Casino (Atari VCS, 1979)
All right, this is another game which makes it possible to play Blackjack on the Atari VCS. I approached this cart with some pretty low expectations. I have a very hard time getting into Blackjack games on videogame consoles, though I do remember enjoying Odyssey^2's Blackjack game well enough -- must've been the keyboard.
So, I check out the directions (thanks Atari Age!) and find out that it supports up to four players! Well, we only had three players after I conscripted my son (9) and daughter (5) into service. The two-player version of BJ supports splitting and doubling on appropriate hands, which is cool, but there's no room on the screen for splitting in the four-player version.
The difficulty switches are implemented well. One difficulty switch makes the game more luck-dependent by forcing a shuffle every hand (makes card counting useless). The other switch changes the rules between Casino I rules and Casino II rules (are these real rules or just what Atari calls 'em?) These rules change at what total the dealer will stand and add the ability to win a hand if you take three or eight hits without busting. That's a pretty weird rule change. I've always thought "five hits and no bust" to be a win. On the four-player game you win your hand if you don't bust with only three hits, but on two-player, the card maximum is eight. We never saw anyone get eight cards without busting.
Stud Poker is a lot like Blackjack. Each player (and the dealer) is dealt two cards. You evaluate the potential of your hand and place a bet or fold. Everyone gets another card and bets again. When everyone has five cards everyone's hand is compared to the dealer's and if a player's hand beats it, they win their bet. The betting seems odd to me, but I'm not familiar with regular poker to know if it is odd or not. As each card is dealt and the betting starts, a bet must exceed the maximum bet from the previous round of betting. It's fun for Stud Poker, but as in most electronic games of chance, I feel as though winning any points is more up to the luck of the draw than any skill.
Speaking of luck, I'm lucky that I had to play this cartridge, because otherwise, I might not have ever played Poker Solitaire. Poker Solitaire, the last game in this Casino, is quite an addictive game. You draw 25 cards one at a time and have to build the best poker hands by laying them out in a 5x5 grid. You're awarded points based on the poker hands you manage to build in the five rows, five columns and two diagonals. According to the directions, the highest possible score would be 3,340 points and would involve 4 Royal Straight Flushes, 5 Four-of-a-Kinds, 2 Straights and 1 Straight Flush. I haven't quite worked out what that would look like, I've got a long time before I get close to a "perfect game"as my high score is currently 820. I haven't worked out any strategy for this game, yet, but certainly some moves are better than others. However, if the cards aren't there, they simply aren't there. More often than not my score is a dismal 400 or less.
One piece of advice playing this game: don't judge it if you play the version found in Atari Anthology; the control scheme (no paddle) is infuriating. Trying to tap a d-pad to get the cursor to go one space to the left or right (and not two or more) is annoying. Just thought I'd mention it.
Overall, this is a good cart and a big improvement over the 1st generation Atari Blackjack cart. The Blackjack and Stud Poker games are fun if you've got more than one player and Poker Solitaire is really addictive. If you've got a real set of cards and some poker chips, I'm pretty sure that most folks would have a better time playing the card games sitting around a table instead of in front of the TV. However, Casino isn't a bad bet bad way to kill some time, for a few hands anyway.
I get to play Superman next! I'm very excited about it and looking forward to seeing how my kids enjoy it.7485