Board games are usually played with a board – the clue is in the name, really – but playing them on a computer or console can often put a worthy spin on traditional favourites. And they don’t come any more traditional than the initial offerings that Hasbro Family Game Night grants access to: Connect 4, Battleship and Yahtzee.
Family Game Night (FGN for short) is actually just a front-end where you can purchase these games from Xbox Live Arcade. You can pick and choose which ones you want for 800 Microsoft Points (approximately £6.80) each, but whichever you download the FGN hub keeps track of your achievements and trophies. Or lack of them. It’s possible to play either locally or on Xbox Live, with two players partaking in Connect 4 and Battleship, or four players with Yahtzee.
Our first stop was Connect 4, a simple affair where you drop large discs into a board, trying to make a row of four. It’s a game we enjoy and are mildly irritated by at the same time. Mainly because we usually end up thinking out some deep strategy in one corner of the board, and then completely fail to miss a totally obvious four-in-a-row that our opponent plops down on the other side.
The standard game is just that, but there are two variants alongside it. Connect 4 Advanced adds a timer to put pressure on your moves, and also it doesn’t end with one line; multiple connections can be made. This brings a new dimension to the game, and we found it far more entertaining.
Variant number two is Power Chips, and this adds power-ups with various effects such as knocking a disc off the bottom of the board. It adds extra strategy in some ways, but also more reliance on luck which may be off-putting for some (us included).
Battleship is one everyone is surely familiar with. When you set your ships up on the board, if you’re playing a friend locally it does rely on trusting each other to look away and not be tempted to cheat. Once done, play proceeds smoothly, with swift animations for your artillery shots and some okay graphics for the burning and sinking ships.
Again, there are variants that include Salvo (allows multiple shots, one for each ship) and Super Weapon (adds various power-ups). The latter introduces too much luck for our tastes, although we didn’t spend long with Battleship at any rate. The twists don’t add much and the whole thing just doesn’t feel very fresh.
The game we played the most was Yahtzee. If you’re not familiar with it, Yahtzee involves rolling five dice three times, trying to make the best combination of poker style hands. Think of it as draw poker with dice, except as well as straights, full houses and four-of-a-kinds, you can get a five-of-a-kind which isn’t possible in cards (unless you’re a really bad cheat). Five-of-a-kind is the eponymous Yahtzee, which you’re obliged to yell out loud, according to the daft Eighties adverts for the game.
The interface is well crafted, and selecting the dice you wish to keep and re-roll is easily done, plus the automated scoring is a definite bonus. There are even more variations to try out here, starting with Yahtzee Advanced which adds randomly occurring wild dice that can be altered to any number you wish.
Much more up our dice alley was Reverse Yahtzee, where you have to attempt to score the lowest amount possible, with your opponent deciding where to play your dice on the scorecard: a clever and thought-provoking twist. Block Out is also interesting, whereby the highest scorer in a category (three-of-a-kind, full house, etc.) blocks it off from their opponent.
Of course, the spins on the classic versions aside, the other element FGN adds to these games is AI opposition for when you’re alone. The standard of the AI, however, is patchy. It plays a decent game of Yahtzee, and indeed Battleship, although the latter is substantially luck-based anyway.
Connect 4 offers more chance for strategic manoeuvring, and it was here the AI was clearly erratic, making some daft mistakes even when on the “genius” level. We don’t consider ourselves great Connect 4 players, yet we beat the top difficulty setting on our first attempt, a disappointingly facile victory. Still, it’s better than nothing if you are playing solitaire.