The Game Room: It's a Family Affair

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Anyone looking at my family from the outside would remark that our clan appears to be remarkably supportive. My sisters invariably remember my birthday with a card and a call, and my nieces refrain from melting into a soporific trance during my long-winded narratives. Yet lately I've begun to wonder if my family's support extends to reading the words I've penned upon these pages. Well, the confirmation is in the custard, and substance was lent to my suspicions when I trekked home during the holidays for a family gathering and found Mom seated at her iMac.

"I'll be off in a minute, dear," she called over her shoulder. "I loved the last game column, by the way. That dog thing was really cute!"

Now, I've never written a "dog thing" in my life, but I was willing to let this pass. Far more disturbing was that when I peered over her left shoulder, I saw that my mother was wholly swept up in a frantic bout of–of all things–Koji the Frog!

Don't get me wrong; I'm not slamming Marco Carra's delightful arcade game, but after devoting hundreds of thousands of words to Mac gaming (and sending the family several care packages of games I no longer had a use for), I was a bit put out that she hadn't bothered to heed my advice and play something more up-to-date. Despite my distress, however, I remained calm.


Sometime later, as I rinsed the last of the soap from my mouth, my mother carefully explained, "Dear, everyone in the family appreciates your suggestions, and of course we're delighted that you care enough to send those games. But most of them aren't our style."

And of course she's right. Unlike the games we used to play around the kitchen table, many of today's computer games can be enjoyed only by those with a fleet trigger finger and a stomach for cartoon violence. If I expect my family to join the legion of Mac gamers, I must recommend a more appropriate set of products. Allow me now to do just that.

I don't mean to imply that my relations are likely to play only those games invented before electric power came into vogue. I'm simply suggesting that my kin, like many of us, are likely to make a beeline for the familiar. Whether it's the brand of beer you drink, the kind of shoes you wear, or the Sunday breakfast you prefer, there's a certain comfort in trooping down a well-worn path.

Nothing could be more comfortable than card games, and that's where I intend to start with Mom. It would be unkind of me to brand my mother a cardsharp in print, but I recall losing my allowance to her in more gin rummy matches, even at a tenth of a penny per point, than I care to recount. Those losses still rankle, and I'd like the opportunity to get some of my own back. And with Sierra's ( ) Hoyle Card Games, now I can. This $30 collection of card games includes not only gin rummy but also other classics such as poker, bridge, pinochle, hearts, and spades. There's even a solitaire component that includes 30 variations, such as eight off; Canfield; golf; and, of course, the same Klondike that appears in every shareware and commercial solitaire collection in the universe. Although you can play all these games against computer opponents–the skill of which you can determine–the real fun begins when you hit the Net and challenge friends and relatives.

Passive, Aggressive, and Deadly   These games offer something for your mother, your father, and your bloodthirsty uncle: Hoyle Card Games (top) , Links LS (middle) , and Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter (bottom) .

The only problem I have with Hoyle's network play is that it's so polite . By this I mean that with Hoyle I can't taunt Mom in ways that I know, from experience, will distract her from the game at hand. I may therefore try to sneak a copy of Freeverse Software's ( ) $30 Spades onto her iMac. I'm hopeful that my use of the game's chat component, which allows me to make cruel jibes that appear in word bubbles next to my on-screen character's face, will provoke her into playing the wrong card.

Before I learned to value the health-giving properties of sleeping until noon on weekends, my sisters and I would get up at the crack of dawn and head straight for our closet full of board games. After many years–and a few garage sales–that closet is now bare, but thanks to Sierra and its $30 Hoyle Board Games, my sibs and I can rekindle our board-based rivalries of old. This collection includes backgammon, checkers, chess, pachisi (India's national game, known to many as Parcheesi), Yacht (a.k.a. Yahtzee), Battling Ships (yeah, you know), and Zen Bones (Sierra's take on the classic tile game Shanghai). It also contains a version of dominoes but, regrettably, not one that allows you to play the traditional gambling form of the game, called fives–and therefore not one that allows you to wager a few bucks on the side, should you be so inclined. As with Hoyle Card Games, you can play these games over the Internet.

Gathering the menfolk to the bosom of Mac gaming may be more of a challenge. Males in my family tend to favor fresh air and eschew most of the electronic miracles introduced in the last couple of decades. My mother's husband, Lew, in particular, though a great guy, can't be bothered with computers. At least he couldn't until he happened to walk past while I was hacking away at Kapalua's 17th hole in Access Software's ( ) $45 Links LS on my PowerBook.

"You mean you can play golf with that thing?" he asked in his quiet way.

"Sure," I replied. "Just position your player, decide where you want the ball to go, and swing away–being careful how you time your swing, of course."

"And you could do that with your mom's iMac?"

"Absolutely. Just pay $45 for the program, and when it's too cold out to hit the course, you can visit these virtual links in the comfort of your own home."

With no more than a "mind if I try?" Lew sat down, and I had another convert.

Convincing my Uncle Karl may be a bit more difficult. Karl is a woodsman who particularly enjoys fishing and hunting. I prefer my wildlife in an unharmed state, but as a member of the carnivorous class, I would be a hypocrite to suggest that the direct method Karl employs to secure the Sunday roast is somehow unseemly. But perhaps I could help save a few of our four-legged chums by exposing Karl to MacSoft's ( ) Deer Hunter and Rocky Mountain Trophy Hunter ($20 each). Those who participate in blood sports tell me that these two games are fairly authentic re-creations of the real thing–meaning, I suppose, that while playing these games you tend to spend a hefty chunk of time sitting on your fanny waiting for something to happen. While this isn't my idea of a rollicking good time, if it makes Karl happy–and introduces one more relative to Mac gaming–I'm all for it.

Although I don't expect my family to read these words, perhaps a reader acquainted with them would pass along this message: "Folks, thanks for introducing me to gaming. As it turns out, those long, rainy afternoons spent playing Uncle Wiggly and Candy Land paid off. If you hadn't instilled in me your competitive spirit and sense of fun, this column would undoubtedly bear another's name.

"Now it's time for me to return the favor. The next time a box full of games arrives, they'll be the right games for you. Put down Koji the Frog, install a couple of them, and log onto the Net. As much as I might care for you, I haven't forgotten the many times you sank my battleship, skunked me in gin rummy, and cackled in cruel delight as I landed on an overbuilt Boardwalk.

"Let's see if you've still got what it takes. I'll be waiting."

February 2000 page: 66

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