Hoyle Casino 2006 is the latest in a long tradition of computerized parlor titles appearing under the Hoyle name. Ever since the days when Sierra Online was an independent company by itself did Hoyle grace the screens of PCs. Hoyle Casino 2006 is a mix of standard casino fare with slots, roulette, craps, pai gow, card games and even a mini horse racing simulation.
Like a swiss army knife, Hoyle Casino 2006 is decent at everything but master of none. One thing that makes this a traditional Hoyle title is the ability for you to create your own persona complete with customizable portraits and voice. You’re given five thousand dollars to start off and from there you can choose to play any type of game with artificial intelligence substituting as competitors or by yourself with the dealer (if applicable).
The ambience of Hoyle Casino 2006 hits the atmosphere right on. This is no theme-embellished casino like Las Vegas joints but a nice comforting jazz tune plays in the background. So nice, in fact, I didn’t notice it looping after hours of gameplay at the poker tables. Hoyle Casino 2006 also features competitors that each come with their own little story. There’s the bride who is spending her night out by herself. There is the aspiring country singer. Throughout gameplay, they occasionally interject comments giving the game a less sterile touch.
In spite of the myriad of game types, the strength of Hoyle Casino 2006 undoubtedly lies in the card games and more traditional casino fare. The weakest portions can be chocked up to the horse racing, which is simply a fixed race of the same mechanical horses over and over again. The slot machines, although interesting and numerous, become a bit tedious over time. And the video poker and blackjack machines don’t give the betting flexibility as real players, although it’s a great way to learn the basic rudiments of the game. Hoyle Casino 2006 divides its tables up by wager size ($5-$25, $5-unlimited, etc.) and also offers tournament versions of some games.
By far my favorites are the blackjack, poker and roulette tables. Playing with the computer players yields some strange results though. In Blackjack, for example, players who hit on 16 or 17 are found standing on 13 in subsequent hands after four cards. Consistency is an issue. Hoyle Casino 2006 also features the popular Texas Hold’em variant of poker. But the players here are less aggressive than the ones you’ll find at your local office game. The computer players have no idea of pot odds for example. They can be easily goaded into raising their entire game on one pair. They will also always open or raise when they get pocket pairs before the community cards are actually dealt. With these rather predictable games, it’s difficult for experts to take up on Hoyle’s version of Texas Hold’em although it kept me (an amateur) entertained for hours. Roulette revealed some of the strangest results. It’s where the artificial intelligence players appear to have the best chance to play the game and grow their purses. I’ve almost developed a strategy where I follow who is the hottest at the table since starting my own streak is neigh impossible.
Notably missing in the game is some functionality to connect online. Although the artificial personalities are neat, I would have liked the opportunity to download more online. The holy grail would be the ability to invite human players to your games over the Internet. There is already the function to allow you to send positive or negative messages to your artificial friends in the game. It doesn’t take much to extend the interface to include some chatting. After all, Hoyle titles made an appearance on Sierra’s venerable bulletin board system (BBS), The Sierra Network, more than a decade ago. So I was disappointed not to see any online connectivity in this title from Encore.
Hoyle Casino 2006 comes with tutorials to teach any game that you might not be familiar with. They do a good job in explaining the mechanics but aren’t really guides to gambling success. For that, you’ll have to learn by patiently playing along with the sometimes predictable (or predictably flawed) artificial characters or playing online with some real humans. I had the opportunity to play this on my notebook while on business travel and the sheer variety of games kept me engrossed so it’s a superior replacement for people who are playing solitaire or minesweeper on their laptops.