Codebreaker, Atari VCS 1978
This cartridge contains two games, Codebreaker, which is a videogame version of the tabletop game, Mastermind, and Nim which is a videogame version of the ancient game Nim.
I've already written about the Fairchild Channel F version of these games, Mindreader and Nim. Go back and read it if you want. It's not funny, but it's informative. Bottom line is: I like playing Mastermind-clones and Nim. Sue me.
Now, let's talk about the Atari version of these games. First of all, Codebreaker requires the use of the keyboard controller. For what reason? I do not know, other than, possibly, to sell keyboard controllers or to just have an excuse to make keyboard controllers. The Channel F version of these games did not require a keyboard, I don't see why the Atari versions has to.
Okay, next, let's consider the varieties. Like the Channel F, Atari Codebreaker has one and two player versions of each variation of Codebreaker and Nim. That's a Good Thing. For Codebreaker you may choose to deduce a three-digit number or a four-digit number and you can also choose that number be composed of digits ranging from 1 to 6 or from 1 to 9. For the sake of comparison, the Channel F version allowed similar variations but provided an option for deducing two-digit numbers and five-digit numbers, as well. I don't recall a "range" option for the Channel F's version.
Graphically, I'd have to admit that Atari's Codebreaker version is, by far, more interesting. Rather than using text (H or T) to indicate numbers guessed correctly, the Atari uses little black and white rectangles which are reminiscent of the little black and white pegs used by the real world version of Mastermind. While I enjoy either version, Atari's is a little nicer to look at.
Nim on the Atari is limited, but does have one extra feature the Channel F hasn't: Nim Misere. You can play Nim two ways: either be the one to take the last stack (Regular Nim) or be the one to force your opponent to take the last stack (Nim Misere). Atari has both flavors and I only remember Regular Nim on the Channel F. Other than that small detail, the Channel F has the Atari beat. Atari Nim provides three or four stacks, where Channel F Nim provides three, six or nine stacks. Atari Nim provides for up to nine objects in a stack, the Channel F allows for some obscenely huge number, like 99 or less, I don't remember exactly, but it was way more than nine. To be fair, however, I should mention that the Channel F graphically represents its objects as a single number in a box, where the Atari version shows a stack of circles, one for each object in the stack. Visually, Atari wins.
Both versions give good gameplay, so I wouldn't recommend you hocking your Atari and its keyboard controllers just so you can buy a Channel F and get in a few good games of Mind Reader and Nim. The Atari version is good enough.
Forgive me if I repeat myself, but I'm too lazy to think of another way to say this: "While far from the most amazing feat in graphics, this pair of games is still an incredible step up in the area of puzzle games. Yes, you could play these games with a friend and not need a videogame system, but you couldn't play them by yourself without one."
I'll amend that "incredible step up" to just "a step up". Atari did it prettier but Channel F did it with more variety, less required accessories and, oh yeah, they did it first.
Speaking of the Channel F, for some reason it continued to exist in 1978 and put out a handful of games before going on, a hiatus, shall we say? We'll start with Videocart #15 next entry.