black Jack.
Unfortunately, the most important aspect of card counting is presented only as a caveat in the Black Jack Pro manual. Because card counting can be used to tip the odds of winning in your favor, real-life casinos don't want you to count cards. Players obviously counting cards will rapidly find themselves under a pit-boss' watchful eye, and risk being ejected from the casino. The Black Jack Pro manual warns you to "...vary them [your bets] slightly to cover up your play." This could have been taught in game by warning players that while the count suggests they should drop their bet from, say, four units to one unit, the player should instead drop to three units to avoid drawing attention. Perhaps this can be implemented in a future release of Black Jack Pro.
While the game plays smoothly, and can be an aid in learning to count cards, Black Jack Pro has a few issues that could be fixed in later versions. The card count is only available when choosing to place bets. For those learning to count, it would be nice to consult the card count as cards are played, especially if the count would influence your choice to hit or stand. The tutorial function is fairly accurate, but is only available to tell you what you've done wrong. A friendlier tutorial might have an advice button, which players could consult before choosing to draw. Black Jack Pro only corrects the player after the fact, and plays a loud buzzer while repeatedly flashing "You should have STOOD!" if you hit at the wrong time. Lastly, the sound scheme is very limited and somewhat irritating, with a very short loop of casino-like sounds to create ambiance. While these sounds can be shut off, it can be difficult to find the options screen (click on the player name and purse in the upper left). The addition of a simple "options" button would make changing sound options or rules much more intuitive.
Fortunately, G3 Studios has provided a free demo which can be downloaded, so you can try the game for yourself. The demo comes without the card counting feature, but should still give prospective card counters the basic flavor of the game.