Genre: Board Game
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 18, 2009
Hasbro Family Game Night for the Xbox 360 is an interesting experiment in publishing. After all, the game was originally released on the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii in late 2008, and it's only coming to the Xbox 360 this year. That in and of itself isn't unusual, but what is different is the method of distribution. For the Xbox 360 release, EA choose to publish the game as an Xbox Live Arcade download rather than in disc form and sell each of the bundled games individually. The good news is that this allows you to just buy the specific games you want. The bad news is that purchasing à la carte means you're spending a total of $70 for the whole package versus $40 for the Wii version or $20 for the PS2 version. Because the games are available separately on XBLA, we've decided to review each one individually rather than as a bundled package. Here, we're taking a look at Battleship.
A virtual translation of the classic naval combat game, Battleship makes the jump to the digital world quite well, both as a single-player game and a multiplayer title. About the only thing missing is the disembodied computer voice from Electronic Talking Battleship. Here, the only one shouting out, "You sunk my Battleship!" is you.
Played on a 10x10 grid, Battleship tasks players with destroying an opponent's fleet. The trick, of course, is that the fleet is masked so it's just as much a game of cat-and-mouse as it is of strategy. Sure, you can have the computer auto-place your ships for you, but part of the fun is coming up with a devious fleet layout that's sure to confuse your opponent. Do you try to spread out your ships evenly? Do you cluster them together? Do you line them down the sides and keep the center of the board clear?
When playing against an online opponent, there are no issues with the ship layout, though when you're battling it out in the same room, you'll have to rely on the honor system (otherwise known as, "I'm setting up my ships, so now's a great time for you to go to the bathroom") if you don't want your opponent to see your placement. Once your ships are placed, they vanish from view, so there's no worry about wandering eyes during the game. Using the automatic placement also keeps your ships hidden from view so it is convenient for local matches, but you do lose out on the ability to custom craft a layout. It's really too bad that EA didn't think to allow for pre-saved layouts that could be quickly selected with hotkeys, similar to how plays can be selected in Madden. Ah well, it's a minor quibble.
Combat happens in one of three primary game modes: original, salvo and super weapons. Original is just what you'd expect, with each player having five ships and taking turns firing single shots on the board. The first player to sink his opponent's fleet wins. Salvo is played much like the original mode, except that players are allowed to fire a salvo of shots equal to the number of ships they still have on the board. For example, if you have five ships in play, you can take five shots per turn. If you only have three ships in play, you can only take three shots per turn. It's a simple twist, but one that allows for faster-paced gameplay without fundamentally altering the mechanics of the game.
Super weapons is a bit more of a departure from the classic game. Pulling elements from the newer Electronic Battleship Advanced Mission board game, super weapons mode mixes up play with reinforcements, a lucky shot, heavy shot, decoy and torpedo. Whenever you miss a shot in super weapons mode, you have a random chance of getting one of the five power-ups for your next turn.
Reinforcements appear to be limited to once per game, but when it occurs, you are granted a randomly placed patrol boat. As the smallest of the ships with only two hit points, the extra patrol boat can be a lifesaver, as the tiny size makes it difficult to find. Lucky shot is a single shot that takes out an entire ship, but only if it hits. Heavy shot allows a single shot to target five squares at once, either in a plus or X pattern. Decoy is a random effect that shows a miss as a hit for one round, only to reveal it as a miss after your next turn. Finally, there is the torpedo. The torpedo is launched down a column at the top of the screen and travels until it hits a ship. The only catch here is that if it travels down the entire length of the enemy's board and there are no ships in its path, it then continues down the same column in your board. Careless players will find that it is possible to hit their own ships with a torpedo. In addition to the three main modes, there is also a custom mode that allows you to pick and choose individual features to enable.
Difficulty-wise, the AI offers up three options: novice, smart and genius. As the middle option, smart provides a decent opponent that will challenge a casual player without feeling overwhelming. The smart player will occasionally make a few boneheaded moves, such as firing on a boxed-in location that couldn't possibly contain a ship, but in general it plays a decent game. Longtime Battleship players will want to bump it up to genius.
Visually, the game mimics the look and feel of the current version of the board game, so all you old fogies can't get too nostalgic. The plastic ships are rendered in all their miniaturized glory, and there are the requisite explosions and burning fire effects. It's nothing overly elaborate, but it works fine in context.
As a translation of the board game, Battleship delivers exactly what it promises, along with a little bit more. You'll find everything that's to be had in the classic game, plus a few bits from the more expensive Advanced Mission version, all bundled up into a nice, neat download. Given the amount of content provided, it's also a decent value at the $10 price point. This is one you'll likely replay over and over, no matter what your age range.