Worn out from extended sessions of Table Tennis, Mini Golf and Slot Car Racing? Feeling like if you have to look at Mommy, Daddy, Billy, or Sarah’s plastic smiling faces one more time you will throw your Wii Remote through the TV? Why not unwind with a few pleasant card games? What’s that? You said “yes”? Then we have good news: Mommy, Daddy, Billy and Sarah have a game for that too!
Family Card Games is a collection of three familiar public domain games that are ordinarily played with a standard deck of cards. The usual complaint that it would be cheaper to just buy a deck of cards applies here, but what this WiiWare game offers is a computer opponent that is at times competitive and, surprisingly, online multiplayer. You can’t buy that with a deck of cards.
The online play is only for one of the three games, so while we’re connecting let’s briefly go over the two offline games.
First, there’s Memory. It’s that old game where you shuffle a stack of pairs of cards, deal them out face down and then have to find the matching set by turning over two cards at a time. This is not generally what people think of when they think of the term “card game”, but it is nevertheless one third of the offerings available in Family Card Games. It’s a decent way to pass the time, and offers two optional rules. However, the cards themselves are just standard playing cards with numbers to match rather than eye-appealing pictures like the ones found in memory-themed board games. The obvious opportunity to have family-themed cards to match was overlooked, and so we are left with a game that looks bland and offers nothing over playing with real cards except for the inclusion of a computer AI that is not very challenging.
Let’s check on that online game... still connecting. Okay, we’ll come back to that later.
Second, we have a kid’s classic known as “Speed”. The gist of this game is to play a card sequentially higher or lower than a card already in play. For instance if a five is showing, then you can play either a four or a six on top of it, and you keep doing this until either you or your opponent runs out of cards. There are two stacks in play and you and your opponent have four cards each in your hand that continuously replenishes as you go. And the twist is, there are no turns; you both just play at the same time. If you both have the same card you are trying to get rid of, it’s a race to be the first to play your card, hence the name, “Speed”. The game is simple and fun and the computer AI plays competently here, but as there is no online play, like Memory there doesn’t seem to be much point to playing this with your friends as opposed to the real thing. After all, half the fun in this game is in slapping each other around.
How’s that online game going? Still looking for other players to join, eh? Well we’ll introduce the third game then while we wait.
The main course in Family Card Games is Daifugo. This is a Japanese word that roughly translates into English as “Family Asshole”. This game has many variants around the world, and at least in the West, is heavily associated with drinking alcohol. In fact, to those familiar with the drinking game version it may seem almost pointless to play without the mandatory drinking component. But by itself the game is innocent, if simple fun and the Japanese version on display here has enough weird rules to learn to keep players interested for at least a few rounds of play. Players should be aware that Daifugo is primarily a party game and is not intended to be as intellectually stimulating as other group card games such as Rummy or Cribbage as found in HB Arcade Cards. In fact, the game is heavily dependant on the luck of the draw. So although the game brings out competitiveness in its players, there is actually very little that the player can do to control his or her fate. However, with the right group of people looking for a casual game to pass some time together this can still be a lot of fun.
And this brings us to online. Playing social card games online has always been a questionable design choice: after all, if most of the fun comes from goofing off in the company of your friends, then where is the fun in playing in solitude online? And with no voice chat support, there is little to distinguish the human players from the computer. The only online communication between players available is a selection of emoticons that you can click on to express your mood. For a game whose sole purpose is to facilitate conversation at a party, this is simply inadequate.
So, onto that online game. Hmmm - an error message is telling us that we have timed out. Yes, it seems that even two days after release it is impossible to find a game online. One would think that for 500 Wii Points and being a new release there would be someone, anyone, looking to play. But as of right now, there is just one lonely reviewer scratching his head at the manual’s description of ‘online rankings’ and dreaming of what could have been. The game’s designers were even smart enough to penalize the rankings of players who quit early when losing; perhaps it would have been fun to compete to appear on this leaderboard. But sadly, after submitting this review, the total number of players in the world is going to decrease by one more.
Luckily, the online function features play via friend codes as well. Even if you cannot set up a random match, you will always be able to play with someone else that you know who owns the game but doesn’t want to see you in person. We gave it a spin and the feature works fine. Being turn based means there is no concern over lag. However, if you have a friend with a Wii of his or her own, and you are both looking to play a game online, we can’t help but wonder why you two would choose to play this when almost anything else would be more fun.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that this game features Aksys’ first foray into downloadable content, with the only content so far being different deck designs. Hearing users' complaints about card games on the Wii that “a deck of cards costs only a dollar,” players can now actually buy a deck of cards for 100 Wii Points. The downloadable content is unnecessary and there is no in-game effect other than to show off that you spent some money, but it is obviously an attempt by Aksys to see if they can earn some extra revenue from the hardcore Family players out there while still keeping the game at 500 Points for casual players. However, since at the moment there does not appear to be anyone to show off your card bling to, this experiment is not likely to be successful.
Family Card Games is a passable collection of games that are playable by both young and old. Although it lacks any polish to set it apart from merely playing with a deck of cards, the computer opponent makes the game a good learning tool for children as well as those new to these games, although there is no tutorial included. The option to play online, at least with friend codes, can provide a brief diversion in-between playing more substantial games online.
But there is no escaping the conclusion that the main offering, Daifugo, is a game whose sole purpose is to facilitate social interaction. Playing it with a computer opponent or online makes little sense and fails to deliver the player any satisfaction for their time spent.