Fable II will become a reality on October 21st, 2008. The game promises to be even better than the first Fable which won game of the year awards on several sites. Fable was actually the first non-360 game I bought upon purchase of my Xbox 360. It is still my favorite non-360 game for my Xbox 360 to this date due to the rich graphics, intriguing storyline and variety. So when Fable II broke ground by announcing a set of three parlor gambling games were coming to Xbox Live Arcade, I jumped at the chance. My pre-order with Amazon was an automatic and my free code was soon sent to me. I was ready to start collecting items & turning some gold into much needed experience.
Gambling games have never been strong on graphics. If you can see the cards, dice & the game board, then you probably don’t need much else. The three games have a very similar look and go together well. The cards in Fortune’s Tower are easily distinguished and the Spinnerbox spinners or tiles have a very fantasy rich feel to them while keeping quality graphics. In Keystone, the dice are easily distinguishable and the board looks good on the outside bets. However, the inside bets are sometimes hard to tell what exactly you are betting on and how much. Once you go through a few Keystone games, it does get easier. The graphics are crisp & clear overall and do a lot of good to keep that Fable feel.
One of my favorite sounds in games is the shuffling of cards. I play a ton of poker games and I can not tell you how often that little sound byte is overlooked. In Pub Games, Fortune’s Tower gets it right along with the other classic card sound effects. In brilliant 5.1 Dolby Digital, the game has a lot of quality sound attached to it. Keystone has richness behind the arches falling & dice rolls. The spinners in Spinnerbox might get on your nerves from not going the right way but the sounds feels authentic in representation. The sounds might be simple, but the presentation of sound behind it is anything but. The background music while repetitive lets you know exactly where the games are coming from (I think the classic Fable tune is used in the opening menu).
There are three separate games in Fable II Pub Games. The first of which is Fortune’s Tower. Fortune’s Tower is a betting / solitaire game that starts out with a deck of cards made up of the numbers one thru seven. The bet starts at fifteen which is also the least amount of points you are aiming for. One card is dealt down and represents the gate card. Two cards are then dealt face up. Naturally, this will never equal 15 (without doubles), so a third row with three cards is dealt. Then the decision is made on that row if you want to keep your total or press on towards a fourth row (with four cards). However, there is something that keeps you from simply going for the eighth and final row with eight cards. That would be vertical pairs. See if your second row contains a 2,3 for example and your third row is a 5,2,7, the 2’s match and you have received a misfortune (or 0 for your bet).
But there are two saving graces. The first is the gate card which automatically replaces your bad card after your first misfortune. Keep in mind there is no guarantee that it won’t create yet another vertical pair. However, it is a chance that could keep you in the game. The second is four hero cards. A hero card on a single row prevents you from having any vertical pairs. It is worth zero but saves you from sweating out that particular row. If you are incredibly lucky and do not use your Gate card and get to the 8th and final row, you get a jackpot which is all of the cards used on the whole screen added together. There are also multipliers which occur when a particular row has the same card. (Like 3 4’s on the third row) This would give a 3x multiplier. If you hit a jackpot with a multiplier, then the jackpot is also multiplied.
The second game is Keystone. The premise is that you have a giant archway with numbers from three to eighteen. These represent three dice rolls of six sided die. Three, ten, eleven and eighteen are considers archways and the better must decide on at least one of these if not more. If three or eighteen go, the game ends. If ten and eleven go the game ends. If another number is rolled, then that number is removed. If that number is rolled again, then the one adjacent to it is removed (in the direction opposite from the 10 or 11 archway). For example, if 6’s are rolled twice, then 5 is removed. If 13’s are rolled, then 14 is removed. Eventually three or eighteen will be removed by this method and the game ends. As mentioned, bets are made on the various arches. These represent your outside or core bets. On each turn however, you can make inside bets. While your outside bets are usually safer, your inside bets can be numerous and more risky. But with risk comes reward as a simple 10 gold on a three to come up with that individual roll can give quite a hefty sum as a payout. Most games last seven or eight rolls of the dice.
