Fable II Pub Games Review
Developer: Xbox Live Productions
Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360
There are two ways to look at the Fable II Pub Games: Either it's $10 (800 points) for three fantasy-themed gambling games, or (like the Spore Creature Creator) it's a way of spending $10 to get a head start on a game that hasn't been released. That's it. If you're looking for basic, casino-style games, look elsewhere. If you are chomping at the bit to play the upcoming role-playing game Fable II, and would love to spend a few bucks to get some extra in-game items and lots of gold before Fable II is even released, then the Fable II Pub Games are a must-have item on Xbox Live Arcade.
The real excitement of the Fable II Pub Games isn't the three simple gambling games. It's that when Fable II is released, you'll be able to transfer gold won through play, and 15 in-game items that can be won in tournaments to your character for use in Fable II's world of Albion. The Fable II Pub Games also let players unlock concept art for Fable II through play.
For those of you who are gaming purists, don't worry – Microsoft isn't making it as simple as plunking down $10 to earn vast piles of gold for the release of Fable II. These are real casino games, meaning that the house has the advantage, so earning much gold will take a lot of time, patience and probably multiple characters. You have to play the regular three games to improve your gambling skill, but you'll probably lose. You can earn money (if you work hard or get really lucky) at tournaments, but that takes a lot of time. You also have to win (or place highly in) tournaments to get in-game items for Fable II that range from a hairstyle to a magical pistol to a potion that gives a permanent skill boost.
Yes, the Fable II Pub Games are really for getting a head start on Fable II, but it's not an easy head start. If you aren't eager for that head start, don't bother with the Fable II Pub Games, because while the games look good, only one is really worth your time. Here are summaries (and criticisms) of the games:
Of the three games in Fable II Pub Games, "Fortune's Tower" is easily the most fun – it's both the best-designed game of the lot, and the one I'd most like to see offered in gambling havens like Las Vegas. Players make a wager of 15 coins, and then cards are placed on the table in rows. The initial deal has a single card with a row of two cards underneath. At any time, the player can cash out for the total of the cards in the row (cards in the deck have values ranging from one to seven) or deal another row with yet one more card. The catch is, if a card has the same value as a card it touches in the prior row, the game is over. There are exceptions – the first time a card matches one in the row above, the first card dealt replaces it. Also, there are four wild cards, called "heroes" that let the player ignore any matches in a row, but have a value of zero.
The game is incredibly engaging, because while the house holds an advantage, I get to constantly make important decisions (take the current total or press my luck). It also felt like I had a modicum of control, because I knew how many of each card was in the deck, and could handicap the chance of any given draw improving my lot. It also makes tournaments interesting. In a tournament, all the players at a table are betting on the same cards, so winning or losing a tournament actually depends on skillfully judging the odds.
The conceit behind Keystone is clever – it's an attempt to create a Craps-like casino game that uses three dice and obviously isn't Craps. There is an arch of numbers, ranging from three to 18. Stones are eliminated when their numbers are rolled (at which time bets on those stones pay), and if a stone has already been eliminated, the next stone down the arch is removed. The game ends when either both the 10 and 11 stones (the keystones) are removed, or either the three or 18 stones are removed. That part of the game is fun, but fundamentally consists of placing bets and rolling the dice a lot, since keystone bets can only be placed before the game.
You can also place bets on the next roll, but these are pretty much all a losing proposition. Yes, the house has the advantage, but these bets aren't fun because there's no "max bet" button, and no "re-bet" button. That means you press a lot of buttons to obviously lose money, making the novelty bets inside the keystone feel like a waste of actual play time as well as money. The ability to let bets ride or bet more easily would make Keystone a lot more fun. Tournaments in Keystone are unpleasant, because the winner is always going to be that lucky AI who made an absurdly unlikely bet that happened to pay off. In a sensible tournament (that ran enough games), the winner would be the one making prudent bets. In these tournaments, you have to make foolish bets to win, and continue playing tournaments until you get lucky.
Spinnerbox is the least entertaining game of the three. It's just a slot-machine (a magic box with spinning symbols), so it's not particularly interactive. Playing spinnerbox is just a matter of placing a bet and seeing what happens. Tournaments are even worse – you have to do more than get lucky, you must be the luckiest of the contestants. There are several varieties of spinnerboxes to try, but these are more like classic multiple-reel machines, nothing like the more interesting (and considerably more interactive) machines now cluttering casinos everywhere.