Bridge Deluxe 2 With Omar Sharif
DOS - 1996
Also available on: Windows
Description of Bridge Deluxe 2 With Omar Sharif
Bridge Deluxe II with Omar Sharif is a superb update of Oxford Softworks' 1991 Omar Sharif on Bridge, also published by Interplay.
Although the most obvious improvements are cosmetics - better graphics and lots of multimedia video starring Omar Sharif - Bridge Deluxe II also features much-improved AI and numerous new options. The game contains a wide range of options that allow both beginners and experts to enjoy a game of bridge. You can use over 20 playing options including the Stayman Convention, Take-out Doubles, and Jacoby Transfers. You can also choose to practice different strategies such as forced slam bids, and use the take-back and review options to analyze your game. In addition to full-motion video clips (including an extensive tutorial) starring Omar Sharif (unfortunately missing from this CD-rip, in the interest of saving our precious space), the game has one of the best on-line reference materials on bridge I have ever seen. You can browse an extensive guide to bidding and strategies, a how-to guide for scoring rubbers, and even a comprehensive glossary. With excellent AI that offers a challenge to users of all skill levels, top-notch on-line help, and many more options than other bridge programs, Bridge Deluxe II is a must-have if you enjoy the card game. You can even play with up to 3 other players in hot-seat or LAN mode, although the latter requires MS-based network and is not easy to set up. Two thumbs up, way up!
Review By HOTUD
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Ever since I was 15, I was hooked on Bridge. I remember learning the game, during literature classes at school, from that book which every Bridge player seems to have read, the one by Goren. It was such an intriguing book! I remember playing out all the hands under the table, all the time practicing a pretty cool rifle-shuffle which I am still proud of to this day (which is about 10 years later, if you must know).
I then got a few of my classmates to read it also, and we started playing during the breaks. Everyone was going out for a game of football, while we were sitting there, bidding gaily into 10% slams which were usually made because nobody knew how to defend them (have you ever noticed how most people catch on declarer play much quicker than they do on defence?). It was so much fun... then, half a year later, I went, for the first time in my life, to a Bridge club to play duplicate. I remember being awed by all these people who knew so much about the game - I mean, they knew all sorts of systems, with conventions and all - and not only Blackwood (I still remember my amazement the first time I encountered Stayman). And there were these cool bidding boxes, and scoring cards, and table movement, and you never actually gathered the tricks to your side... that first evening left an incredible impression. It also ended pretty respectfully, with an over-43% total score...
I haven't actually played more than five times in the last two years, and the two years before that were not much better. I have reached a level where, if I really wanted to advance, I had to put some quality time into the game, time which I simply do not have. Working in computers is rather time consuming. But I still enjoy the occasional game, if I can get it (every six months or so...), and so computer Bridge programs seem like an obvious filler. They aren't, of course, because I have yet to meet a worthy computer player - if humans have a hard time playing defence, wait till you play with a computerized partner. And these programs are usually not much better when it comes to dummy play. But they can still be a fun way to while away some dead minutes, and so, whenever a Bridge game pops up at the GDR, I pounce on it, hoping that it will at least be good enough for that.
Bridge Deluxe 2, designed by CP Software and published by Interplay, is one such program. It is endorsed by Omar Sharif, who needs no introductions - not as an actor, nor as a Bridge player. Sharif himself always claimed that acting was a trifle when compared to his greatest passion - Bridge. To his credit, Sharif is at least partly responsible for one very important thing - getting the Bridge message out to the general public. His tremendously famous actor status, together with his constantly stated love for the game, gave it a publicity it had difficulty achieving by itself.
Over the years, Sharif has truly proven to be a quality player. Is Bridge Deluxe 2, bearing his name and including so much of his personal touch, a title worthy of him?
Getting Bridge Deluxe 2 up and running is painless. The game requires less than 1MB on your drive, running almost directly from CD, a very commendable feature. Installation is quick and easy, allowing you to install DirectX5 if you so wish. The game actually runs from a DOS box, pointing to its DOS origins, but it does so seamlessly, keeping full Win95 functionality (like ALT-TABbing back and forth between it and the desktop).
The opening is short and sweet, with Omar sitting there in the center of the screen, slowly shuffling a pack of cards, telling you that you are "welcome to Bridge Deluxe, with Omar Sharif". Omar's presence is kept throughout the game, as he hosts the different tutorials, makes comments on play, and the like.
It's show business
Bridge Deluxe 2 is, most of the time, a very pleasing product. Omar's experience as an actor shows, and his various appearances, mostly throughout the tutorials, are very professional. I did not like his parental attitude in some places, like when you pick on the correct choices while answering some of the tutorial questions, but this is more a question of personal taste than anything else.
