|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Carbonated Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 13, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Fable II may not come out till the end of October, but that hasn't stopped Microsoft and Lionhead Studios from flexing some marketing muscle. Fable II Pub Games - a collection of gambling mini-games - can be thought of as more of a promotional tool than a traditional game. And that's ultimately its problem; the game lacks depth and when coupled with the $10 price tag (800 Microsoft Points), the investment to payoff ratio is highly skewed in the direction of the former rather than the latter.
To enroll in the gambling festivities at the local pub, you select from one of six stock character cards. Once Fable II comes out, you'll be able import your character, but as of now, you're stuck with generic gamblers. However, choice really doesn't matter. None of the characters have any unique stats to speak of - you're swapping one drawing and name for another. The three things that you monitor for your gambler are gambling level, gold, and debt. The gambling level is a star rating that increases based on point increments. Every time you bet in a game your point level goes up. For example, if you bet 10 chips your gambling level goes up by 10 points. Gold is your stock of available funds and debt is how much you owe the bank. The curious thing about debt is that it doesn't really affect your character - you can borrow all you want and not suffer any consequences in Pub Games. The game does warn you that debt carries over to Fable II, but you can simply erase a character and presto! no debt.
Obviously, the big draw of Pub Games is its future interaction with Fable II. Any gold and prizes you win can be transferred over to Fable II. Prizes include items like distinct hairstyles, tattoos, potions, weapons, clothes, gifts, and furniture. Should you not like a particular prize, you can sell it in Fable II's Albion market and get gold in return.
The three games that will occupy your time are Fortune's Tower, Keystone, and Spinnerbox. The developers must have put Fortune's Tower first because it's the best of the lot. The easiest way to think of the game is by visualizing a tower of cards. The first (top) card is called the Gate. Each row after the gate adds one card, so row two has two cards, row three has three, etc. Since the Gate card is placed face down, you never know what number value it has. Scoring works by you making an initial bet (always in multiples of 15) and the computer totaling the score of cards in a row. After giving you a total, the computer will ask if you want it to keep dealing. For example, you might have in your third row a seven, six, and five, giving you a total of 18. You can cash out on 18 or keep going. While more cards in a row might mean more of a payout, it can also spell disaster. If a pair ever lines up in a diagonal pattern (for example, you might have a six in your current row and in the previous one), then the cards burn and the round is over.
Now, if Fortune's Tower ended there it would be a decent, but quickly forgettable card game. What makes it above average is the inclusion of multipliers and specialty cards. You get a multiplier that applies to your total score whenever all the cards in a row match. If you have all fours in the third row you get a multiplier of three (since it's the third row). The Gate card - mentioned earlier - has two functions. The first is that it can save you from a burn by replacing a card in a pair. However, if the Gate card happens to be the same number as your troubled pair (for example, you have a pair of twos and the Gate is also a two) then you still get burned. Also, if you never use the Gate card and make it through all eight rows, you get a jackpot. Beside numbered cards, there are also Hero cards stuffed in decks. Each hero card can reverse the effects of a pair burn, effectively protecting you and keeping you in the game. It's these specialty touches that make Fortune's Tower a fun little game.
Unfortunately, the other two games don't fare as well. Keystone features an arch made up of 16 stones. During each turn, you roll three dice and bet on game particulars such as whether you'll role a number that corresponds to a black or red space or get a pair. Holding the left trigger displays odds and betting on very specific rolls - such as a sequence of numbers like two, three, and four - nets a bigger win. You have to be careful though, each roll corresponds to a stone that is removed. So, if you roll an 11, stone 11 is removed. Should you roll the same number twice, then the next stone in the arch is removed. If you lose either stone 3, 18, or 10 and 11, then the arch collapses and the game ends. To mix things up, there's a variation of the game called Bloodstone where you bet on where the die won't land. However, the inclusion of this new rule doesn't really spruce up the game. Keystone is really just a remix of craps and you spend the majority of your time placing bets.