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Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: 10.2.8    CPU: Any CPU    Hard Disk: 14 MB    Graphics: 800x600 @ 32-bit

World Domino Championship
May 4, 2006 | Richard Hallas

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World Domino Championship
It's a curious fact that domino games are badly under-represented on computers. Like playing cards, dominoes are a gaming resource rather than a game per se; they come in many varieties, from the common double-six sets right up to rare double-eighteen packs, and dozens of different games can be played with all varieties. In earlier, less sophisticated times, dominoes used to be a staple pub game played in the drinking houses of England; at least, when the revellers weren't dwyle flunking, ringing the bull or flinging sticks at Aunt Sally's head.

Like playing cards, dominos can be used in many different ways, from simple solitaire and friendly games between two people to aggressive, strategic multi-player gambling. Yet unlike playing cards, which have spawned thousands of computer variants of the innumerable patience/solitaire games alone, dominoes rarely get a look-in on computer screens. Whilst it would be fair to say that dominoes in general don't have the scope, flexibility and sophistication of cards, domino games can be great fun and have been very popular in years gone by. As a child I used to play dominoes frequently with my grandparents, and I hoped that World Domino Championship (WDC) would give me a nostalgia trip to those long-lost days in my early life. Certainly, with an ambitious title like "World Domino Championship," I was hoping for great things.

Domino, the Champion of the World
(Apologies to Roald Dahl for that heading.) I may have wished for great things, but sadly I was to be disappointed. Let's take those three words: World, Domino and Championship. The middle one is accurate; this game plays dominoes. Fine. But what about World? There's nothing remotely global in this game; not even in its coverage of games of dominos, as we'll see in a moment. And Championship? That implies a long-running competition involving many players, but the only option this game offers is to play single games against the computer, generally competing to be the first to score 100 points.

Let's take a look at the games that WDC can play. They are:

All Fives (6s): Score points by making the outer ends of dominoes add up to multiples of five; played with a regular double-six domino set. (This game is also commonly known as Muggins, though WDC doesn't tell you that.)
All Fives (9s): Exactly the same as the previous game, but played with a double-nine set.
All Threes: Exactly the same as All Fives, except that you make multiples of three rather than multiples of five; played with a double-six set.
Block: Be the first to place all your dominoes.
Spiral: Same game as Block, except that the dominoes are played in a spiral pattern, and you can only place dominoes at the "growing" end of the spiral, so the chances of having to pick up are much greater.

And that's it. Even being generous, it would be fair to say that having only five domino games is restricting the software's potential somewhat. To be less generous, I might say that there's only one domino game here, with four minor variants. When the game choice first popped up, I assumed that what I was seeing was the first page of a long, scrolling list of domino games. But no such luck: there really are only five, and they're not configurable at all; you can't alter even a handful of basic rules.

For instance, in all the games except for Spiral (which is somewhat different, and surprisingly boring), you start by playing the highest double and then playing away from that in four directions. In other words, the initial spinner domino can have up to four arms of connected dominoes attached to it. Fair enough, but some domino game variations restrict you to playing only two lines of dominoes from the initial double. Can I set that behavior as an option? No.

In all the point-scoring games, the goal is to be the first to reach 100 points. Fine. But let's say I want a longer or a shorter game than that. Can I adjust the goal to be 200 points, or 50 points? No.

Alright. I like doubles to be highlighted by being turned through 90° against the other dominoes, rather than being placed in line with all the other non-doubles. It doesn't affect how the game plays, but it looks better. Can I opt for that? No.

What about playing with more computer opponents, or some other real people? Maybe I've got some members of my family around, and we want to have a four-player game, with the computer acting as one or two of the players. Can I do that? No. The games are all for two players: you against the computer. There are no other possibilities.

Get the picture? The answer to virtually any Can I...? question is likely to be a resounding No. Can I play against others? Can I vary any aspect of the tiny handful of inbuilt games? Can I add extra games? Can I edit any rules? Can I use a fancy scripting language to define new games of my own? Can I even change the screen resolution, or play in a window? No, no, no, no, no, no and no.


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