I suppose it would be best if I described Bridge Deluxe 2 now. The game plays a game of Bridge, of course, using Standard American as its choice of bidding system. It supports 26 conventions, which you can choose to use or not to use, depending on your personal preferences. These only include "clear cut" conventions, mostly ones that are used during non-competitive auctions, like Stayman, Baron, Jacoby, and the perennial Blackwood (which is limited to its basic flavor only), and the most basic of competitive conventions, like Take-out double (honestly, I didn't even know that this was considered a "convention"), weak jump overcalls and SOS redoubles. Even cue bidding is only limited to an overcall of an opening bid, as I found out to my dismay during one bidding sequence. In fact, you can pretty much forget about cue bidding in this game - the sequence was pretty much clear cut: 1H by partner, pass, 2D by me, pass, 2H by partner, 2S on my right (impressive daring for a computer Bridge program), and now 3S by me was passed out, to be played in a most satisfying 3-1 fit with a slam in Hearts being easily made. At least I had two tricks in Spades.
The game also includes three tutorials, with Omar as the host. These are the game's biggest strength, and they include one "how to play" tutorial, which explains the game of Bridge in basic terms, and "beginner" and "intermediate" tutorials that show you the game and teach you to play via 10 instructional hands. Omar explains the hands, assisted by a pleasing to hear female voice-over that is usually used to explain the rationale behind the other three player's choices throughout the hands. This distinction - of Omar talking to you, personally, and the voice-over explaining the motives of the other three players - is a pretty clever way of giving the lectures in a more catching format. I would prefer it, though, if the voice-overs were done while the cards are being played, rather than having them create a pause during the play of the hand. During these hands, you are also presented with numerous questions about your actions, like "how many points do you have?", "what should you bid now?", and "what card should be played from the table?". The "beginner" tutorial lets you see all four hands while bidding and playing, while "intermediate" lets you control your hand and also your partner's. The one thing sorely missing from the tutorials are some instructions on, or even a mention of, defensive play.
There were some problems with the last two hands in the "intermediate" tutorial, too. In one of them, a lead of a small club through dummy's AKxx and into your Jx, is greeted by an automatic high club play from dummy and a surprising Queen of Clubs being played from your right. I naturally thought that the hand was about playing against bad distributions, but no - I was then presented with the question of "what should you play now?", being able to answer "high" or "low" club. I naturally answered "low" - the Jack is high now, there is no point in wasting it, and the small cards do not allow for a deception of any sort. I was greeted with an "Omar stare", and a resounding "No", and was made to understand that a high card should be played. From dummy. The reason? So the Queen won't win. Wait a moment - aren't we through that already? The truth is that the question was SUPPOSED to be asked before the play from dummy, but the play itself was intermixed - the East defender played AS IF a small card was played from dummy, while in truth, it was the king that was played (and the question assumed that no card was played yet at all). Well, at least he was satisfyingly (and correctly) penalized for his play out-of-turn... also, an inferior dummy play is being explained as the correct method of playing an slam instructional hand, where combining the odds should be done in a different manner, but it is evident that the script writer relied too heavily on his knowledge of the four hands.
But all in all, the tutorials are pretty entertaining, and together with the "glossary of Bridge terms" found inside the "scoring and bidding guide", they can get you going playing Bridge. It is my feeling, by the way, that the tutorials are a little too demanding - you cannot simply breeze through them if you have never played Bridge, or at least Whist, before, not without running some of the videos multiple times. This points to another of Bridge Deluxe 2 's faults - it is impossible to "rewind", only to "restart" a specific video, which can become pretty annoying if you simply missed a few words close to the end of one, and now have to go through all of it again just to hear them.
Lights, camera, presentation!
Bridge Deluxe 2, being a computer incarnation of Bridge, should not have any trouble satisfying in the presentation department. Yet, I have seen many projects go astray in this regard, with the designers going way too far to include all sorts of "computery" gadgets in the program, that the program itself was eventually lost in the ensuing confusion. Not in here, though - the game is well presented, with clear graphics and configurable gameplay. For example, the default settings have "spotlight animation" on, which means that any play of any card follows a short animation of a spotlight moving around the table. This may help new players get the feel of the game's progression, but you can easily turn it off once it begins to annoy.
