Casino Empire is endorsed by Hoyles, an American manufacturer of family-oriented casino-related board games. Over here, Hoyles is about as well known as the indigenous folk music of Dutch Guyana, so the game can live or die on its own merits. Not the best news for this substandard biz sim.
Your job is to manage a flashy casino in mob-run Vegas. You start with a small, two-room joint. Earn enough cash and you can upgrade and be placed in charge of a bigger, more glamorous gaff further up the strip. Tacky, medieval-styled tourist traps, enormous, opulent Egyptian pyramids, and smaller, high-class mob haunts – each offers a new floor plan and decor style.
The first thing any gambling den needs are slot machines, the staple diet of the Vegas tourist. From here it’s on to video poker machines, roulette wheels, craps tables, poker tables and other ingenious methods of separating customers from their cash.
Folk soon start showing up and cafes, toilets, security offices, cleaners, cash machines, bins and all the other stuff will soon be needed. As your facilities improve, so does the calibre of client. From wide-eyed tourists, you end up catering for professional gamblers, high-rolling celebs and finally elite VIPs – accompanied by their vast spending power.
You can click on any customer and see their face and stats, and even offer them some credits. Especially funny are the celebs, modeled on real Hollywood high-rollers such as Arnie, Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood. Expand sufficiently and you can join in on the exclusive poker games with your clients in the game’s best feature.
Where does it go wrong? Well, with a game that has nothing more than a bunch of spreadsheets under its bonnet, the way it’s all dressed up is all-important. And Casino Empire is a pretty dismal looking affair. You can’t zoom in enough to make the people much bigger then a match head, and the animations are lacklustre.
The haphazard system of item placement makes for ungainly, seemingly random collections of slot machines and dice tables denying you even a hint of aesthetic pleasure from admiring your creation. And the perspective can’t be changed meaning that blackjack machine will forever be hidden by that enormous palm tree you just placed in front of it.
As far as strategy goes, anyone who has played the Theme Park games or RollerCoaster Tycoon could play Casino Empire in their sleep and, indeed, may have to. Tried and tested techniques such as building toilets near cafes for customer ease and placing palm trees and statues near everything to increase the appeal are nothing new. Even your competitors sending heavies to intimidate your clientele and smash up your machines doesn’t provide much interest.
In America, where in many states betting your mate he can’t gob as far as you off the swings is punishable by death, maybe Casino Empire offers a tantalising glimpse into a forbidden world. But here you can walk into a pub and gash on a fruity, which would be a better idea than wasting it on this.