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Card Games for Classical Music Buffs: an interactive CD-ROM



If your drawing room (rather like my own) can become a bit like a Chicago Sleep Easy after a couple of hands of Bridge this interactive CD-ROM – replete with classical background music - will be a blessing. A much healthier – even more politically correct way to play cards, particularly if you live in smoke-free New York (how dull life must be there now) – it takes the cigarette smoke out of your home, the beer stains off your table and gives you an early night when you want one. This disc brings a whole new meaning to the phrase having a long night in. And it is much cheaper, in both cash and unusable matchsticks.

Because it’s interactive (when you’ve copied the CD-ROM onto your hard-drive) you can play it online with others, or, for those who always have to win, on your own against an array of puppets – talking ones at that – and in a number of settings. Fantasy Bridge becomes something of a reality when you can choose to play opposite Maria Callas, Jascha Heifetz and Arturo Toscanini. At first it all seems a little random – I really wanted to play at Covent Garden, but was seated instead in the stalls at the Festival Hall (and how convincingly the designers have got that right with just the right amount of dust sprayed over the threadbare seats). Little details, like the backs of the cards, are fastidiously drawn with scenes from famous operas – valkyries vying for attention, Madam Butterfly sewing in a wigwam type paper house, Tosca (I think) seemingly throwing herself off what looks like the Eiffel Tower. The voices themselves are interspersed with music during the calls – and there is quite a lot of that if you play Bridge. Maria Callas sings her call – three no trumps she wobbles - whereas Toscanini kind of barks his – all between the gentle wavering of Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan. ‘You are my north, my south, my east and west’ Auden wrote – but I doubt he had this in mind.

If Bridge isn’t your forte – and it can take a lifetime to master – try a couple of rounds of Hearts. A game where less is more – and wins you the game – this is much more fun, particularly with these puppets. You can choose to play to 500 points if you wish, but I recommend going into the preferences toolbar and changing the maximum points win to 50. Playing on a barge with the backdrop of Sydney Opera House was one thing but I could only take so much of Thomas Beecham plummily saying ‘OH, I’ll take it then’ when dealt the Queen of Spades. Rather amusingly, Callas (who seems to be a puppet in most of the games on this CD-ROM, or just pops up whenever she feels like it) shouts, ‘I don’t want that bitch!!’ (she was, of course, how shall I put it, more flowery with her language in reality) when dealt the same card (the Queen of Spades, of course, is worth 13 points – and you don’t want that card when you’ve just won the Jack of Diamonds worth a dazzling –10). Shoot the moon (get all 26 points, i.e. all the hearts and the Queen of Spades) and a wild chorus of Rule Britannia throbs out of your speakers. The German version of this game belts out Ride of the Valkyries, according to the designers, the American a glitzy version of the Star Bangled Banner. The French version – well the game crashed at that point.

Other nice little touches allow you to insert your own face on to one or more of the puppets (simple copy and paste works wonders). Your reviewer looked dapper in white tie, not so good in a body-hugging frock. But what surprised me was how like the real thing this is – lose too often and you do find yourself shouting back at a Toscanini (and having the last word). That’s the eerie bit.

Playing online is nowhere near as much fun in my view. Whilst you can pretend to be who you want (and who doesn’t want to be a famous opera singer or conductor, at least for a moment) you can end up playing against the oddest people. My partner in a rubber of Bridge ended up being ‘Demon Slayer’; he (or she) played with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. No match for the grace of my Lauritz Melchior (‘where you from then?’ he (or she) emailed me later, then asking, ‘didn’t they name an ice-cream after him?’). There’s no music of course if you play it this way – but doesn’t it give you the chance to play that old recording of La Traviata you almost forgot you had? And doesn’t it give you a sense of superiority in knowing that ‘Demon Slayer’ was probably playing something by Motorhead on the other side of the Atlantic?

All great fun – and probably worth the $39 outlay if you are into this sort of thing (as your reviewer is, but he doesn’t get out nearly enough). I have to confess, however – I rather missed the cigarette smoke and the beer stains on the card table.

Marc Bridle

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