Prolific British author and strategist Edmond Hoyle penned a variety of gaming handbooks and guides before his death in 1769 and has since become immortalized through the publication of a number of According to Hoyle playing card rule books. His name is further celebrated in Sierra's latest PC card game compendium, Hoyle Card Games. In the new game, Sierra once again offers a bevy of popular card games but doesn't appreciably advance the series beyond the previous game, Hoyle Card Games 2002. Although it should please those who haven't dabbled in computer-based card games, Hoyle Card Games simply may not offer enough innovation to satisfy returning customers.
Like its immediate predecessor, Hoyle Card Games presents a total of 18 unique card games, including heavyweights such as bridge, cribbage, canasta, and poker and lighter fare such as old maid, crazy eights, go fish, and war. The program is easy to use, featuring a single convenient interface from which all the games may be selected and, surprisingly, very few user-selectable rule variations. In fact, serious card sharks may be disappointed to learn that the only sort of poker available is five-card draw and the only rummy available is gin.
The game does offer three levels of difficulty and a variety of artificially intelligent, speaking opponents. Indeed, one of the few intrinsic differences between this year's version and Hoyle Card Games 2002 is its AI player roster. Now, apart from returnees such as ol' Jasper, Harley the bear, and Marvin the tyrannosaurus rex, you can also select newcomers such as Tony the firefighter and Chloe the fitness trainer. Unfortunately, even though these characters have 8,500 distinct verbal expressions, very few of them can be considered witty or interesting. Furthermore, even with 8,500 individual phrases at their disposal, your AI card club will start to sound repetitive after the first hour or so. Ultimately, you'll probably reduce or disable the game's speech simply to increase the pace.
Hoyle Card Games' gameplay interfaces are clean, concise, and often colorful, yet still very much two-dimensional. Rather than sitting around a table with your playing partners, you see only an assortment of minimally animated headshots, each positioned strategically across the screen. AI players occasionally blink their eyes, adjust their makeup or perform some other quick action, yet your own image remains perfectly still from beginning to end. The game does have a few peripheral animations to break up the otherwise static card games, like the lively little minnows that cavort across the go fish interface, but the game is definitely no graphical powerhouse, and you certainly couldn't call it dynamic.
But thankfully, Hoyle Card Games delivers a credible card-playing experience. At the "beginner" difficulty setting, you'll frequently receive the cards you want, but not with such regularity that the proceedings feel forced or silly. At the highest difficulty setting, you'd better make sure you're experienced, crafty, and endowed with a good memory and solid card-counting skills. You should also ensure that you're completely familiar with the rules. Sierra has thoughtfully included a pair of printed guidebooks, each of which goes well beyond the basics and teaches you everything you always wanted to know about card games but were afraid to ask. Unfortunately, you must exit the game momentarily every time you want to access the game's online help.
Those who occasionally feel the need for a little retribution will enjoy the new "revenge" button. Simple but highly amusing, the revenge function lets players exact a little visceral payback upon their unsuspecting foes by bopping them in the noggin or perhaps jolting them with a dose of high-voltage electricity. This is particularly rewarding when facing human opponents in the single-computer and no-charge Internet multiplayer modes. However, the game doesn't install animations and speech to the hard drive, so you'll experience numerous minor delays whenever the program accesses its CD.
These days, you don't have to look particularly hard to find a card game for your PC. Many such games are available as shareware, or even freeware. Sierra delivers a generally more comprehensive and sophisticated alternative to a freebie title in Hoyle Card Games, yet it seems unwilling to exploit the power of today's computers or develop a truly upgraded sequel.