Overall Score 67%
Easy St Tycoon
Most people would have had the experience of playing classic board games such as "The Game of Life" and "Monopoly" before. I certainly have and still do go rummaging through the cupboard every now and then at night with the family, looking for the beaten up old boxes and then dragging them out onto the table. There is a certain intangible yet wholesome feeling of warmth when people get together to play these games; everyone around the board clenching fists full of pretend cash - die rolls turning mother on son and making bitter enemies of good friends. For the most part computer adaptations of these games fail to capture the sprit that only the feel of the metal tokens and the smell of the 20 year-old gameboard can convey. I have owned PC versions of both the abovementioned games at some time in the past, yet neither of them are installed on my hard drive now.
Easy St Tycoon is a computer based board game for 1 to 4 players. It is a bit of a hybrid in terms of content between "Monopoly" and "Life", but the overall objective of the game is familiar enough - be the player with the greatest accumulated material wealth at the end of proceedings. Roll the die, move your token around the board, buy property, collect toll from other players, develop your properties, pay your dues. Do what you have to do to get rich, and stay rich. So why would you even bother with a PC game like this if you have a stash of board games in the broom cupboard?
Well, the move from the tabletop to the PC does allow for some advantages. The computer can take control of the bank, calculating all the transactions extremely quickly and accurately. The pace of the game is a lot more brisk because of the automation. There are no tiny pieces to fall onto the floor to get lost or trodden on when you get up to make everyone a cup of coffee (remember the profanity that you let fly last time a Monopoly house became embedded in your foot). It's almost impossible to cheat (there's always one in every family).
For Easy St Tycoon, it also allows for some cool features! The gameboard is heavily randomised before every game, so that each game is different. It forces players to think on the fly about how to best upgrade their property since all upgrades on particular streets are totally different on each playthrough. Not only that, but all squares that do not contain purchasable property are also shuffled around at the end of each round of the board. Best of all, the values for street names, AI player names, jobs and chance card events are all contained in simple text files that are a cinch to edit in any program such as Notepad. This makes modding the game with personalised content easy for anyone.
Players start with a meagerly paying job at the beginning of the game, but can work to increase their salary, or search for another job as they like. Apart from cash, each player also accumulates fortune points throughout the game which can be used to various beneficial ends, including playing mini-games where there's jackpots of cash to be won.
The game flows quite nicely, with an average game including 4 players taking about 20~30 minutes to complete. Because of the way the fortune points work, I have found it possible to come back into victory contention from positions of sheer deprivation. Sometimes it feels a bit unfair that I lose one half of my cash reserves with an unlucky draw of a fate card, but then, skill plays quite a small part in determining the victor in any of these types of games, and besides - it's so cool when it happens to an opponent. Also, if there's no one around to play with, you can set up a game with up to 3 AI opponents. They will generally make reasonably good decisions, but are not as much fun to play as a human opponent. I've never seen them try to get a new job, for example. Also they have an annoying habit of picking the same coloured token as the player (or other AI players) and this can lead to a very confusing game board where it's hard to keep track of who is where at any one point.
The interface is a bit basic and there are no options to customise how the game looks on your desktop. It runs in a full screen mode only and attempting to alt-tab caused the game to become unresponsive for me. The game setup screen, for example, presents all the selected options and a "Confirm" button, yet absolutely no way to go back and change a variable even if you wanted to. The colour scheme is a little dreary, but at least all the vital information on the game board is clearly presented. The sound effects are very basic and there are a couple of jazzy/easy listening tracks at the menu screens. There is no in game music.
This game is a good bit of fun, especially with a few other players at the same PC. Half the fun of these types of games is the banter, pleading and insult trading that comes with the territory. In contrast the AI opponents, although satisfactory, do leave a bit of a sterile and bland impression on me. Perhaps giving a few different pre-defined playstyles to a select few customised opponents rather than just randomly naming the same AI repeatedly might have been the way to go. In any case, Easy St Tycoon is not going to replace all those board games under the stairs for me.
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