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Xbox Live Arcade Review: Spyglass Board Games

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Advertised with the Xbox Live Vision camera when it released in September of 2006, Spyglass Board Games finally ends up on the Xbox Live Arcade on August 8, 2007. Whatever the reason for this rather drastic time span, the wait was worthwhile. This is a steal at the $5 price point, with fun relaxing titles, sharp graphics, and fun camera support.

This title will fare better online. The single player experience is limited, going up against a smart computer AI that can certainly hold its own. It’s fine for a time waster or a few achievements. Beyond that, the only purpose you’ll find for it is to get familiar with the interface before heading online for some true competition.

It may be difficult to place Checkers into the realm of hardcore gaming, yet it produces some intense results. Chess is self-explanatory and sells itself. Mancala is an odd and likely unfamiliar title to many involving the shuffling of small pieces across a number of sections to land them on your base. Reversi is the final inclusion, won by flipping pieces over each other to control a checkered board.

The interface is for the most part fine. All the game boards can be rotated with the right analog stick, though only Chess benefits as the pieces can block your view. Green dots indicate where moves can be made in everything except Mancala (which can’t offer the assist simply because of its nature).

Pressing Y at any time brings up the Vision camera menu (if you have one available, of course). Sadly, all changes force you to leave the game board instead of allowing for a quick change while playing with one of the many unused buttons. It doesn’t lose your spot, but it is an annoyance for the other player as they await your changes when it’s your turn. Added camera choices include foreground objects to make it look like you’re in a jungle setting (amongst others) and various fun house mirror effects.

Game swapping is wonderful, and easily Spyglass’s best feature. If you need a break from a tough Chess match, pressing X will change the game choice immediately. At any time, you can return to Chess with your game still in progress. A fun variant to try online is to let each player make their move in one game, swap, and repeat.

What are missing here are some better explanations. Mancala’s deeper aspects are still confusing after reading the basics for newcomers in the menu. The green dots in Chess that will help unfamiliar players along fail to highlight pieces which could be taken, instead showing up on only the open squares.

In addition, there is no option to change the rules. For instance, Checkers forces you to jump if it’s possible to take a piece somewhere on the board, which radically alters the strategy needed. While technically correct, it’s typical human error to miss a potential steal when playing in real life and this simply doesn’t consider that.

The unobtrusive music in the background suits the game, though it sounds like it comes from a nature CD. Certain tracks are nothing but birds chirping and water running down stream. It clashes somewhat with the barren background of pure white light. A few images to spruce this up certainly wouldn’t have hurt. The multiples boards themselves are fine with some neat options for the types of graphical effects.

Unless you have some urgent need for virtual Chess with someone in the same room as you (as opposed to playing this with a real life board), Spyglass isn’t the best way to spend $5 in the crowded Live Arcade. For those with Xbox Live, and of course the underutilized Vision Camera, this is an oddly addictive collection of mostly familiar casual titles. It’s a fine break from the usual running and gunning of modern gaming, and a great way to unwind while chatting with friends.

Spyglass is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.


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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://www.okeygame.com okey

    I think game developers should focus on board games more!