Genre: Board Game
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: August 13, 2008
Oh Microsoft, you sneaky and clever developers. What better way to hype up an upcoming release than to give folks a sneak peek of your Fable II game by offering a way for characters to make more money by way of a related-but-separate game? Enter Fable II Pub Games.
Obviously, this Xbox Live Arcade title is going to be hit-or-miss with gamers. If you have no desire to play Fable II, then odds are you'll have no interest in this title and whatever benefits you might get for the character you're not going to have. Conversely, those of us who have been anxiously awaiting Fable II since being let down by the failings that the original Fable had promised will eagerly pore over this title.
Fable II Pub Games offers up three unique game types set within the Fable II universe. For a set of board games, there was actually a good amount of polish and quality put into the effort. The first game is called Fortune's Tower, which is a solitaire-esque game of cards that tests your nerve as well as your wallet. The second game is called Keystone, which is the equivalent of Craps and Roulette combined in one. The third game is easily the most lackluster of the offerings, called Spinnerbox. It's a slot machine. Really, I can't draw out any other clever parallels. It's simply a slot machine.
Fortune's Tower is a quick learn and probably the easiest way to grind a profit. Most Tower games will allow you to eke out a small win by playing it safe. Of course, those who throw caution to the wind will make more money by pressing their luck with each new turn of cards. Thankfully, no whammies are present. Also, thank you to the four people who get that joke.
Keystone has the steepest learning curve for people who have never played any type of Craps or Roulette. The game features an arch of stones followed by a board with numbers and playing card suits. Different bets will yield different payouts. Betting on three of a kind of a particular number will pay out higher than betting that the result will be an odd number. This game stands to make the highest profit, if you're lucky and willing to bet big.
Spinnerbox … is a slot machine simulator. Sure, there are different tumblers, different graphics, and different incentives on the different boxes by way of a multi bonus, or free spins, but really, it's just a painted slot machine. If you enjoy pressing the A button at regular intervals with absolutely no required skill or effort, this game is totally for you. Sure, you can get a 100:1 payout on some machines, but it's all random luck.
A nice subtle feature in Fable II Pub Games is the general background din. It sounds like you're at a pub with a tiny hint of music, patrons laughing, talking, and occasionally clapping at your winning play. It sets a great tone for general ambience and plays out very casually. It's much better than games that force the same canned effect that jars against any music or sound effects. Each game, while self-contained, is presented with just the right mood of music, sound, and effects so that it feels like you've pulled up to the bar and settled in to bet some loose gold. It's very well done.
In addition to just playing simple versions of the game types, you can also enter different buy-in tournaments with the ability to win more gold and to unlock additional game features. Most unlockables will be in the form of Fable II concept art, but you can also unlock upcoming game features like new hairstyles, gear, outfits, potions and tattoos. No word yet on whether they will be exclusive unlock items, or things you can equally unlock in Fable II once the game comes out, but either way, it's a nice additional incentive.
Of course, this game would be even more into the niche category were it not for the most important feature of the release: the ability to transfer gold earned in Pub Games to the Fable II world. Want to start off your quests in Albion as a millionaire? Here's your chance.
For anyone who plans on picking up Fable II, Fable II Pub Games is an easy XBLA title to choose. Those who aren't interested in the game's lineage or continuing story line, or those who aren't fans of board games, will likely pass this one by. Looking strictly at the games from their originality and inventiveness, even as a standalone title, it's one of the better ones. My biggest gripe is that with two such imaginative and creative games in the form of Fortune's Tower and Keystone, why phone in the third game as a slot machine clone? Maybe that's just me. Even with that shortcoming, Fable II Pub Games are a nice addition to the otherwise-lacking board game section of XBLA.