Spyglass Boardgames Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Strange Flavour/Freeverse

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Spyglass Boardgames includes four classic boardgames: Chess, Checkers, Mancala and Reversi. The collection supports both single-player games (against an AI) and games against human players on Xbox Live. Players can share images of themselves playing using the Xbox Live Vision Camera.

Kyle Ackerman

Spyglass Boardgames is a compilation of four classic board games. Everyone knows Chess and Checkers. Most people know Reversi (often as Mattel's "Othello"). And while plenty of people have run across a Mancala board – complete with pebbles that move around a sequence of pits – they may not recognize the name.

Simply put, Spyglass Boardgames is a competent implementation of the rules, board and pieces for each of the four games. However, any game developer worth one of those tiny fast-food salt packets can create the game. The real challenge is in programming the AI. And the AI for Spyglass Boardgames is dismal. It's perfectly capable of playing a game, but even a terrible chess player can beat the AI on the first try.

Yes, programming a decent AI for chess is hard. Packing it into an Xbox Live Arcade game makes it even harder. But people, Checkers is solved! And even the Intellivision's Reversi had a stronger AI player.

Anyone who's enough of a boardgame enthusiast to play against the Spyglass Boardgames AI will be disappointed. (There's even an "AI? Yeah, Right!" achievement.) That leaves the online multiplayer. So here's the question: Is it worth paying $5 to play these four games against other Xbox Live subscribers, rather than popping open one of a zillion casual games sites on any low-end PC? If you're willing to pay $5 to avoid all those flashing ads, then yes.

Like so many multiplayer online games, Spyglass Boardgames is far better when playing with a friend. Since the game supports the Xbox Live Vision Camera, when it's someone you know, Spyglass Boardgames is as good as sitting across the table from a friend. If you both have the camera, you can chat and play to enjoy the company as much as the game. However, Xbox Live Vision is not something that people have used responsibly, so be wary when you use it with strangers. Remember – if you can't dress or groom yourself, turn the camera off! Fortunately, unlike certain other games that use the camera, you can disable the video to spare your own eyes.

Think of Spyglass Boardgames as being handed an empty board. Or, in multiplayer online game parlance, like a first-person shooter with only the most primitive of bots for offline play. It's fine, as long as you plan to take it online... and find a good opponent.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 18, 2007 3:50 PM.

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