No one was seen giddily ripping open the box and reveling in the glory of Clubhouse Games when it arrived… not that we'd do that normally. But compilations like Clubhouse can too easily be dismissed outright as budget games, and that's because card and board games have never really translated all that well to game systems. But the latest in the "Touch Generation" series isn't just a collection of lame card games that you never wanted to play anyway - there are 42 games to explore, and they all work in their own ways.
The games are split into eight categories - basic card games, intermediate card games, advanced card games, basic board games, advanced board games, variety games, action games, and single-player games. That's a lot of games, so without listing them all, here's a smattering of what you can expect: Old Maid, Blackjack, Texas Hold'Em, Rummy, Checkers, Backgammon, Chess, Darts, Bowling, and Solitaire. Each game has several options to modify for your customizing enjoyment.
The stylus works intuitively for most of the games, and clear instructions make it easy to introduce yourself to games you've never played before. The action games lose a little in translation to the touch control, but are still fun in small doses. Darts, for example, is played by "picking up" the dart with the stylus and flicking it toward the board on the top screen. Once you get used to it, it isn't difficult, but flicking darts around is only fun for so long, and doesn't have a lot to do with actually playing darts.
The single-player game contains three modes: Free Play, Stamp Mode, and Mission Mode. Free Play lets you play any of the games at your leisure, while the Stamp and Mission modes are structured challenges that allow you to unlock goodies like new avatars and games. In Stamp mode you'll play through all 42 games, one by one, and earning stamps that let you advance to the next game. It's a nice way to introduce yourself to games you may not have tried on your own. In Mission mode you're challenged to achieve certain goals, such as winning a game of poker with a royal flush. Naturally, some of the goals are frustrating, but they'll keep you busy with that ever present urge to unlock things.
Chess suffers slightly from the small screen-the cartoonishly rendered pieces are a little muddled, and the top screen just displays a list of previous moves, but might have been better put to use as an iconic diagram of the board.
Some of the single player games go a little slow, and it's definitely boring to wait for your AI opponents to finish their turns before yours comes around again. Despite the slowness, the AI's are excellent considering the number of games in the collection. The easy AI won't frustrate beginners, while the hard AI is enough to challenge seasoned veterans. They aren't perfect, but that's what the comprehensive online mode is for.
The games are really meant to be played with other people, so it's the multiplayer mode that makes Clubhouse a solid collection. Play locally or via a wi-fi connection against players across the country. A version of Pictochat is available to talk with your opponents, but if you're playing against a stranger, you'll have to choose from a series of set phrases, which is probably for the better.
A superior collection, Clubhouse Games is one of the best portable solutions for card and board games. Don't expect to see everyone pull out their stylus on poker night, but for casual portable gaming, Clubhouse offers a great selection and intuitive controls.