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Best of John Grochowski

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Video Slots Show That Not All Gaming Devices Have to Be Alike

31 January 2002

One of the lessons of the age of video slots is that not all gaming devices have to look alike and play alike.

Unlike the old days when slots meant slots, and three-reel games were just about all that were available, today's slot floor mixes reel-spinners, video poker and video slots with bonus rounds.

But even video slots with virtual reels on their main screens barely scratch the surface of what can be done.

Leading Edge Design hopes to take the casino industry in new directions.

At the Global Gaming Expo in October in Las Vegas, I ran into Leading Edge president Larry DeMar, who invited me to visit his company's offices in Wheeling. I did that last week, having lunch with five of the six people who make up the design team, then playing three Leading Edge games that have been bought by slot giant IGT.

All three products are based on familiar games, but they're different from standard slot fare. There's Cash King Checkers, Othello and Bunco Night. For today, let's take a look at the reformulated Cash King Checkers, then come back next week to check out Othello and Bunco Night.

I'd first seen the checkers-based Cash King Checkers at World Gaming Congress in Las Vegas last year, and liked it a lot. After each bet, black checkers are scattered randomly over a checkerboard, and the player uses red "king" checkers, able to move forward or backward, to try to jump as many black checkers as possible. The more jumps are made, the bigger the payoff. It isn't always possible to jump any checkers--position on the board is luck of the draw.

Playing well requires a modicum of skill. As in video poker, the game can be set for high payback percentages knowing that players won't play perfectly and the machine won't pay out its maximum potential.

The version DeMar invited me to see in Wheeling is a streamlined game, a little simpler than the original. The original, which now is on slot floors in Las Vegas at the Suncoast and El Cortez, ran into a few problems. It seemingly was a little too difficult, and players got a lower payback percentage than the designers had hoped. Play was slow as players stopped to analyze possible jumps. It paid off only when the player could make three or more jumps, and that frustrated some players who were looking for a payoff anytime they made a jump.

The new version, which is on a track Leading Edge hopes will bring Nevada licensing in February, addresses all that. In the original, players started with five king checkers, with three in the back row and two in the next row up. The new game gives the player only three king checkers in the back row. That reduces the number of possible moves--with all player checkers in row 1, it's possible to jump black checkers only in rows 2, 4 and 6, where in the old game it was also possible to jump checkers in odd-numbered rows.

Without the two red kings in the second row, it's also less likely that a player will face a decision in which a wrong choice will block off other potential jumps. (It's still possible; I did play a potential three-jump hand into a two-jumper on the new game, and a potential seven-jumper into a four-jumper on the older version.)

The pay table also has been adjusted, and the game now begins paying off with only one jump. The game also incorporates a no-skill bonus round that launches whenever the player jumps a randomly appearing gold checker. That bonus round had been available as an option on the older game. Players could choose between a bonus version and a non-bonus version. The designers had thought players who like video poker and like to test their skill, would enjoy the non-bonus version, while those who like the second-screen bonus games on multiple-line video slots would like the bonus version of Checkers.

As it turned out, nearly everyone who plays the original Checkers game chooses the bonus game. So on the new game, only a bonus version will be available.

With fewer potential blocking moves leading to fewer mistakes, DeMar is confident players will get something closer to the potential payback from the new game. Players shouldn't have to agonize over their moves as much, and that will mean a faster game. DeMar says the new Cash King Checkers plays twice as fast as the old one. And that little frustration factor is gone since the game now pays off on a single jump.

Cash King Checkers brings something different to the slot mix, and I think it's something fun, with a bit of a challenge. Othello and Bunco Night also are games with a difference, although they are not skill-based games. We'll check them out next week.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski