Gadgetorama reviews Aces Blackjack from Concrete Software

 

Introduction

Gambling games have really caught on with games taking place in neighbourhoods everywhere, televised tournaments and a plethora of web sites. If poker games like Texas Hold’Em seems to get most of the attention, Blackjack remains a popular alternative. Concrete Software’s Aces Blackjack now gives you the opportunity to take this game with you wherever you go and hone your skills before or even on your way to the casino.

A little history

Blackjack can trace its roots back to a number of French casino games played as far back as the 1700s: "Vingt-et-un" and "Chemin de Fer" among others. The games followed European colonists to North America and "Vingt-et-un" appears for the first time in "American Hoyle" in 1875. From there, "Vingt-et-un" spread out to gambling halls by the early 1900s.

When Nevada made gambling legal in 1931, a number of casinos introduced a new rule to the game to increase interest. Any hand consisting of the Ace of Spades and either of the black Jacks paid 10-to-1 odds. The rule has not survived but the name given to this variant, Blackjack, has. Since then, Blackjack has become one of the most popular games in the United States.

Splash screen
Figure 1: Splash screen
Menu
Figure 2: Menu

Installation

The game is installed through ActiveSync. I did my installation on a storage card without any issue. Installation to Main Memory is also possible if you prefer.

The game

The concept behind Blackjack is straightforward and it is a fairly simple game to learn. Like poker, it’s another thing to get really good at it. Playing against the dealer, the object is to score the highest hand total without exceeding 21. Suits have no meaning in Blackjack. Cards 2 through 10 are worth their face value; face cards are all worth 10. Aces are worth 11 or 1 if the former would cause the player to go over 21. Hands over 21 are called busts. The Dealer must hit at least until a score of 17, no matter what you have.

With the basics under our belt, let’s get started.

A splash page welcomes you to Aces Blackjack as the game loads (Figure 1). Once loaded, you start at the main menu (Figure 2). Like Concrete Software’s Texas Hold’Em Poker, you can start immediately with a ‘New Game’ with existing settings. If you already have a game going, you will see a <Continue> option at the top of the menu to resume.

Other menu options include Game Settings which lets you set a variety of game parameters. I’ll cover these a bit later. You can also review Statistics (either for the current game or overall) and you can see High Scores, the Strategy Card, Instructions and the About screen (version information).

Aces Blackjack comes with the traditional Blackjack and 2 additional variations of the game: Aces Time Crunch and Aces Hand Challenge. In the first variation, you have five minutes to win (or lose) as much money as you can. In Aces Hand Challenge, rather than having a time limit, you only have 30 hands to play. This gives you a little more time for strategy.

A round starts off with your bet. You can bet up to $100 (unless you changed the Table Betting Limits which offer 3 other options). Then it’s time to deal. You get two card and so does the dealer. One of the dealer’s cards is dealt face up. Based on your cards, you will have several options: ‘Split’ ‘Double, ‘Hit’ or ‘Stand’. Certain actions like ‘Split’ will only appear in specific cases.

Typical actions include ‘Double’, ‘Hit’ and ‘Stand’. If you choose to double, you will be given one more card and your wager will be doubled. You will not have the option to take additional cards. A ‘hit’ will get you another card, but without any changes to your original bet and you will have the option to get additional cards. Finally, you can ‘stand’ if you feel that you have the best hand that you can get without busting. Now, it’s up to the dealer!

Game underway
Figure 3: Game in progress
Strategy Card
Figure 4: Strategy Card
Statistics
Figure 5: Game Statistics

If you have two cards of the same value, you will also be offered to ‘Split’ your hand. A split is just that: your hand will be converted into two hands, each with one card and same bets. Each hand will then get a new card. You can split up to 3 times (assuming you get a card of the same value on a deal). Each hand is then played separately against the dealer’s hand.

Like poker, betting is at the heart of Blackjack. To help you decide on your next move, you have access to the Strategy Card (See Figure 4) to help your decision. It will suggest moves based on the cards that you have as well the dealer’s showing card. The strategy card can be accessed using a small question mark button on the left of the screen.

