Product: Play Your Cards Right
Publisher: Britannia
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #53

As the software house suggests, this is an ultra-rare BBC/Electron game. As the software title suggests, it is (or at least was at one time) the official home computer conversion of the popular Bruce Forsyth game show in the days when points made "prizes" (not "rich people"). Of course, most of the show's continuing success to this day lies in the fact that a) Bruce Forsyth presents it and b) it is a very simple game based in large part on luck.

Brucie grins cheekily at you from the cassette and disk covers above the old kaliedoscope jack logo of Play Your Cards Right but, as you might suspect, he makes no actual appearance in the game itself (via a graphic representation, that is). Therefore, after the instantly recognisable jam of PYCR music has been emitted from your micro, you fall back onto the simple higher/lower five card walk across the screen - the winner winning two of three games! - and the final gamble for big points if the cards go in your favour.

Initially it sounds like a fairly simple program to write but if you think hard about the game show format, you quickly realise that there are many rules to consider. Happily, the author appears not to have neglected any and, after inputing whether you are playing against the machine or a 'friend', you are presented with a screen asking you "We asked 100 men/women/married couples in their 20's/30's/40's" followed by a series of imaginative survey questions. By the millenium, the show's questions had become much sillier than when this program was written and the game doesn't present any strange surveys involving Bruce's sexual magnetism or entertainment value (or lack of them as is usually implied). Disappointing news for most.

As is the norm, player one can guess any number from 1 to 99 people who answered in a certain way and player two can guess either "H"igher or "L"ower. The input of numbers is shown in a way similar to the TV's desk counter with big digital numbers and (flashing) arrows pointing up and down. Unlike the TV show, the winning number is not displayed but the reasoning why not is sound as, with a limited supply of questions, this lengthens the number of times the same questions can be attempted. An exception is when the guess is "bang on"! For the next question, it is player two who guesses first, with player one bidding all the numbers higher or lower.

The card board is as you would expect with two lines of cards, the first turned over, and the options "H"igher, "L"ower, "F"reeze and "C"hange card (if the rules permit). Whoever has won the question - and it is almost invariably the player with the question's "H"/"L" option - can try and advance to the last card "by predicting whether each of the cards is higher or lower than the preceding one. Whoever turns over the final card wins the game."

The strategy couples usually employ on television is to think in terms of the number of the cards in the pack higher or lower than the one they are currently staring at. Hence, on a three, four or five (of whatever suit), they never go lower and likewise with the cards towards the top of the pack (the Ace counts as high!), they never go higher. As we all know though, this does not work with computer random numbers and, when employing the same strategy as game player, the cards become real b******s - all too often seeming to give out unrealistic shuffles.

Despite this, progress can be made by following the tried and tested method (it just takes longer!) and it's hard not to hear Bruce reading out the questions in your head as you read them. There do seem to be a number of times when the gameplay just doesn't suit the rules though and, considering Britannia just assume we've all watched the TV show and just drone on about the game's copyright on all the inlay covers, it's impossible to check whether the rules were different on the older TV shows than they are now.

For instance, guessing wrongly usually gives the opposing player a "free go" on TV. In the game, this is also the case but, for some odd reason, if it is the very last card that is incorrectly guessed the freebie is forfeited. There seems to be no logical reason why.

While the rules on changing cards are correct (in that you can only change the card if you "freeze" the game then answer another question correctly to get control again or have won a question and are beginning at card one for the very first time), when the computer "freezes" then regains control, its attempt to change the card fails due to a bug in the program code. This means the real player has a very unfair advantage and to get around this, it's best to choose a two player game, choose which player you want to be and then best guess for both players. Doing this also means you always get to try for big points too!

Probably the best part of the game is this straightforward big points gamble, which dispenses with questions but simply gives you 200 points to gamble over seven cards. In the television show the object is to gain a certain number of points by a certain card but this is not implemented here, although you can always choose to play it that way if you wish.

You choose to bet anything from 50 points to whatever you're holding on whether the next card will be higher or lower. Although you're not gambling with money, it's surprisingly tense - especially when you build up a fortune in points and decide to risk it all! Your points then becomes the high score if appropriate.

Although Play Your Cards Right does well, certain improvements to the change card (and possibly free go forfeit) bugs and a more realistic routine for getting cards would help its playability. Plus, of course, it's annoying that there are a limited number of questions. Other titles in the same league (e.g. Blockbusters, Bullseye and Treasure Hunt) all come with sets of question files which increase lastability by a good measure. As the game was officially available on disc, these would have been an even better idea than with most - as loading time would be far shorter! Another irk is the message "You're score =" which is totally unacceptable, full stop.

Finally, the only join-in audience shout incorporated is the "Nothing for a pair - not in this game!" one and, as the many more are all part of the game's atmosphere, these should probably have been included too. Still, despite these criticisms, it's good for a few hours' fun.