The final game is called Spinnerbox. It could be easily summed up as an old world slot machine. Depending on the game you choose, these spinners turn around and reveal images. If you match two or more (adjacently), you get a payout based on the image and how many were matched. If nothing matches, then you lose your bet and can try again. I have not seen a cherry scenario (if you get a cherry you win a small amount no matter what) yet, but I haven’t been through all of the variants. Here is an example. The first one you will play will have three spinners in a triangular shape. Say you receive two fireballs on the bottom two. This is a match and you might receive 50 gold for a 5 gold bet. Match all three and get a higher amount and possibly even a special fourth (special spinner that comes out when you match all three) for a jackpot situation. Other variants include more spinners and more situations.
The first thing I liked was the old world feel that went into each of these games. The cards have a withered feel, the blocks feel like they are actually made out of stone and the spinners don’t look like an electronic slot machine. The actual games were fairly easy to learn with the exception of the inside bets for Keystone. However, with some practice you could figure out what you were doing. Despite this, expect to part ways with your money and often. The Spinnerbox is the worst for this and has the classic feel of “the house always wins”. I blew 200 gold in less than 10 minutes of non-tournament play and repeated plays didn’t generate much better results. Methods can be generated for Fortune’s Tower & Keystone but there is still a great deal of luck involved if you want to keep the gold coming. However, any system (that isn’t a cheat) won’t be 100% reliable and could very well put you into serious debt. There has been no explanation to date what happens if you accumulate too much debt and step into the Fable II universe on October 21st. I’m not sure if some guy named Louie comes out and uses a mace on your kneecaps or throws you into a lake with piranha-infested water.
Since we are not in Vegas or even a real gambling casino, we have to ask ourselves; what keeps us coming back to this one? First and foremost, there is the fact that we can turn gold into experience. There are also cards you can win by placing in tournaments. From the simplistic like a haircut card (wow, I get to have cornrows) to high priced items like weapons and rings can be acquired thru each of the three games. In a tournament setting, you are playing against computer AI opponents as you try to score the highest amount possible. Tournaments usually end up being your most efficient money maker due to the small risk and moderate reward scenario. If you play the games in single player mode, they also open up other variants of the three original games. For example, play enough games of Keystone and you’ll get variants with higher maximum bets or ones where you bet on numbers not to get rolled.
In traditional XBLA achievement format, you are looking at twelve achievements for two hundred points. The achievements are fairly simple in scope with nothing requiring you to figure out a cryptic message and accompanying action to be taken. Get a three-star rating or win a tournament will be easy to acquire and should not take too much time (just a little dedication). Others such as a five star rating or acquiring every item from the tournaments will require you to be able to play at the highest level and have a great deal of luck (or perseverance). In the achievements there does not seem to be any penalty for acquiring debt, so this can be used to your advantage. However, I’m still somewhat worried that I might get a mandatory Loser tattoo card that I might have to use if I rack up too much debt.
It is a little difficult to rate these trio of gambling games. If you are getting Fable II and got this free on pre-order, this is a great way to get a jump on what should be a great game. If you paid 800 points and have no intention of buying Fable II, I seriously wonder if you need a brain scan. Or perhaps, you’ve been to Vegas one too many times. Seriously though, these are a nice trio of games with an authentic feel. The graphics and animations are done well and the sound feels crisp and not overdone. The difficulty can be tasking, especially on the Spinnerbox. Every Fable fan should give these a try, especially if they are considering a purchase of the sequel. For fans of gambling games, a demo might be your best option. The variety and items to collect could be an enticement but at the eight hundred point price tag, you will find better variety elsewhere. Recommended to Fable II heroes everywhere.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- 1up.com: “There is definitely a hypnotic quality, much like a Vegas slot machine, and it’s easy to keep pushing the A button to make one more quick bet.”
- Gamespot.com: “However, if you’re lukewarm about Fable II or gambling in general, then Pub Games doesn’t do anything well enough to warrant your attention. “