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Reel Deal Casino: Shuffle Master Edition
Platform:  Windows
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Phantom EFX
Publisher:  Phantom EFX
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  AMD, Celeron, or P3 500, 64 MB
Every once in a while I get the urge to play a casino game. Typically, casino games are not your most promoted or talked about genre of games. Nor do they showcase the kinds of graphical bliss or action packed gameplay that many of us strive for. But for me, every so often, I feel like taking a departure from the gaming norm, and go on a virtual gambling vacation.

The hard part is finding a casino game that is fun. Most are just collections of popular games that people like to play. Some focus on teaching you the different kinds of casino games and their strategies. Very few have any kind of goal, or reward system to strive for. Most just keep track of some basic stats on how much you have won and lost and give advice on betting strategies. Too many times I?ve picked up a bargain casino game just to find out there was no point to it, and no competition except trying to beat yourself. That might be good for some diehard casino fan just looking to get an edge against the odds, but not me. I come from a background of RPG?s and sport games. I like my stories, tournaments, and competition against the AI or other players. An example of an old game that did this right would be ?Casino Kid? back in the days of the old Nintendo. It included many of your basic casino games while at the same time it gave you a story, had dialogue, an ultimate goal to achieve, and progressively more challenging opponents. That?s the kind of game I like. So after a little researching to see if any great new casino games have been created, I stumbled upon this game: ?Reel Deal Casino: Shuffle Master Edition?. And to my surprise it?s quite good.

?Reel Deal Casino: Shuffle Master Edition? is the latest collection of casino games from Phantom EFX, a company apparently well known for their slot machine simulators. Released on 8/31/2003, the game is an upgrade from their previous game ?Reel Deal Casino Quest? and includes 24 different casino games and 10 slot machine games. These games span the globe in their popularity and include such favorites as Roulette, Craps, Keno, Sic Bo, Baccarat, Bingo, and many different forms of Black Jack and Poker. In addition there are about 10 different slot machines for you to try your luck at, including the very popular Press Your Luck. Each game is fun, and requires a different strategy to be successful. Of course, some games are based more on luck than skill, so for those you will have to be smart with your betting. Learning how to play each of the games is made very easy by giving you the option to play a tutorial for the game at any time. The tutorial will take you through a couple of hands, giving you the basic strategy and advice on what to do. These hands are all predetermined so there is no actual winning or loosing of these bets. If you want more in-depth information on how to play a certain game, there is a very well documented instruction book that comes with the game. It tells you everything that the tutorial does, but goes into more detail, including what the statistical odds of winning are.

When you are ready to play for real, you will get your casino VIP card and $3,000 to start. Once you enter the casino, you will be able to choose any of the games you want to play. There is no virtual representation of your character, but there is a simple, colorful, nicely rendered 3D casino for you to explore. It looks like something you would see in a ?Sims? game. There are even little sim people walking around the casino floor gambling away their lives. Using your mouse, you can scroll the screen to other areas and find other games. Hovering the mouse pointer over a game will tell you exactly what game is featured. Some games like Big Six, Roulette, and Keno are a little easier to find due to their unique features. Of course, all of this is just graphical fluff. If you?d rather, you could just open up your typical menu bar and select the game from there. And at times, this may be the only way to find the game you want to play. For those people who have slower machines, the game also allows you to turn off the animations of the casino patrons to reduce some of the processor hit which will make the game run a little faster. Once you have explored what games are available to you, you will be ready to play.

The game interface itself is very intuitive and easy to use. Left click to add money to your bet, and right click to subtract. Click on the table to place the bet on whatever action you can and once you are happy with your betting strategy, there is a button to ?repeat your bet? after each hand. Each table is also well marked with odds and payout information that will help you decide on placing that bet. You?ll find some icons in the lower right corner that allow you easily see your stats, get advice on a hand, or return to the lobby.
Each game you play will have your statistics automatically recorded. This is helpful information for those who like to try different strategies to see how they pan out over time. If you don?t like how your stats have been building up for a particular game, they can be cleared at any time. If are unfortunate to go broke, you can just go to an ATM machine or the teller and get an additional $2,500. This helps you get going, but surely won?t make you rich. Now, you might be asking, ?So what makes this game any better than the others?? My answer would be, that it has a challenging and fun tournament system as well as an interesting and entertaining prize reward system.

