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Spyglass Board Games

Recreating board games is tricky in that developers generally need to give their target audience incentive to purchase a digital copy of something they already have stuffed away in their closet somewhere. Spyglass Board Games includes all of four different types of board games straight away. Checkers, chess, reversi, and mancala are all displayed in the most primitive of forms. The subtle premise of the game is certainly nice enough, but do any of the board game variants hold water?

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On Xbox Live they do. For those in need of a little light hearted competition, Spyglass Board Games is a sound enough fit for their XBLA library. It might be worth noting that the Xbox Live Vision Camera is compatible, holding the player’s image on the left or right side of the screen, with their logo and gamer tag inset. If you’ll be playing without the camera, however, the two boxes remain on screen (even when playing against CPU opponents, for some reason). Not sure what the intended function of this is but if the commander of black pieces wishes to be seen reacting to your every move, than so be it.

Single-player is of a different, less savory quality. Playing against an opponent without personality gets old when they’re always making the same predictable moves. By earning achievements, you’ll progressively unlock different color schemes for game pieces and boards. A range of color hues to be chosen for a background stretches across a large spectrum of color. Each game type adapts to the color scheme, no variant is unique to any one game type.

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The haunting, ambivalent background music is something to grind your teeth to, but otherwise this should be played on mute. Spyglass Board Games is shallow, if the audio doesn’t tip you off, the poor presentation elsewhere just might. Using the right thumbstick, the board can be rotated on a frustratingly limited axis, allowing for the reflections to shine off of select locations, thus giving the game boards an appearance of excessive gloss. Some of the boards (a bright purple and yellow number comes to mind) are an eye-sore, leaving much to be desired. There’s a real feeling that Spyglass Board Games is lacking in content in spite of the variety it means to introduce.

The preferred market prospects all have something in common that Spyglass is severely lacking – personality and presentation – both of which are key to coming to a cumulative sense of quality and not the feeling of regret seeping out of such squandered opportunities. What also sets these board games apart would probably be the simplicity, the ambivalent background music, the computer opponent who is as dumb as dirt. Instead, you might be playing Chessmaster Live, learning something, like the real strategy of the game, and not winning every match. There’s something to be said for the façade Spyglass puts on, awaiting the unsuspecting casual gamer and knapping their gamer points when they’re least expecting it.

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It’s pretty clear that the necessary elements of the gameplay work, but playing Spyglass Board Games alone is no better than playing checkers against yourself. A good, quick fix for this problem can be found in any Chessmaster title, in which personalities with their own strategies are outlined as your opponents. Beating an anonymous computer opponent just isn’t very satisfying. Almost all of the Xbox Live matches I found ended prematurely in the other player quitting once I finally got them in a rough spot, thus my experience there is limited and as of late, I haven‘t been able to find a single game to join. I don’t feel quite right about recommending the four-in-one “deal”. Better presentation and more thought from the developer isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

The draw of Spyglass Board Games really depends entirely on how you wish to play the game. Offline, it’s worthless. Online, you’ll never find an opponent unless you’ve got a friend to game with. For chess fans, it would be easier to suggest without the presence of Chessmaster Live. As for mancala fans, what the hell?

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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