Manage your own gambling casino on the Las Vegas strip in Sierra's tour de force management simulation for wannabe entrepreneurs. Hoyle Casino Empire puts you in charge of hiring and firing staff (showgirls, waitresses, security, and dealers), booking celebrities, day-to-day management of casino functions (food, chapels, game selection, and tables), and enticing tourists by the busload. Deal with every type of customer from drunks, cheaters, and troublemakers to VIPs, high rollers, and professional gamblers.
Success depends on creating a good combination of casino inducements including décor, a desirable blend of entertaining gambling venues like slots, poker, baccarat, blackjack, and dice games, establishing a fair "house edge" and setting reasonable stakes, choosing slot game themes, and providing services. Placing amusement rides, bars, bingo parlors, buffets, cafés, cashier booths, money wheels, gift shops, Keno and high stakes rooms, lounges, restaurants, restrooms, sports gambling facilities, and wedding chapels is instrumental in attracting patrons.
As in most people-oriented management simulations, monitoring customer reactions in areas such as satisfaction, sobriety, bathroom needs, thirst, hunger, and energy is essential. Complimentary tokens, show tickets and more keep the masses coming back, as do upgrades to hotel rooms, marketing ploys, casino events, and outsmarting the competition. Hoyle Casino Empire offers the choice of running an establishment the Chamber of Commerce could be proud of or sleazing your way to profits with the help of mob connections.
More than just a management simulation, Casino Empire also allows you to play in or host blackjack and poker tournaments (non-pay outs for fun or revenue earning to pump cash into your casino). Both Empire (campaign) and Sandbox (free play with no time limits or missions) modes are available in this single-player game.
Casino Empire - or, more properly, Hoyle Casino Empire - is an absolute delight. The player is tasked with rehabbing a series of casinos whose themes are loosely based on real Las Vegas institutions. That means meeting certain goals within a set time period, not to mention dealing with scripted events. Each casino has progressively harder goals, usually coupled with more difficult events.
After each casino's goals are met, the player can move on to the next. That casino is also unlocked for play in Sandbox mode. This feature isn't that great; by the time you win a level, you'll usually have maxed out that casino. Sandbox mode gets rid of time and mission constraints, but doesn't offer any incentives - the player will have seen it all before. This mode would be interesting if Sierra planned to release downloadable objects a la The Sims, but we've not heard of any such plans.
Each casino starts at level one, with only basic services, decor and games available. Decor serves only to pretty up the casino, and marginally improve the appeal of surrounding games and such. Outdoor decor is available to draw in new guests. Games range from machines (slots, video poker, video blackjack, et al.) to tables (blackjack and craps to start, and later poker, roulette, baccarat and more).
Services can only be built along the casino walls facing the player. In the game's most puzzling facet, the view of the casino floor can't be rotated. While this does force a bit of strategy - space is usually at a premium, so you'll eventually have to choose between that bar and the poker room - it also strips away a good deal of the realism you expect from tycoon games. Anyway, services run the gamut from restrooms, eateries and bars to wedding chapels, high-stakes poker parlors and sports betting areas. Services also allow the player to hire casino staff (custodians, barmaids, machine attendants, showgirls and security guards) and place floor objects like ATMs, security cameras and trash cans.
The casino's level can be upgraded after meeting certain numbers of visitors and cashflow. That unlocks higher-level services, decor and games, which in turn draw in more visitors and money.
You'll find a constant juggling act trying to balance the needs of tourists with those of mid-level visitors (gamblers) and high rollers. As expected, tourists want cheap games and low-class services, gamblers want games with better payoffs and high rollers want really nice games and services out of the reach of the riffraff. Every now and then, a casino will attract a VIP high roller, humorous celebrity parodies who draw lots of attention to the player's casino. I mean, who wouldn't want to play poker against ex-president Wild Bill or action star Arnold Gibson?
Unfortunately, guest AI is less than perfect. Too often, I've checked on guests who complain about, say, the lack of restrooms, while walking right past them. This never becomes an impediment to the game, though.
One of my biggest beefs with Monte Cristo's Casino Tycoon was its lack of a dark side. While Casino Empire errs on the side of humor, the player can still hire spies to sabotage rival casinos. Also, plenty of the scripted events allow for judgment calls. Do you agree to let the mob launder money? Or how about spending much-needed cash to pamper a punk rock star?
Graphics are vibrant, full of color. Each casino has its own design scheme, though the games retain the same look from casino to casino (which is a shame). Sound is good, with the background music becoming repetitive. That can be remedied by dropping a few MP3s into the appropriate folder.
One of my favorite parts? Taking a break from running the floor to pop in on a poker or blackjack tournament. This has no connection to the outside game - you're not gambling the casino's funds, though that would present a nice ethical dilemma - and can offer some much-needed downtime.
Long story short, Casino Empire is an offer you can't refuse.
People who downloaded Hoyle Casino Empire have also downloaded:
Casino Tycoon, Hoyle Classic Card Games, Hoyle Classic Games, Hoyle Official Book of Games: Volume 3, Gangsters 2: Vendetta, Hoyle Board Games 2001, Las Vegas Tycoon, Hoyle Poker
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