The goal of the game is to become the Grand Master Champion. This is much easier said than done. Starting with your initial bank account, your goal will be to increase that amount to $1,000,000 to be able to enter the Grand Master Tournament. Each game has four different levels of tournament to beat. And each level have their own entry fee requirements. In addition, you must complete tournaments through these four levels in at least 15 of the 21 tournament games in order to gain access to the Grand Master. This is not an easy feat. As you advance through the lower level of tournaments, the beginner tournaments, you will hopefully build your bank account enough to be able to enter the next level tournaments. The beginner tournaments require you to start with a bank account of just $1,000. However, once you reach the next level, this minimum increases to $10,000. As the minimum increases, so do the stakes. Therefore, if you are not careful, you could loose your entire buy-in in one tournament. The game also automatically saves information, so if you do have that bad round, there really is no way to get around loosing that money. I?m sure there are people that will be able to hack this, or to find a loophole, but there is no easy cheat as far as simply not saving. This makes the game more challenging than most.

When you are playing in a tournament match, each of your four opponents will start with the same amount of money as you depending on the level you are playing. Most of your opponents are only represented on screen by name and bank account, except for the poker games. Here, you will play poker against some interestingly animated characters, which is a nice little break from the norm. You will play a certain number of hands/rounds per tournament depending on the game. The player with the most remaining money at the end of the set number of hands/rounds will win the tournament. If you win the tournament, you will win the amount of the buy-in despite how much you won or lost. On the other hand, if you loose money then you will only loose that amount and not the entire buy-in. Winning a tournament is not a cakewalk at ANY level, as sometimes luck just doesn?t go your way. I was having my best round ever at ?Let It Ride? poker at the beginner level, when my opponent Marge, had to hit a $30,000 straight flush. There was no coming back from that. Still the tournaments are fun and they add a nice challenge.

As you win hands and money throughout tournament or non-tournament games, you will earn VIP points. These VIP points can be traded in for prizes in the prize vault. As you collect prizes, you will gain access to the next prize vault. So besides trying to be the Grand Master Casino Champion, you also have the goal to collect prizes. The prizes are entertaining and are a good reward for doing well.

There isn?t much sound in many casino games, but the sound in this game is one of the best. The dealer actually has speech and uses it when needed like for tallying your cards in 21, or calling bingo numbers. Also, there is an announcer voice that describes all of the prizes you have purchased with your VIP points as if you were on a game show. Typical ambient noises fill the casino, muffled voices, coins clashing, slot machines running, and cards being dealt. Every so often some background music played, and at first I thought something else was happening on my computer, like another program was being run. The music was clear and crisp and of CD quality rather than the typical beeps and blips of other casino games. There isn?t much variety with the music, and it does get a little repetitive, but I still enjoyed it. So this is a casino game, I don?t actually turn the sound down on.

I have encountered a few problems with the games. Occasionally stats won?t get tracked right, and once in a while in a certain game, a bet doesn?t pay out with the correct odds, but nothing that really hampered the game. In fact some of the errors I actually only saw once I was told that they were there. For a while I thought the Bingo game had a bug, because I could only draw a few balls and then I would be out of money. But player beware, I failed to read the instructions for this game, and I mistakenly thought the bet was for the game not each ball drawn. Once I read that your bet is for each ball drawn per each card played, the game was much more fun, and I bet much more responsibly. There is also a patch to correct the rest of the errors that I?ve seen and you can download that at

As casino games go, ?Real Deal Casino? is one of the most fun casino games I?ve ever played. I bought it on a whim, and it has consumed most of my time ever since. It has great colorful graphics for a casino game, and good sound. There are a good number of diverse games that are fun and easy to learn. The strong point in the game is the tournament structure, which challenges you to learn and understand each game very well. On top of that, you can win fun little prizes like a holographic calculator, or the pistol. There may be better casino games out there but they are hard to find. For now, ?Reel Deal Casino: Shuffle Master Edition? gets my time, and is highly recommended for any fans of casino games.


Jesse Labrocca

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