Black Jack/Acey Deucey/Poker (Bally Professional Arcade, 1979)
Death and Taxes.
With the exception of the Magnavox Odyssey, Black Jack has appeared on every cart-based, home videogame system released in the United States thus far (up to 1979). It is surpassed in its occurances only by versions of Baseball which also appeared on the Magnavox Odyssey while a version of Black Jack did not.
I'm probably covering old ground here, but when confronted with so many different Black Jacks I have to wonder: Why is Black Jack such a game which companies think they have to produce, when a deck of cards will do just fine? Why do they think consumers will be willing to spend $20 on a game cart? The only thing I can come up with is that, it's Black Jack on your television!! ... which must be reason enough. Since the Black Jack carts for most systems are readily available in the second-hand markets of the future, it seems safe to say that they sell fairly well. However, it's hard to recreate any anticipation for Black Jack videogames in my modern brain, though I'm doing my best to think as though I'm "living in the moment."
Black Jack allows up to 4 players. Las Vegas rules apply with a few exceptions. For instance, spliting a pair can't occur in games with more than two players due to limited screen real estate. Unlike games for many of the other systems, which have used two, three and even four decks of cards, Bally Black Jack only uses one deck which it shuffles whenever it needs to but always before a hand. That's something I never seem to remember to do when I'm dealing Black Jack; guess I'll never deal Vegas.
Betting in Black Jack, as well as the other two games, is handled by the knob and the joystick. Keeping the stick straight lets you rotate the knob through the numbers in the 10s column of your bet. Pushing the stick forward gives you the 100s column. Pulling the stick back lets you pick a number in the 1000s column. It's a clever use of the Bally's unique controller and I'm glad they chose it over their keyboard.
Black Jack is Black Jack. Nothing more, nothing less. The presentation is nice, in fact, the cards are probably the nicest we've seen so far, even nudging the APF MP1000 out of the top spot for Black Jack graphics. However, it's still Black Jack and only worth a few yawns unless you're a big fan.
In my opinion, Acey-Deucy is much more interesting than Black Jack, but only with three or four players. Initially, I was expecting a completely different game, but I'm glad I was wrong. It isn't the Backgammon variation I had expected, as is the Acey-Deucey on the Channel F's Backgammon cart, instead, this is a variation of the card game known as "In Between".
Each player gets a pair of cards and has to bet against the pot for their next card to fall between the cards in their hand. In the screenshot above, you can see that Player2 is screwed, Player1 has a slim chance and Player3 should bet as high as he can. Of course, he can only bet against what is in the pot already ($10 of which was his ante), so the most he can win would be a "net" of $20. The players ante up $10 each every hand, so the pot increases steadily even if nobody bets. Having a "good pair" doesn't mean you're going to win big cash unless there's already big cash in the pot. For it to get "interesting" players need to bet a little bit each round, even on pairs that are less likely to win. As the pot grows, the pressure is felt to take larger risks and try to win the pot before one of the other players does. The pot sort of adds an "arc" to game play. You're not just concerned with an individual hand, you're concerned with how large the pot is growing and how well your opponents are doing. It is kind of like Poker, just less complex and without bluffing.
Speaking of Poker, this cart also has Poker for two to four players (no computer player, just a computer dealer). "Five card draw, all see-um" would be how I'd describe this Poker variation. A player sets the bet at a certain level and the other player can "see" it or "raise" it, by setting their bets at the appropriate amounts. There are three rounds of betting, which is quite sufficient as everyone is able to see each other's cards. The winner of the hand collects all of the bets from the other players but there's no explicit "pot" in the middle of the playfield like there was in Acey-Deucey. The betting does have some psychology to it, but there's no bluffing, per se. One may attempt to goad another player into folding by simply pointing out their visible-to-all hand sucks and that it is unlikely to improve. To fold, one just simply decides not to raise their bet to the amount the others have raised theirs.
The screenshot above is an example of a player who has folded and turned her cards over. Nice card backs, eh?
The game uses an interesting mechanism to allow players to exchange their cards, and is shown in the movie, linked below.
Bally Poker Draw Movie (4 MB)
See the upwards scrolling card moving left to right? When that card moving through the yellow center is over or under a card which a player would like to exchange, they pull their trigger and that card is replaced. I thought it was a neat method to allow simultaneous drawing.
Over all, Bally's Black Jack / Acey Deucey / Poker is a nice package. Any offering that supports up to four players gets points in my book. There's nothing about which I would choose to complain, other than the obvious, and that's the fact that a deck of cards would be cheaper and can be configured to play an even larger selection of games.
The last game of the 1970s will be Bally Pin.