The game will also ensure that your bet matches the betting mininum. Try to bet less and the game will automatically update the amount to the minimum. If you get to a point where you have less money than the minimum bet, the game will warn you that you do not have enough money to play on. When a game ends, it’s up to you to return to the menu. I would prefer a small dialog box that would pop up and tell you that the game was over before automatically redirecting you to the game menu.

As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of configurable settings in the Game Settings. You will find options like game speed (4 options), number of card decks to play with, betting limits, screen mode (landscape, left-handed or right-handed landscape) and still more. Such versatile configuration is definitely one of the strengths of this game.

As with Concrete Software’s other game I reviewed, Aces Texas Hold’em, you can go into the game settings and change them during the game. If you don’t like the way things are going, it’s very easy to cheat. Personally, I think that game settings should be locked during a game. Or, a new game should be started if you change them.

The game does a nice job with statistics (Figure 5). You have access to both Game and Overall statistics, the former focusing on the current game and the latter being cumulative. Aside from the statistics that you would expect like number of hands and number of wins, you also get information like how many times you bought insurance, number of splits, the total amount you have bet and won and still more.

If you are new to Blackjack, Concrete Software has a very thorough help file that covers everything from the game rules to the controls and game settings. All your questions will be answered there. It may not seem like a big thing but a good help file generally indicates great attention to detail by the developer.

You can also shut down the game at any time and know that it will remember exactly where you were the next time you hit ‘Continue’. This makes it really easy to play a couple of rounds when you have a few spare minutes (eg, while you’re waiting in a lineup) and not worry about being able to continue your game later.

Lastly but quite important, the game is very stable and has never crashed on me.

Controls

Gameplay is possible with either the touchscreen or the d-pad.

With the stylus, you simply click on the appropriate option. The buttons are large and clear enough not to have any issues playing, even while on the subway or in a car where you can be jostled a bit.

With the d-pad, you use the directions to make your selection and then you use the center button to make your selection. My only nitpick is that I wish that there was a stronger indication of the selected option when playing with the d-pad. I sometimes found that I was not sure what option was currently selected.

Graphics, Sounds and Music

I doubt that there ever will be a card game where I will rant and rave about the graphics. Having said that, Concrete Software delivers a clean and intuitive layout and the graphics are clear and provide all the information that you need to play the game. Little details like the card shoe deck showing how much of the deck has been dealt clearly demonstrate that the graphics were not an afterthought. If I had to find one flaw, it would be the small question mark on the left that leads to the strategy card (if you don’t know it’s there, it can be easy to miss).

The game supports portrait mode as well as both left-handed and right-handed landscape modes. The three modes work equally well and I did not find that any of them had a distinct advantage over the others. It is nice though to have the choice.

As for sounds, the game comes with the strict minimum. There are no annoying background tracks to distract you from the game, just a few simple sound effects (eg, card dealings and different sounds for a win and a loss). You also have the option of controlling volume and turning them off entirely. Most of the time, I found myself playing with the sounds off anyways.

Other Features

Aside from the two variations I mentioned earlier, there are no additional features. Given that there are many variations of Blackjack, it would have been nice to see a few of them included.

When playing Blackjack in a casino, there will be other players at the table. This can alter the flow of the game and introduce another interesting element to the game. Offering an option where other players would be at the table would be a nice addition to the game.

What I liked

  • 3 different game modes
  • Lots of options to customize
  • Comprehensive statistics

What I did not like

  • Changing game settings during the game
  • Better visual cues when playing with d-pad

Summary

Aces Blackjack is another solid offering from Concrete Software. Blackjack is a simple game to learn but one that requires practice to really master. Concrete Software’s version lends itself perfectly to playing while you’re on the go. With lots of customizable options, chances are that you will be able to set up the game exactly how you want it. You will find that very little is missing from this game.

When needing a little variation, the additional game variations will provide interesting wrinkles while still allowing you to practice for your casino trips!

Rating

4 out of 5

Where can I get it?

You can purchase Concrete Software’s Aces Blackjack for $14.99 USD for the Pocket PC (Pocket PC 2002/2003/2003 SE and Windows Mobile 5.0 all supported) and Palm devices and $9.99 USD for Smartphones from our affiliate Clickgamer. A trial version is also available.