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You know a game like Yahtzee has become part of the zeitgeist when the immortal vampire queen in HBO’s True Blood is featured playing the game with her minions (“We play to 6 million”). It’s true, and we must deal with it: Traditional parlor games like Scrabble, Monopoly, and even cribbage are hot.
Last year I even received several invitations to “old-fashioned game nights” with friends. I wasn’t able to attend a single one of them (see job and family, the obligations thereof), but I’ve played so many rounds of Yahtzee Adventures on my iPhone ($2.99, www.eamobile.com), I couldn’t even begin to guesstimate the number of hours I’ve put into this game.
Yahtzee Life Lesson #56: Yahtzee's the best you can do, score-wise, but don't look askance at a Large Straight.
The iPhonized version of Yahtzee isn’t your traditional faire. As you progress through the game as an adventurer, new variations of basic Yahtzee appear as options. Classicist that I am--go ahead and call me an old fogy--I initially balked at these deviations. But soon enough, I jumped onboard, and Rainbow ultimately became my favorite variation. In this mode, you use colored dice that introduce a whole new world of scoring combinations (a “green flush,” for example, scores 35 points). Nonetheless, I wish EA had built in the option to select your favorite Yahtzee flavor, rather than forcing you to play through the entire narrative to experience these digital-only modes.
Thanks to a deal with Hasbro, EA seems to have a cornered the market on remaking classic parlor games as iPhone apps, all of which are well worth their price if you’re a fan of the originals. If you’re a Granny Gamer like me, though, you’re likely to have the best experience with Scrabble ($4.99). EA took fewer digital liberties with this one, so playing it on your iPhone or iPod touch is more like playing it in the real world.
Scrabble’s main drawback is your device’s tiny screen. Enlarging the area around a word is a matter of pinching out, but I still found myself squinting a lot. The other drawback--or is it?--is the Best Word feature, which chooses the highest scoring word with the letters in your tray. I rationalized using this crutch by telling myself it was helping me become a better wordsmith and more alert player. Luckily, the game only lets you use Best Word four times a round.
Monopoly Here & Now: The World Edition ($4.99) and Clue ($2.99) were clearly built for--and maybe by?--today’s video game-suckled youth. Neither stoops to merely re-creating the original game in digital form, which for most people is probably a plus. Still, I craved more analog-ish experiences in each game, especially with Clue, which transports you to a Sin City–esque animated world far removed from the original game. At least upping the difficulty level offers an entertaining murder mystery with plenty of surprises.
The globe is your real estate market in Monopoly Here & Now: The World Edition, but keeping track of your holdings can get tricky, especially in different currencies.
The biggest challenge I had playing iPhone Monopoly was keeping track of my finances--no surprise to my husband. Also, the expansion of classic Monopoly’s U.S. focus to the world at large makes the variety of property you encounter nearly endless. Why buy Boardwalk when you can buy all of Rome or Montreal?
Trivial Pursuit ($4.99) is as entertaining as the board version, despite the fact that is uses a rather limiting multiple-choice answering scheme. On the negative side, when playing against an AI opponent, you don’t get to see the question it’s answering, which left me feeling cheated.
To round out my game night, I left the EA/Hasbro fold for a few sets of Backgammon Premium ($1.99, www.trivialtechnology.com). The beauty of backgammon on the iPhone is the ability to see where you can move a selected chip, thanks to the Display Possible Moves option. (Just turn it off if you’re the Rain Man of backgammon.)
The greatest bonus of mobile parlor games is, of course, portability. Going digital doesn’t quite invoke the same spirit of camaraderie--or cutthroat competition--that you’ll find with old-school game nights. But once I figured out how each game was enhanced (or hampered) by its digital translation, I stopped thinking about what I was missing and had to stop myself from taunting in-phone opponents as I played.