I thought Bridge Deluxe II would be a great way to start learning bridge. It's not.
"Whether you're a beginning bridge player or an advanced expert, Bridge Deluxe II with Omar Sharif is the game you've been waiting for."
Hooey, I say. Hooey and hogwash.
I am a beginning bridge player with years of bidding games behind me. I play cards incessantly, tune in to the nuances of partner games, stay well aware of what's been played in bidding games, and almost always win. I thought Bridge Deluxe II with Omar Sharif - the bridge world's most famous icon and columnist - would be a great way to start learning bridge. It's not.
Bridge is an incredibly complex game, where each card you lay should tell everyone else at the table something significant about your hand. Permissible signals to your partner rely not only on what you indicate to each other through the play of a card, but also on what the other team indicates as well. There are so many variations and intricacies that whole books have been written about them. Omar Sharif offers you 15 minutes of FMV chat and 20 pages of explanations, some scoring guidelines, and a cute online bridge dictionary that defines things like "rubber" as "What each side tries to win in rubber bridge. The first side to score two games wins the rubber." This may be adequate and true, but it's not necessarily clear. Many web sites have much more lucid explanations - and I often found myself turning to them, then returning to the game.
The introductory tutorials are by bridge expert Dr. Tony Sowter, and they introduce topics and explain them so concisely that I'm left with exactly the same feeling of bewilderment as when I learned algebra in 7th grade - the easy problems were so easy to figure out that I never learned the proper way to figure them out; I just knew the answers. By the time I hit the hard ones I had no idea how to do it. Same principle: The basics are explained, but their ramifications are explained badly. By the time you hit the intermediate tutorial there are so many unaddressed issues that it can't help but go badly.
In the tutorial's defense, it will allow you to make a bad decision, show you how the hand plays out, then take you back to where you erred and allow you to play it out right. Also, during actual games, you can save your game, then reload and replay it as many times as you want to see the various ways the hand could play out or set up a hand to see the way a certain scenario might play out. It's a nice touch.
A number of basic bridge conventions, like Jacoby Transfers, the Stayman Convention, and Take-out Doubles, are available so you can customize the game to your usual mode of play. However, it's only the basic bridge conventions that are available. For the rest you're on your own.
Gameplay itself is basic - click on a card to play it, skip to the next hand if you're really unhappy with your cards. A completed trick will not clear from the table till you have looked at it and clicked on it so the game itself never moves too fast. And, in fact, you can control the speed of the game.
But Bridge Deluxe also claims to be the game experts are waiting for. While I'm no expert, this certainly seems questionable. A huge part of bridge is knowing how your partner plays and forming a kind of synergy so that the two of you read each other - and each other's hands - almost without thinking. Obviously, if your partner's a computer, you'll have to forego a lot of the interaction. Fortunately, you can play with three friends over the Internet. This seems to be the area where it makes sense to buy the game. If you and your favorite bridge partners/opponents live far away and can't get together for regular games, buying this makes more sense than joining an online bridge club. Membership in an online club can run as much as $80 a year, where the purchase of this game is a one-time $50 shot.
Computer card games work really well in two situations: When you don't have anyone to play with and can hop on the Internet and find players (Microsoft Hearts for example) or when you simply want to play by yourself, against the computer. In this case, Bridge Deluxe provides no place to simply hop on and find friends to play bridge with and the learning/game improvement that could come from playing the AI by yourself is seriously limited - unlike in a real game, there's just not enough feedback. But if your friends are far away and you need a way to play, Bridge Deluxe is a viable option. Too bad that's all it's good for.