Review: Gamebox Solitaire

(Originally written for Solsie.com on December 20, 2006. *click*) 

Introduction
Lately I have been thinking about adding a new game to my device. I have a lot of freeware games, but there are some Astraware games that I did pay for. They are just very good, addictive, and don’t get boring! I especially enjoy their Sudoku and Bejeweled 2. I’m not really an action gamer, I prefer games that need a little logic and thinking, so a card game might be good to have. Card games don’t require a lot of time to play, so this is very convenient. )
Doug from JAMM reviewed “Can’t Stop Solitaires Collection” two months ago here, so I figured I’d want to try something else. I ended up at http://www.gameboxsolitaire.com/ where you can purchase one of two sets of card games by PDAMill. You probably know PDAMill from Arvale, Anthelion and Snails: even if you never played, you’ve seen those names pop up once in a while on various PPC related sites.

The card game sets are called Gamebox Solitaire I and Gamebox Solitaire II. Since there is already a Patience game on the PPC by default, and a free Freecell game can also be found pretty easily online, I focused on the pack that doesn’t include these two. So the subject of this review is: Gamebox Solitaire II.

Before I downloaded the trial, I played some of their online free games from the left menu on the description page. I was amazed by how smoothly things were, and how good it looked! The cards have a very realistic swing when you pick them up, and it’s this kind of detail that would really impress me if I’d see it on my PPC too. So time to check it out!
(And as a spoiler, the game play is the same as you can see later on!)

Startup screen, settings and statistics
During installation you can select your device so you know for sure you install the right version.
When starting the game, you’ll be confronted with the music of the game. I never care about music in a game because I often play games in public and turn down the volume. However, the music for this game was composed by Jason Surguine and when that name is mentioned you can count on good sounds! The music is Ambient, and therefore very relaxing. I kept it on during my entire first evening of testing, and that says something. )

From the opening screen, you can select Settings, Credits, Help and Close in the top bar. The Opening screen and Settings screen are displayed here, the Help screen gives a quick overview of the available icons during gameplay.

Main screen Settings screen

The main part of the window let’s you choose the game, of which you can see a preview on the right. Tapping Play obviously launches the game.
On the bottom, you can choose Description, which will give a little explanation about the game, Statistics (see screenshot, I haven’t played any games yet at the time of the screenshot but you’ll see how detailed the Statistics are!), and a game option that differs from game to game (mostly “Easy Game”). This means you have two versions of each game, depending on your skill!

Help screen Statistics

The game – Gameplay
I will not talk about the rules of the included card games. All you need to know is that they are not just different versions of one or two games, so it offers good variety. Included are: Australian, Bastion, Eagle Wings, Five Piles, Nestor, Penguin, Puss’s Corner, Scorpion, Spider and Yukon.

In the top bar, you have four buttons that allow you to deal a new game, redeal the current game, undo (unlimited!), and get a hint (which highlights a possible card move). Here you can mute the music and sound effects if needed. You can also see the timer and the Close button, which takes you back to the main screen.

The main part of the screen is for the table of course, which looks very luxurious. The graphics combined with the gameplay really make you feel that you are playing a high quality game. (While I’m writing this, I realize this is the kind of thing a developer would quote on their website. But I’m not taking it back since it just runs very smoothly.)
As you could have seen in the Settings screen, there are various ways to eliminate some graphic features if that makes the game more stable, but I didn’t have memory issues at all.
You can also set the game to automatically flip cards for you, finish the game for you if it’s possible, etc.

When you need to close your game before it’s over, don’t worry. The game is saved when you shut down the Gamebox, and also in between games. So you can easily start a game of Spider, switch to Penguin, close the software, and return to your Spider game if you want!

When you win, there is a good looking animation with the cards flying over the screen, which can be expected when you take the other aspects of the game into account.

Since I’m very positive about this game, I’d like to also point out two disadvantages.
1) When you’re stuck, there’s no way to know it. The game doesn’t detect it, or I couldn’t find any more moves and the Hint feature failed, which I doubt (I don’t rely on myself, I trust the Hint feature ;) .)
2) Because the game is in Landscape mode, the cards will  slide more over each other when the columns get too long. This makes it difficult to read the suite and value of the card. However, you can pick up a pile of cards and drag it across the screen to see the cards in the column better. (Check the screenshots)

Gameplay 1 Gameplay 3 Gameplay 2

Conclusion
You’ve seen my positive remarks on the gameplay, graphics. music and stability. The “negative” points are noted just a few lines above, and since I do miss the feature to auto-detect when there are no more moves available, that doesn’t change the fact that this game reassures me that it IS possible to make a good looking game for a Pocket PC that runs as smooth as the free online games from Gamebox Solitaire I (not II) on the website. Really, just go there and convince yourself!

PDAMill states on their website that future updates are free. I reviewed version 3.2 so I guess there ARE updates, and it’s good to know it’s free!

You can read more about this game at the product page here.
Purchase the game for PPC or Palm here for $ 14,95 (Use discount code SOLSIE20 for 20% off), or download the trial which is limited to one deal only. (whatever that means; I completed some games, had the game closed and restarted the day after and all games are still working)

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