Game options include choosing the number of computer opponents, allowing up to four computer players, picking on a network game (LAN, using MS network, a rare feature in computer Bridge games), choosing the type of deal (random, saved, biased, and manually entered), and customizing of your bidding system with your choice of the conventions offered. While playing, you may change many presentation aspects, like the backs of the cards, the way the table and hands are shown, and background music (which never worked on my machine). More importantly, you can have bidding and playing tips, step back and forward through a bidding sequence, resuming it anywhere you like, have the score and bidding explained in detail, set the contract manually, claim or concede tricks, and a few other niceties. During the game, you can thankfully shut Omar up, as he keeps on telling you that "that was good play", or "bad luck", whenever you win or lose a trick, respectively, something that gets repetitive after less than one hand. Even better, you can still keep him talking through the bidding stage, announcing the bids vocally, while keeping him silent during play.
Options during play are accessible by pressing the right mouse button while having the mouse icon somewhere along the top of the screen. Not very natural, and people who do not "Read The Fuc*&ng; manual" first may be at a loss. They will be at an even bigger loss as they pounce the ESC key into oblivion, without having any noticeable effect on Sharif's smiling face.
Up to now, we have seen that Bridge Deluxe 2 is a rather well presented game, albeit with a few minor glitches. These could easily be forgiven if the game was any good when it came to actually laying the cards on the table. So, is this game good enough to play a sound game of Bridge?
The computer's bidding can be classified as unimaginative but sound. It follows the rules of its own conventions quite well - you certainly won't suffer from an annoying lapse of memory when counting Aces. But this is only to be expected from a computer, and I must say that I was pretty disappointed with its total inability to understand even the most basic of deviations from a "normal" bidding sequence. I agree that one cannot ask a computer to apply human rationale in analyzing difficult, out-of-the-ordinary bids, but I do believe that it could be better programmed to handle "non-specified" Cue-bids such as I presented above. And I certainly do not agree that the best solution in such cases is to always pass. There were other obviously forcing bidding sequences after which I simply sat with my mouth open staring at the screen, wondering how my darned "partner" could pass. All in all, if you wish to do well with Bridge Deluxe 2, you have to be totally strict with your bidding, and any non-novice knows that in real life, this is, sometimes, simply impossible. It is also worth noting that the game forces both partnerships to play using the same bidding system. As I already mentioned, you can go back through bidding sequences, or check their meaning via a menu option.
Declarer play can be classified the same way. The computer plays pretty well in ordinary situations - which is again not a surprise. When it does encounter a difficult, unprogrammed situation, it immediately proves the Hideous Hog's (from Victor Mollo's Bridge in the Menagerie) adage about computers not being able to handle imagination. Deceptive plays are of course out of the question. Comparing it to my real-life knowledge, I believe that Bridge Deluxe 2 plays at about novice club level, but without the really stupid lapses.
Computer defence was as horrible as I thought it would be, but it had a nice surprise in store - I actually saw it using some signals! Inconsistently, yes, but it happens. Of course, since the game does not even mention defence anywhere, I had no idea when to expect them. In fact, this is a criticism worth noting: Bridge Deluxe 2 treats defence, the most difficult and interesting aspect of playing Bridge, as if it simply does not exist, a sort of menial task that you have to perform while playing, but one that has no effect on the play. This attitude fits well with the general, novice, level of the game, and is a very common attitude to be found amongst beginning players. I do find it distasteful in a program that is supposed to teach one Bridge, though. During play, a "hint" button is available, which I found harmful, rather than useful, as it follows the same mistakes as the program and is thus prone to teaching the wrong thing at times.
Table up... again
So now, when the rubber's over, the obvious question is whether Bridge Deluxe 2 is one to stay at the table? The answer, however, is not as straightforward as it may seem.
If you are new to the game of Bridge, never having played in your life, or even if you are a novice, then this product may be your ticket. The explanation tutorials are pretty good, especially with Omar Sharif giving the instructions, what with his tremendous acting experience. The glossary and scoring&bidding; guide are useful, and the play is good enough to give you the slight push required to go further into the game.
If you have already played more than a few hands in your life, though, then the answer, I am afraid, is a very confident negative. This game will simply have nothing to teach you, and its level of play is below even the average player's standard. Yes, the glossary will still be useful, but you can buy one in book form for much cheaper.
And yet, Bridge Deluxe 2 has one feature that cannot be easily disregarded - the option for multiplayer games. A very limited option, admittedly, as it requires a MS network, but it can be perfectly suitable for your office network, when you can gather some of your workmates for a friendly rubber or two after-hours. And it might even look like you are working overtime, something that would never happen if you used real playing cards.
Take your pick. I'm back to the menagerie.
Review By GamesDomain
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