Microsoft Classic Board Games includes straightforward versions of 12 traditional board games. Although it lacks the depth of similar computer products - like the Chessmaster series or Shanghai - that deal strictly with a single type of game, Classic Board Games provides three well-placed levels of difficulty, the hardest of which should provide a serious challenge to the casual player. The games are all easy to play because of their intuitive point-and-click controls, and a simple menu interface provides access to game options and settings as well as rules and a complete tutorial for each game. This feature makes Classic Board Games ideal for those who have always wanted to learn how to play the games featured in the package but never had the chance. It is also suitable for players who have a hard time finding opponents for live games or are looking for a quick game to play at lunch.
The 12 classic games included in the bundle are chess, checkers, backgammon, reversi, Chinese checkers, 4-in-a-Line (a generic version of Connect Four), taipei, shogi, dominoes, go, Chinese chess, and gomoku. The graphics used to depict these games are simple, and while the games themselves do not require much in the way of visuals to get the point across, the standard two-dimensional top-down perspective does little to distinguish Classic Board Games from several other similar products on the market.
The sound effects are appropriate, but they add little to the game beyond the occasional sounds as pieces are moved or dice are rolled. The background music is pleasant, but you'll most likely find yourself turning it off after listening to the same track once too many times in the course of a game.
Of course, what makes Classic Board Games appealing is not the game's graphics and sound. Instead, the classic games themselves make the bundle enjoyable, and the time-tested game mechanics shine through the forgettable presentation. There are also several advantages to playing these games on a computer; Microsoft has added a number of features to help players improve their skills and understand the games better. In addition to the rules and tutorials, most of the games have a legal move indicator option that will highlight the possible moves for whatever piece is selected, as well as a hint option that will highlight the next suggested move. The games also track the moves made in each match and let players take back a move or a series of moves so that they can try an alternate strategy.
While these options are worthwhile, experienced players of the games included in Classic Board Games may find some desirable features missing or incomplete. For instance, in dominoes, the only option available is the most basic version of the game - the first player to run out of bones is the winner of the round, and he or she gets points according to the opponent's unused bones. Players who are used to scoring each turn in which the extremities of the array add up to a multiple of five will be disappointed - not only is there no such option, but there is also no running tally even for the basic version of the game. This lack of a scorekeeper forces players to manually keep track of how many points have been scored in successive games so that they can determine when the winner reaches 50 or 100. Similarly, fans of Chinese checkers may be disappointed when they discover that the game supports only two players. Other than these occasional oversights, most of the games have all the features you would expect to find.
Although the various games contained in the bundle are readily available on the Internet, Classic Board Games is worthwhile for fans of these board games for its rules, tutorials, and other helpful features. In addition, for those who tire of playing against the computer, Classic Board Games supports head-to-head play on the same computer or Internet play against live opponents on Microsoft's Zone.com. Although the graphics and sound that represent them are unlikely to impress anyone, the games themselves are every bit as enjoyable as many of them have been for centuries. Classic Board Games is appropriate for those who are interested in learning any of the traditional games included or for players who are looking for the convenience of having all these games in one simple program.