Board games are the oldest games on earth. The longevity of classics such as chess and backgammon, and even more recent games such as Connect Four and Mastermind, can be attributed to the simple fact that board games are an incredibly fun way to pass the time. The first rule of thumb for any good game - easy to learn, difficult to master - applies especially to the 16 fun and familiar games included in Sierra's new edition of Hoyle Board Games. The games have the same challenging play elements as that of their real-world counterparts, but they are enhanced with graphics and sound for a more engaging PC experience. The only real drawback is that if you're not new to the Hoyle Board Game series, you may not find much reason to upgrade to this version.
As mentioned, the CD comes with 16 games that range from mind exercisers such as chess and Othello to fun favorites such as Battleship, Yahtzee, and Snakes and Ladders. Basically, the pack includes games for people of all ages. Any of the games are accessible from a pull-down menu at the bottom of the screen. Upon loading Hoyle Board Games, you're initially asked to create a character. This part is actually quite fun. Sierra has brought back its patented "facemaker," which lets you custom-tailor your own personality by mixing and matching eyes, noses, mouths, hairdos, and skin tones to produce some truly odd-looking characters.
Besides standards such as chess, Chinese checkers, and mahjong, there are many other enjoyable games included in the package. Master Match is one of the new additions, which is Hoyle's version of Mastermind - it's played competitively with two boards. This actually ends up being one of the most addictive games in the lot. Some of the simpler games, such as Yahtzee and Line 'Em Up (Hoyle's version of Connect Four), also prove to be quite addictive. There's even a Tetris-style arcade game included, called Placer Racer, which is like the arcade favorite Bust-A-Move. Though it doesn't look all that great, it's still fast-paced and fairly fun.
The interface for each game is simple and intuitive. You can play most of the games entirely with the mouse, though using the keyboard is also an option. Some of the games use visual cues to make play decisions easier. For example, after you roll for a turn in backgammon, simply running your cursor over any of your pieces brings up a pop-up graphic on the board - the graphic illustrates all the possible moves for that piece. It's a nice feature, especially for those new to backgammon.
For the most part, the game's graphics and sound do a good job to further enhance the experience. Boards, dice, and pieces are rendered with bright colors, which makes up their lack of tangibility. Sierra has also invited its cast of automated players back for another round. These computer-controlled opponents have pretty odd personalities, which range from a schizophrenic puppeteer to a Jamaican jazz bass player. The characters each have unique animations, which makes them seem more alive. Depending on how well you are doing, they will also interject comments. As for the commentary, some of it actually proves to be helpful. For instance, if you make a bad move, the opponent will usually let you know, albeit sometimes in a not-so-subtle manner. Depending on your tastes, you'll likely find about half of your opponents' banter amusing - and the rest annoying. It's a good thing that the game lets you adjust your opponents' chattiness.
If you get tired of battling the computer, you can always jump online and challenge a live player over the Internet. Your personalized characters carry over to Internet games, where you can use them to challenge and chat with others looking for a good match. You can also play most of the games with up to four players on one computer.
Board game fans will appreciate the graphics and easy interface found in Hoyle Board Games, though some of the opponents' chatter may be a bit off-putting. Still, this CD is a good value if you don't already own a collection of these games for the PC.